Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2013

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Guerin C. Montilus


In this dissertation, I provide an analysis of the social practices of a queer community in southern Ghana known as Saso people. Drawing on in-depth interviews with indigenous religious priests, I focus specifically on practices of leadership and kinship, sexual initiation, and engagement and marriage. I interpret these practices as a set of strategies deployed by Saso people to articulate a sense of cultural belonging in contemporary Ghana. In so doing, I make a contribution to the scant ethnographic literature on queer African communities, while demonstrating the value of priests as research subjects. My ethnographic fieldwork, as well as that of Kathleen O'Mara's (2007, 2011) has shown that indigenous religious priests are often central figures in queer Ghanaian communities. My use of priests as primary interlocutors for learning about Saso social practices rests not only in the knowledge of Saso life that their prominence in these communities has afforded them, but also in shifting focus to a queer subject that has often been overlooked in the literature on queer sexuality in African communities. In Chapter 1, I explore public discussion about queer sexuality in Ghana as articulated by both state and non-state actors. I situate the contemporary homophobic rhetoric in Ghana within the context of larger issues of post-colonial anxieties, democratization, and state sovereignty, and suggest that queer bodies becomes sites for engaging in larger debates about these issues not only in Ghana but in other post-colonial African states. In Chapter 2, I discuss practices of leadership and non-biological kinship among Saso people. I demonstrate how Saso kinship networks not only provide a context for enculturation and the affirmation of Saso social values, but they also provide a community of social, emotional, and intellectual support that Saso people draw upon to navigate the complexities of queer existence in contemporary Ghana. In Chapter 3, I discuss a practice of sexual initiation among Saso people referred to as ntetee;. I argue that ntetee; is fundamentally a practice of community formation, since it aims to expand the Saso community and incorporate men socially within its institutions and practices. I also discuss how it challenges the idea of queer sexuality in Africa a Western import, since I demonstrate that ntetee; draws upon local cultural concepts and practices. In Chapter 4, I discuss engagement and wedding ceremonies among Saso people. I focus on the ritual aspects of these practices, and I discuss the relationship between Saso marriage and opposite-sex marriage. In focusing on issues of performance and performativity, I illuminate the various ways in which these practices enable Saso people to articulate a sense of belonging through the appropriation and reconfiguration of indigenous institutions. Drawing on recent theorization about performance, "disidentification," and cultural labor to think about these Saso social practices, this dissertation also offers insights to enrich our understanding of postcoloniality, sovereignty, and democratization in Africa.