The earliest known book-length biography about an African woman, written in 1672 in the Gəˁəz language, The Life and Struggles of Our Mother Wälättä eṭros, features a life-long partnership between two women and same-sex sexuality among nuns. Revered Ethiopian Orthodox Täwaḥədo Church leader Wälättä eṭros (1592–1642) and another nun, ∃ḫətä Krəstos, “lived together in mutual love, like soul and body” until death. Other nuns are depicted as “being lustful” with each other. Interpreting the women’s relationships in this Ethiopian text requires different reading protocols, merging surface and symptomatic reading as well as attending to Ethiopian authorial and interpretive practices, protocols for which queer theory provides useful warnings and tools. This is the first scholarly article proffering a queer reading of pre-twentieth-century sub-Saharan African literature. By foregrounding a text in an African language, this article alerts us to the dimensions of and possibilities for queer experiences outside of the arena of twentieth-century Europhone African literatures.


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pp. 20-45
Launched on MUSE
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