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GHANA STUDIES / Volume 14 ISSN 1536-5514 / E-ISSN 2333-7168© 2012 by the Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System 265 “THIS THING IS SWEET”: NTETEƐ AND THE RECONFIGURATION OF SEXUAL SUBJECTIVITY IN POST-COLONIAL GHANA WILLIAM BANKS “It is not everyone who is always Saso. At one point in time there is someone who trains them to be like that.” —Abeko, a Sasoni from Tema Among Saso people1 —a community of men in Ghana who engage in same-sex erotic practices—same-sex desire is attributed to two sources: nature and learning. Some Saso people claim to have experienced same-sex desires from as young as they can remember, which led them to pursue same-sex erotic activities with like-minded boys during childhood and early adolescence through games such as, maame ne papa (mother and father), and during common activities such as bathing and sleeping. As one Saso man put it: “Some, at a tender age, start to have feelings . . . it’s like a spirit inside of them. But for others, they’re taught.” While this Saso person described an inner desire for same-sex erotic practices as a spirit, the Nana Hemmaa2 (queenmother) of the Saso community of a town in the Central 1. Saso is an in-group term used to refer to members of this community and their subculture . Members are referred to as Sasofo (in Twi, lit. “Saso people”). Many of my interlocutors trace the origin of the term “Saso,” to the expression “Mi Saso,” which they translate as “my mate” or “my colleague.” 2. The use of this term draws upon the vocabulary of the Akan political structure, in which female rulers, usually referred to as ahemmaa (sing. ɔhemmaa), rule alongside male chiefs and kings. While the ɔhemmaa may sometimes be the biological mother of the male ruler, more likely she is a sister, cousin, or aunt. However, the ɔhemmaa and the male ruler can never marry each other, since they are both members of the same matrilineage. Using the term ɔhemmaa for the male leader of a Saso community reflects 266 Ghana Studies • volume 14 • 2012 Region explained it to me this way: “The system that is in girls is the same system that is in you. That feeling is with you all the while and as you grow, you grow with it.” While some Saso people may have recognized their samesex erotic desires at an early age, others say that they began to experience such desires only in mid-adolescence. While my own West-centric assumptions about sexuality as an in-born orientation led me initially to focus on these narratives as representing the authentic Ghanaian experience, this was not the dominant narrative I encountered during my fieldwork. Of equal, if not more significance were those who claimed they “learned” same-sex desires through a practice Saso people refer to as nteteɛ.3 These men describe how they developed same-sex erotic desires only after having been initiated through nteteɛ by a member of the Saso community. This process of initiation can involve various strategies, from personal erotic seduction to exposing the candidate to the vibrant social life of Saso people. But personal erotic seduction is never the ultimate aim of nteteɛ. Rather, nteteɛ aims to incorporate Ghanaian men who have never experienced same-sex erotic desires into the social and erotic life of the Saso community. Nteteɛ narratives reveal that in contrast to most gay men in the United States who describe their same-sex erotic its particular gender system. In Saso communities, those who perform the insertive role in sexual intercourse are referred to by male kinship and leadership terms; those who perform the receptive role are referred to by female ones. During my fieldwork, I worked closely with the Nana Hemmaa of the Saso community of the town in the Central Region in which I was based for most of my research. 3. This word may be translated as “training.” Among Saso people, this is the word most frequently used to discuss the practices I describe in this article, but Saso people may also use the word, “nkyerɛ “ (in Twi, “to teach”). “Matete Kwame,” for...


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