Founders of Jujumama Love Academy and long-time polyamorous leaders Carl and Kenya Stevens gave me a great interview about the African roots of multiple partner relationships and how African Americans are doing polyamory today.
Interview with Kenya and Carl Stevens
E: How did you get involved in polyamory?
K: We are open, so we are very free with the information. We have been drilled by Dr. Phil, that is the ultimate test.
C: When we married we were monogamous but open to polygyny because that was a feature of the religious community around us that practiced polygyny. We were part of the Ausar Auset Society, a spiritual community that practiced self-growth, healing, meditation and ceremony. It was one of the original groups that did that in the Black community. Inside of that organization they had Afrocentric principles, reviving and reinterpreting ancient Egyptian and African religious and spiritual practices. Polygyny is something they incorporated because it has been practiced all over Africa and with the African Diaspora.
K: When we met we were 21 years old, living at the Auser Auset Society and studying to become initiated as priests and priestesses inside this community. We lived there for 11 years. The Ausar Auset Society is huge, in every country all over the world, but it is underground.
C: I don’t think it is all over the world, I think it is in Africa, the US, the UK, and maybe a couple of other places. Being exposed to the polygynous practices in the Ausar Auset Society, we already had the idea that multiple partner relationships were possible. In year four of our marriage, Kenya had an attraction to another man. She came home and told me, and we went to see a marriage counselor. The counselor said she should ignore it, and so we went on that way for another couple of years. Then I met a woman work I was attracted to and brought that up to Kenya. We talked about it and I brought her home to meet Kenya, it was the beginning of our journey. We were not aware yet of polyamory or open relating, and just figuring it out. Kenya came to me to say I see that you want to be with her, what if I date other men as I see fit? I said hell no, a married woman does not want other partners! After two more years of conversation we came the to the conclusion that we both should have the same rights and privileges in the relationship, that we should be equals.
K: At that time when he introduced me to the other partner he was interested in dating, and I was like, there is no way I am going to agree to this unless I can do it too. I am from Detroit, I do not put up with that! I was already not getting enough sex, why does he get more sex and I don’t? That did not sound right to me at all.
E: Why did you leave the Auser Auset Society?
K: We wanted to start to share the information we had learned there with a broader audience. Also, we were becoming polyamorous and not polygynous. The elders at the Auser Auset Society told us we could not do polyamory, only polygyny was OK with them. We were faced with a choice: either be monogamous or polygynous or leave the Society. We had to either stop being polyamorous or leave. Women were not allowed to have that kind of freedom in the Society.
E: What did the women in the Society get out of polygyny?
K: A husband! 70 percent of African American women are without a husband, and the forecast is bleak. If they want a family life, it is very hard to find a husband, so joining this group that can provide a family life is important to them. For me, being a part of that community was intoxicating and amazing. The knowledge they shared with you, it is not available anywhere else in the world. In terms of how to heal your body without medicine, meditate and manifest things in your life, overcome the ego. That is what allowed us to do polyamory, because we learned that we are not our egos, fears, or insecurities. I am a walking God, the core of the creator itself. We could not have done poly without that community, no way.
E: Why would you have been unable to become polyamorous without that community?
C: Most are caught up in thinking the ego is the self, the fear, jealousy, or insecurity is real. We are taught it is not real, your actual self is beyond fear, peaceful, joyful. All of your obstacles are here to grow you, make you into this powerful being you actually are. That is the base philosophy of the Auser Auset Society.
E: What is your life like now?
C: In terms of… relationship wise, the bottom line is that I identify as open, I relate organically in a way that feels authentic to me. I have moved out of obligatory relation to love or want. I have a number of partners, some local and some long distance, it allows me to be in a good space. The thing I love most about open relating is the time it affords me to be with myself. I am reclusive, introverted, I like to be in my own space getting my work done and mediating. The primary benefit for me is being able to be myself, unapologetically, being able to claim that every day. That has been good.
K: I feel fabulous, like Harriet Tubman. I get to usher women in 2019 out of a sort of mental bondage into a world where we are not shamed, ridiculed, or denigrated for being sexual beings. Once I discovered within my own sex life, literally I have 10 times the sexual desire of any man I have ever known. And then to discover that women were induced into orgasm to cure hysteria in the past, that is why they invented vibrators to “cure” hysteria. This is foreign to me, not natural, I have never owned a vibrator. I want connection with other humans. Women need that. To see women become free, under my tutelage, millions of women, it is my destiny and dream. Offer the privilege of consent for African American women who has been damaged by 400 years of slavery with raping her. Now she can have autonomy over body, choice, it is like being Harriet Tubman. Leading women to better orgasms and more, your sensuality is y7our primal connecti8on to your selfhood. You cannot know who you are if you are not in command and commination with your sensuality. It is gibing woman personhood rather than chattel status. You are not a possession of a man, you are not owned by anyone but yourself. My mother, her mother, they were not privy to that. Coming out of slavery, it was not something they7 had. Bodies in service to self is a new paradigm for women of African descent in this county. Likely for woman of European descent too 😊
How do you know so much about the history of polyamory?
C: We studied it extensively in the community, which is focused on polygyny.
K: Before becoming a part of the community I was an African studies major, studying ancient culture., Chris Ryan makes it easy to understand. Reading his book Sex at Dawn reminded me of studying Amazonian South America and tribal Africa, cultures that consisted of polyamory to a large extent. As Chris Ryan says, it is more about hunter gathers culture, prehistoric culture. Prior to the past 10,000 years and back.
K: In my view the ancient Egyptians were more polyamorous, more than the patriarchal system of polygyny in Ghana, Congo, Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, really all over Africa.
C: Polygyny is practiced in almost every country in Africa.
C: At the time it was described as egalitarian, sharing everything including sexuality. The closer structure today to that is open, possibly polyamorous. But polyamory has a lot of rules, and can be very diverse in application, so egalitarian societies probably lean more towards being open about their sexuality, how they mated and raised kids.
K: Matrilineal cultures did not depend on paternity to decide who the kids belonged to. These societies had organization around the mother, no one really cared who was the father, there was often not a word for father. The mother was the all-important social figure for whom this child was associated. That tells you mothers and women had choice in how their sexuality was dispersed throughout out the community., that was absolute 6the case in Egypt.
C: The point of monogamy or polygyny is to ensure his assets are passed down to his kids, not someone else’s. Poly and egalitarian cultures are not concerned about land ownership or the ownership of things because everyone owns everything. They are two different mentalities based on capitalism that determine if paternity is part of the culture. Also, men in this society will choose any excuse they can to own women’s pussies. It is deeper than capitalism, it is his desire to own women.
E: What is the African history of polyamory?
K: Their primary saying is it takes a village to raise a child. It also takes a village to love an adult. I link to all women love all men, all men love all women, all adults love all children, and that is what truly creates a village.
E: What about people with same-sex desire or gender nonbinary folks?
K: There are actually 9 genders in African culture, gender was based on clan and archetype. We are not sure where male and female came in that is obtuse. If I am born in warrior clan then my gender is warrior. There are three in the spectrum of masculinity, three in spectrum of femininity, and three in the spectrum of androgyny. Gender is not based on genitalia, not in ancient culture. In Egypt you could have a female king that would put on the facial hair, a person with a vagina.
E: What is the history of polyamory among Black or African American folks in the US? What kind of term do you prefer?
K: Humans of African descent. Humans first, and then add in the descriptors, be they European, Irish, whatever. It is long, but it is worthwhile.
C: There is actually not much history of polyamory. Africans were indoctrinated into Christiany and European culture which was primarily monogamous except for a few polygynists. There was no opportunity for Africans brought in slavery to practice anything else than their masters were practicing.
K: Slave owners were having sex with any woman they wanted the women did not have a choice. Maybe the white women did.
C: Cheating and infidelity are part and parcel of monogamy, it is deeply linked to infidelity because of the rates of cheating.
K: There should be some focus on the fact that persons of African descent were having sex with lots of people, whether is was the women being raped by the masters, or the breeding spectacle that would display African bodies breeding to make the best and strongest slaves.
C: It is not polygyny because it is not based on consent. Polygyny is based on consent.
K: It was forced before, multiple partners, and that was shameful. So now we are less likely to want to try something like that like today. My grandmother had 6 mixed children from the male of European descent who she worked for, and six with my grandfather so half of her kids are half Irish. That was in the 1930s, 1940s, well after emancipation. So, the idea that black bodies were used to only monogamous sex is not accurate.
C: But that was rape, it is different.
K: MLK and Coretta both had other partners, a few other famous persons of African descent are rumored to have open relationships. Until the present day no one has been out. Until 2005, when Carl and Kenya Stevens came out!!! But we did not know anyone else at that time. Ozzie Davis and his wife came out kind of, it was known that they were open.
E: What would you say is the current status in of polyamory among humans of African descent in the US?
K: Still cautious, but so many more are able to be open. When you have an example, it is like a chain reaction. It you see it is ok and you have permission, based on other people living this truth, then you can do it. I think there are millions of families at this point of African descent living this life style.
C: I think it is more likely thousands of families. Some form of nonmonogamy. Open is accepting yourself for who you are and each living your best life together. Polyamory tends top be for people who are coming out of monogamy and still have a lot of insecurities boundaries all these things we create a set of personalized rules and agreements to shield us from those fears and insecurities. Open is when you are past all of that, when you can relate as authentically you and allow others to do the same.
E: How is open different from Relationship Anarchy?
C: RA is a new term, I do not subscribe to it. This is the issue with polyamory, relationship anarchy is a term created from the poly community, a term that is intended to denote people who live 100 percent free and authentic as a bit reckless. Some of the fears that show up in the poly community are very clear in the poly community. Before poly and all of the other labels, the best freedom-based relating term is open. The ability to be you without explanation and shame. While they can be synonymous, I prefer not to use it.
K: It sounds terrible. We have base principles that underly our relationship, it is not principle-less. That is not anarchy.
C: The challenge of the poly community, it is like religion fracturing into all of these sects with different groups with different view points and rules, labels… We are heading back down the path of monogamy where you are opening yourself up to judgment. The whole point of getting out of the box of monogamy is to be free. But now we are hemming ourselves in with labels and boxes in the poly community
K: Segmenting, othering.