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Condemnation of Olufuko Cultural Festival challenged

By Paul T. Shipale
I would like to challenge through these pages the recent condemnations of Olufuko Cultural Festival by some quarters of the men of the cloth and prove, hopefully beyond reasonable doubt, that their criticism of the entire festival is misplaced as it intends to throw the baby away with the dirty water.

On the occasion of the newly consecrated Presiding Bishop of ELCIN and Bishop of the Eastern Diocese His Grace, Dr Shekutaamba Nambala and His Grace Josaphat Shanghala, Bishop of the Western Diocese, respectively, President Pohamba said the Government views the church as one of the important partners in the process of nation building.

In this context, the President appreciated the good work that churches have done in our communities and the positive contributions they have made towards the social and economic development of the country.

The President also took cognisance of the fact that, in addition to spiritual and moral outreach and guidance, the church contributes significantly to national development efforts in the areas of health, education, and care for people with disabilities as well as in other social interventions. The contribution of the church in the struggle for Independence has also not gone unnoticed. However, using as a point of departure and frame of reference, the Constitution of the Republic of Namibia, let the men of the cloth be kindly reminded that Namibia is established as a sovereign, secular, democratic and unitary State (Chapter I Article 1) and the holding of any cultural event is in line with the Constitution of the Republic that stipulates that every person shall be entitled to enjoy, practice, profess, maintain and promote any culture, language, tradition or religion (Chapter III, Article 19).

Secondly, it should be noted that in Namibia, our Government is fully committed to the institutions of traditional leadership and recognizes the positive role traditional leaders play in our country, said President Pohamba on the occasion of the official opening of the 14th Annual Meeting of the Council of Tradition Leaders. In this regard, I pay homage and tribute to the Late King of Ongandjera Traditional Authority, Tatekulu Japhet Munkundi, who passed on the 25th July 2012, last week. Indeed, culture plays a major role in promoting harmony, peace and stability between and among traditional communities and culture is a strong tool to enhance nation building and unity in any nation. Against this background, a revival of our cultural heritage and practices will also serve to mentally throw away colonial imposed taboos and give us a sense of belonging as well as promote our identity.

Thirdly, in South Africa, Zulu virgins converge at the Enyokeni Zulu Royal Palace in September every year to celebrate the Umkhosi woMhlanga (Reed Dance Festival) that promotes purity among virgins girls and respect for the young women as well as helps to preserve the custom of keeping girls as virgins until they get married and serves as a cultural buffer which holds back loose morality and promiscuity, and thus giving women power over their bodies, self-respect and dignity.

Likewise, the Oshiwambo speaking communities used to have Olufuko as a traditional female initiation ceremony where young brides used to undergo a wedding transition rite with the blessing of Namunganga, an honourary name given to a male or female entitled to initiate traditional marriages. At this occasion, the bride had to apply Olukula all over her body, a mixture of a red ochre dye obtained from the heartwood of the trunk of the teak tree. The wood is dried and crushed into a fine powder mixed with body butter made from cow fat processed and mixed with scent herbs. In this regard, such an event served a useful purpose of cleansing the bride from shame and stigma of a shameless woman with a bad social behaviour who had fallen pregnant before being cleansed and purified even through the traditional wedding rites. (Ellen Ndeshi Namhila 2009: Tears of Courage, p.143- 149).

This custom reminds me of the biblical purification of a woman after childbirth when she had to see a priest to make an atonement for her with a burnt and sin offerings (Leviticus 12) and when the priest used to mix the blood of a slaughtered animal with oil and put it on the lobe of the right ear, on the thumb of a right hand and on the toe of the right foot of the one to be cleansed (Leviticus 14:10-31) (numbers 5:11-31). I therefore see nothing wrong with this custom that helps to keep girls as virgins and serves to give women self-respect and dignity, unless there is something else that I am not aware of?

Fourthly, lest we forget, it was the intrusion of external forces which has shattered and eroded our cultures and traditional values considering them as primitive and pagan customs. The socio-psychological mechanism through which the missionaries replaced ancient customs is interesting. The natives had first to accept the proposition that their religious traditions represented the heritage of Satan and heathenism and this was rather impetuous to assume the superiority of one confession, to the religious and ritual system of another, given that both acknowledged the idea of a high and supreme being simply because one also recognized the role of interlocutors (intercessors) between the high God and the living, asserted Professor Prah.

One of the most intriguing dimensions of the experience of colonial or imperial domination, is the collective psychological impact of this, on the thinking and social practice of the dominated. Indeed, sustained societal dominance subverts the confidence of people and creates syndromes of inferiority, self-hate, self-pity and lack of self-esteem. Colonialism has left an indelible and vitiating legacy on the thinking and behavior of our people. To be oppressed, in effect, means forfeiting your equality, and acquiescing in inferiority. Self rejection in mind leads and extends into self-destruction in social practice and the psychology of self-rejection and selfdepreciation plays out sociologically in another way, hating your kind and instead of indicting the colonial enterprise, you start to ridicule the victims of colonialism. It is in this sense that some in neo-colonial vein and patronizing tones, brazenly suggest we need more of western's tutelage, concluded Professor Prah.

Acculturation is a process by which elements of two cultures mingle and merge, while in contrast, assimilation is a process of transforming aspects of a conquered or engulfed culture into a status of relative adjustment to the form of the ruling culture. In this context, the Africans were culturally deluged by western influences in a oneway- street. Colonial assimilationism was never intended as an open-ended process but to wean the natives from their original cultural and historical moorings, so that they would become a reliable instrument in the imperial project. It was in the late 20s and the 30s that the colonial authorities under 'Cocky' Hahn, the Native Commissioner in the North, started to impose its authority more effectively on Ovawambo people by imposing fines, imposing a council of headmen, ensuring the succession of younger men deemed more 'progressive' as kings or simply as his puppets and introducing the contract labour system as well as the land settlement programme in the police zone. The spread of Christianity brought missionaries who were opposed to many aspects of Ovambo culture, including dress, rituals and bridewealth on ideological ground while they are not opposed to Indians or Japanese attires. In the 1930s female initiation and bridewealth in particular, became arenas of fierce struggle between the heads of the matriclan and kings on one side and the missionaries on the other. However, Hahn sought to prevent the 'detribalisation' by the missionaries to ensure that Owambo continued to operate as a base for the reproduction of migrant labour to the police zone. Hahn even went to the extent of recording and promoting traditions that he saw as fixed and timeless and attended and photographed the female initiation ceremony- Efundula, Ohango or Olufuko- (Marion Wallace, A History of Namibia, 2011, p.233-235). (Hahn, C.H. 1859-1961: "Tribal Laws and Customs of the Ovambo").

The most important source dealing with different aspects of traditional Ovawambo culture, such as wedding customs, reflections on God and the creation of the world, burial rites, as well as oral tradition in the form of proverbs and riddles, songs and tales of the Ovawambo people is the ethnographic collection of Emil Liljeblad (ELC) in the Helsinki University Library in Finland).

If we consider that the first public baptism took place in Ondonga area, when six men were baptised by Tobias Reijonen at Onamulunga on 6 January 1883, in Oukwanyama, the first baptisms took place in 1895 when the German missionary August Wulfhorst baptised thirteen Ovakwanyama converts at the Omupanda mission station, and in Ongandjera, the first baptisms took place in 1906 while in Uukwambi it was in 1912 (Nambala 1994, p. 85), then this does not outdate the "traditional" in this context meaning indigenous, that which is foundational, handed down from generation to generation, a heritage from the past which connects the past with the present and the present with eternity. We now realize that there is nothing "pagan" with the names Amutenya, Angula, Ndahambelela, Tuhafeni, Magano, Iyaloo, Ndapunikwa, etc. and the same people who used to say that circumcision is a pagan practice are now saying that it reduces the chances of contracting HIV.

Perceptions of African self has been given to us by others that is now hard to distinguish what is indigenous intelligence and what is a product of mental conditioning. For this reason, we must re-examine objectively the structures that were the backbone of our historical development in an attempt to enhance respect to the African cultural continuum. One wonders, why should we be ashamed of ourselves? Let us be united like the great church of Rome, practicing one faith, that of confidence in ourselves. Let us be first true to ourselves and everything else will take care of itself. There is no humanity before that which starts with you. You can't be false to yourselves and expect others to believe in you.

Marriage is one institution that unites African culture. Although two marriages will never be similar, the core thing is that marriage is a contract of commitment with rules and regulations that represent the person's culture. It is a communal relationship, a rite of passage which bonds two people and enshrines obligations and values. In this sense, it is difficult to talk about social development and reconstruction of African people and not include the issue of marriage. If one wants to destroy the fabric of the society at its core, one always starts at the roots of society itself; the institution of marriage as the very foundation of a family and society. All strong and known civilizations had strong traditions of marriage as backbones of nation building and people hood. Now modern society put demands on African people that were not there historically. The family structure that makes people sit down under a peer review is vanishing and the taboos of shame and dignity are also evaporating.

Disputes which once could easily be fixed by intercession are now reasons for irreconcilable squabbles as people are becoming less tolerant and at a first sign of a flaw, they get out of marriage and yet it is the understanding and accommodating of difference and growth that are critical to sustaining marriages and help build strong societies because of the values of respect and honesty. Everything in African cultures points to respect of the centrality of life and pro-life systems. The harvest, the coming of the rains, all speaks to the continuity of the life processes and the overall African philosophy is that life and the reproduction of life sit at the core of human society. Individualistic societies selfishly places emphasis on personal rights, called "freedom of choice", over the rights of the unborn, or the community.

The mental consequences of abortion are destructive to the woman. They suffer in silence because the innate mechanism of a woman's biological design was created to sustain life. Abortion is at odds with this innate design and creates a spiritual void and pain a woman never truly overcomes and no volume of feminism or counseling ever allows a woman to forgive herself after an abortion. . Marcus Garvey said "how dare anyone tells Africa that she cannot be redeemed?... the power that holds Africa is not Divine!... let us in shaping our own Destiny set before us the qualities of human justice, love, charity, mercy and equity.

Upon such foundation let us build a race, and I feel that the God who is Divine, the Almighty Creator of the world, shall forever bless this race of ours, and who to tell that we shall not teach men the way to life, liberty and true human happiness?" So, let us preserve the positive aspects of our cultural heritage as the Colloquium on Black civilization and education resolved in Nigeria in 1977 that all positive values of African traditional religion be encouraged and teach the younger generation the positive traditional values and norms and empower the younger girls to have self-respect and dignity instead of trying to throw the baby away with the dirty waters.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen.


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