Monday 12 April 2021
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Olufuko – Still going strong besides critics

Of all cultural practices emerging in Namibia, Olufuko has been most criticized in Namibia. With so many questions and blurred answers, the female initiation has stood the test of time and regardless of the criticism, the event is growing year on year.
It is around this time of the year when the event is placed under heavy scrutiny and at the same time praised by those at the forefront. There is no doubt that Olufuko has a strong political support with the Founding Father Sam Nujoma strongly vocal on preserving the once done-away practice.
Olufuko is an African traditional initiation practice whereby young girls are trained to become fully responsible adults; therefore it is a transformation of young girls from childhood to adulthood in order to prepare them for future marriage in an African traditional way. At least that is the definition attached to it.
Human rights activists, churches and people from a variety of points of reference have come out strongly against what they believe is simply an exhibition of young topless girls in front of an audience of mostly men with different agendas.
On the other hand, the doers of the initiation believe in the fact that Olufuko is restoring black people’s dignity by speaking to their minds of being black and reminding them of who they are, where they were before the arrival of white missionaries, and Christianity on the continent.
Namibia’s Founding Father has reiterated on a number of occassions that a people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots. But with culture evolving with time, should we now do away with the archaic practice? What is wrong with the practice?
“It is an abuse and exploitation of culture that has no benefits to the young girls that go through this event that belongs to the past,” said television personality and producer Anna Nicodemus.
Nicodemus and many others question the relevance of the event that was once upon a time left to the past because of its ‘irrelevance’. “It was a wrong of the past and people realized that it was not the best of ways to teach a girl how to become a woman. So why did we bring it back? And people continue to say it is culture, but culture from where and to benefit who? This is pure paganism.”
Nicodemus believes the exposure of girls’ breasts has a sexual connotation behind and it is the main attraction to the event, especially for men. She questioned why girls should walk around naked if the initiation is about the teachings of womanhood.
“What do you teach a young girl at this event that their own mothers cannot teach them? And if it’s objectives are concrete and a need, why not teach the girls skills? Give them education.”
“What puzzles me is the manner in which the initiation is done. There is this ‘Namunganga’ who is believed to dip his penis in a traditional brew that is than drank by the young girls. It is just very wrong,” said Nicodemus.
Young Monica Shaalukeni, a third year UNAM student went through the initiation six year ago and confirmed that while it is cultural, there is nothing much that makes sense of the event.
“We are simply dressed in cultural attires and most of us are left topless. We do a lot of cultural work as a collective, but it is nothing that we don’t usually do at our houses. There is never a moment when the elders sit us down to talk to us about what it takes to become a woman. It is simply a ‘do what I say thing’,” said Monica.
Monica confirmed that the said brew that has the flavor of an elder penis touch is all talks and none of the girls can confirm whether it is done or not.
“We are just told to drink the traditional drew which tastes normal. We do not know whether the penis flavour talk is true.
What we are told is that the brew is a danger to pregnant girls and it is the ultimate test of purity,” shared Monica.
Like many, after the initiation, Monica continued with high school, matriculated and is now about to graduate and become a teacher.
Since the initiation primarily focuses only on the girl child, Nicodemus questions why there is no similar initiation for the boy child. Nicodemus says the event is purposefully targeted to degrade the values of the girl child.
“Why is the same initiation not done for the boy child.
Why not teach the boys to become responsible husbands. Because we are teaching the girl child to be good wives, it is just fair that we also initiate the future husband”
Nicodemus feels the archaic event only need to exist in the museums and history books, strong culture and tradition advocates dismiss these complaints. It is the plight of the people of the Omusati region that attracts seven traditional authorities. Ironically, the Ovahimba have also joined the initiation.
The event was brought back in 2012 by Nujoma and since has survived the scrutiny. Those for the initiation believe that the event does not only inform, educate and entertain but also enhances cultural identity, a missing value amongst today’s generation. The event that is normally held in the last week of August in the Omusati region has the support of government and regional heads that care less of the critics’ opinions.
Omusati Governor Erginus Endjala who fully supports the initiation lambasted those against the practice saying it is tantamount to questioning one’s own identity.
“Most of the people who are against the initiative are people who base their facts on what they hear and not what they have seen themselves.
As Africans, we always want to disown our cultures because of western influences. If people have a problem with girls being topless, what then do we say about modeling and pornography that has become part of our generation? Why do people not question these things as well? As Namibians we like embracing practices that do not belong to us, and it is wrong,” said Endjala.
Endjala emphasized that being topless is an African identity. Westerners care more about their breast and not their private parts. With Africans, showing breasts is nothing at all. They are not westerners and do not want to be like them, he said. He also dismissed perceptions that the event is an exhibition meant for men to pick and take young brides. “You see, these are perceptions from people that do not bother to attend the event. We do not give away girls at the Olufuko. We teach them how to become responsible women. We teach them values and self-respect. It simply an initiation, something that Africa has long been doing.  The accusations against Olufuko are baseless because Olufuko is just a cultural practice of our ancestors. We are losing so much touch with our culture and hence the need to educate our children about who they are.”
The governor said the practice had to be brought back because Africans needed to be directed by their roots.
He said western cultures have heavily influenced the current generation; hence we have so many questions on the event.
Nonetheless, in an evolving society, Endjala shares the same sentiments with Nicodemus saying it is perhaps also time young boys are educated to be responsible fathers, protectors and husbands to these girls.
He invites people to step out of the dark, attend and get schooled on what happens during the event before they condemn culture.
He feels culture is what keeps Africans unique and shapes their identity.
Whether critics of the initiation are right or ever stand a chance in succeeding with the doing away with Olufiko, one thing for sure is that the event is growing every year and there seem to just be no end for the practice.

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