Saturday 17 April 2021
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Is Olufuko Cultural festival a pagan ritual or a living heritage worth preserving?

On September 5 2017, Phil ya Nangoloh, the leader of an organization called NAMRight, posted on his Facebook page an article titled “WHY UNESCO MUST DENOUNCE NAMIBIA OVER OLUFUKO”.
In the said article ya Nangoloh  gave a litany of flimsy and unsubstantiated  reasons why the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (“UNESCO”) should not recognize Olufuko as a cultural heritage, apparently because “ Olufuko (which is Oshi(w)Ambo meaning for “wedding”) is a paganistic, archaic and harmful traditional sexual initiation practice for women by which, among others, girl children and young women between the ages of 12 and 18 are converted into adult women. “  He then went on to say that “the practice had died some 80 years ago with the advent of Christianity. Spearheading the revival of this harmful traditional practice (“HTP”) is former Namibian President Sam Nujoma. Dr. Nujoma …” The author then alleged that “Harmful cultural practices” refers EFM (sic), female genital mutilation (“FGM”) and polygamy but PIL also makes reference to some other harmful practices. These include virginity testing, violent initiation rites, widowhood rites, violence against alleged witches, and body modifications such as breast ironing.”
What the author of the article conveniently forgot is that Olufuko is a rite of passage just like the rite of passage Festival in the Kingdom of Swaziland and in the Zulu Nation’s culture and many others across the length and breadth of the African Continent which is regarded as a cradle of Civilization and humanity.
The author was also stone silent on what the Founding President, H.E. Dr Nujoma said on the occasion of the official opening of the sixth edition of the annual Olufuko Cultural Festival. Dr Nujoma said “I would like to urge the Olufuko Preparatory Committee to stay focused and not divert from the original objective of the Olufuko Festival (which) to inform and educate the nation about the Olufuko rite of passage and other norms and practices which sustained our previous generations. In this regard, I am happy that this year we have about 79 girls who are taking part in this important rite of passage. This is a good indication that the nation understands the value of culture and particularly Olufuko. I would like to commend these young girls for taking part in this Olufuko Cultural process and urge them to continue with their studies until they become proud engineers, doctors, teachers, scientists and fully fledged adults.” In fact, all girls who participate in Olufuko are encouraged to go back to school to complete their education; this was also stated in statement of the Minister of Education. It is against this background that the festival takes place during school holiday.
Dr Nujoma also said “concerted efforts should be made to revitalize our culture, both as a unifying factor and for nation building. We should continue to celebrate and embrace our cultural diversity and hold one another under (the umbrella or slogan of) ; One Namibia! One Nation!” From there to alleging that Olufuko is “a sexual initiation practices” (sic) is just being economical with the truth and shows the afro-pessimistic view of the author especially in light of the 40th Anniversary of the death of the leader of the Black Conscious Movement, the Late Comrade Steve Biko.
Indeed, Black consciousness can be described as an awareness among blacks that their human identity hinges on the fact that they are black people who are proud of their skin colour, and aware of the fact that they have their own black history and culture, differing from that of whites. They no longer accept being judged according to white values and norms. This means that they must psychologically liberate themselves from the “slave mentality” created by “institutionalized racism” and “white liberalism”. In essence, black consciousness is an attitude towards life. It is about decolonizing our mind and celebrating our culture.
According to Walter Mignolo Decoloniality means first to delink (to detach) from the overall “geopolitics of knowledge” inculcated in us in order to engage in an epistemic reconstitution of ways of thinking, languages, ways of life and being in the world that the rhetoric of modernity disavowed and the logic of coloniality implements. In Decoloniality we are getting used to the idea that the intellectual loci of enunciations are multiplying, and the world is becoming polycentric not only in economy and politics, but also in epistemology and hermeneutics. In this regard, Decoloniality is the third global force between coloniality and dewesternization, re-orienting the present toward the future.
Seen from an ideological perspective, black consciousness is an eclectic philosophy – it reflects a variety of conceptual constructs and guide-lines borrowed from diverse sources, including Pan-Africanism and nationalism and even welfare capital-ism. According to some exponents of black consciousness, black theology is also an integral part of the movement. Seen against this background, loosely speaking, the BCM aimed to unify and uplift non-white populations.
The elements of Black pride and celebration of black culture linked the Black Consciousness Movement back to the writings of W. E. B. Du Bois, as well as the ideas of the Negritude Movement. It also arose at the same time as Black Power movement in the United States. Thus, Black Consciousness was both militant and avowedly non-violent.  The NamRights’ leader also questioned “why are we, Namibians, allowing former President Nujoma to abuse his status as “founding father of the Namibian nation” to violate the law of the land with impunity?”  I am surprised that a self-proclaimed human right activist would deny the people their right to practice and celebrate their culture as enshrined in the supreme law of the land simply because of his clouded views towards all what Dr Nujoma says.   He should remember that colonialism allowed for the justification of Indigenous genocide and African slavery and was invented both for political and economic reasons by those who controlled and managed discourses and knowledge to make certain people feel that they are less human who are both epistemically and ontologically deficient.
This goes to show that the NamRights’ leader does not recognise that the Arts and Cultural Industries have over the past few years emerged as one of the major sources of foreign currency, employment creation and a tool to assert the people’s national identity. These industries have contributed immensely in attracting tourist inflows and in building the country’s image.
Thus, the promotion and development of the Arts and Cultural Industries can only enhance the capacity to create new jobs, generate income and increased inflows of foreign currency. We must therefore ensure that culture becomes one of the most important engines of development as Dr Nujoma emphasized. Our cultural values, norms, and rituals have managed to shape us as a people with own way of life, beliefs and the way we relate to our environment. Our value systems and beliefs give us an identity as a people.
We are a diverse cultural and racial society which has co-existed for centuries peacefully owing to the respect and dignity given to various ethnic groups within our communities.
Some of our traditional, values and beliefs seem to be disappearing owing to various factors, which include colonialism, urbanisation, globalisation and acculturation. The need to promote and preserve our cultural heritage has become more important in the face of the above factors. Concerted efforts should be put in place to preserve Olufuko Cultural Festival for posterity and to maintain it as a unique part of world cultural heritage as Dr Nujoma said. We should use our culture to show all our strengths and project a positive personality on the international arena. In this regard, the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, which our country has ratified, sees living heritage as “manifested inter alia in the following domains”: a) Oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage. b) Performing arts. c) Social practices, rituals, and festive events. d) Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe. e) Traditional craftsmanship
According to the 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, safeguarding means “measures aimed at ensuring the viability of the intangible cultural heritage, including the identification, documentation, research, preservation, protection, promotion, enhancement, transmission, particularly through formal and non-informal education, as well as the revitalization of the various aspects of such heritage”
The collective memory of any society is of vital importance in preserving cultural identities, in bridging the gap and the bridge between the past and the present and in shaping the future. A person’s heritage is made up of the practices and traditions that are passed on from parents to children. Heritage is also about what has been passed on from the family, community and places where people have been raised. Against this background, Olufuko Cultural Festival is an important living heritage and forms part of our identification as Namibians and we must therefore preserve it for future generations.
In fact, I could not agree more with the assessment made by the Pastor who made the opening prayer at Olufuko that whoever denies the people their cultural heritage is denying them their human right as it was the Almighty God himself who created the people in his own image and placed them accordingly in their language group, colours and geographical places and as it is stated in the book of Revelation chapter seven, a multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language will stand before him.
I certainly want to stand proud of my culture and language and proud as a Namibian and as an African. That can only happen if we preserve our cultural heritage which defines us and gives us our roots as Africans.
Disclaimer: These views do not necessarily represent the views of my employer and this newspaper but my own views as a citizen.

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