The study of African religious cultures has long been hindered by inadequate “translational resources,” to use Robin Horton's phrase, that privilege Western and Christian normative social standards over local ideologies. Biased Western translational practices not only reflect the problems inherent to interpreting the Other but also do discursive violence to African embodied experiences. Tracing this violence of translation through a case-study analysis of Edna Bay's Wives of the Leopard (1998), this article interrogates Bay's assertion that “prostitution” was an institutionalized practice in the precolonial Dahomean kingdom. Through an analysis of primary documents, linguistic studies, and secondary historical and theoretical sources, this study finds that Euro-Western gender assumptions may conceal the inner workings of African social institutions and that European travelers' musings about African “whores” are inadequate evidence of “prostitution.” Devising an alternative interpretation of the Dahomean royal social institution, this article instead suggests the operation of an indigenous matrimony system.

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