Ancestral Intimacies: Ancestors and Queer Kinship in Zimbabwe

Key information

3:15 PM to 5:00 PM
Main Building, Russell Square

About this event

Raffaella Taylor-Seymour, Junior Research Fellow, University of Oxford

Part of the Anthropology Departmental Seminar Series 2022

Abstract: Queer Zimbabweans live at the intersection two powerful lines of argument that frequently call into question their agency as religious subjects. On the one hand, many local political and religious leaders frame queer intimacies and gender transgression as inherently “un-African”, at odds with both indigenous traditions and Christianity. On the other hand, global gay rights activists have responded to these claims with high-profile campaigns to promote LGBTQ rights across the continent, which often suggest that queer Africans are victims of religious persecution. 

Against this backdrop, this talk examines the uptake of ancestral spiritual practices among young queer Zimbabweans, focusing on the unique forms of kinship and healing that relationships with spirits provide. Many young queer Zimbabweans have fraught relationships with living family members. In contrast, ancestral spirits promise a different experience of kinship that fulfil young queer people’s desires for intimacy, protection, and care from kin. In the process, spirits embrace their sexual identities and reframe them as intrinsically valuable aspects of their being that make them uniquely placed to serve as their mediums. Overall, the paper argues that relationships with spirits constitute a distinctive form of queer kinship, in which the spirits’ choice of queer people as mediums serves to rearticulate and reimagine the idiom of “chosen family”. 

Convened by:      Dr Maria Nolan and Dr Nikita Simpson