LATELY a section of our religious community in the country have come out blazing and fuming against the Olufuko cultural festival, and the practice of initiation that goes along with this festival and the broader cultural practice of initiation.
I cannot claim nor would I for once claim to have the slightest knowledge what Olufuko entails. Thus I shall be the last to declare and judge it as an abominable and archaic practice.
But I shall defend the right of a people to practice their culture, and as much the right of an individual within any cultural group to be protected against cultural practices, which while defining the cultural being of any cultural group, may infringe on the rights of any individual. The pertinent question is, which of the two is paramount and needs more protection. This is not a question that any one can answer impulsively without giving the matter the necessary thinking, and striking the requisite balance between the two types of rights.
As much as one would want to protect the right (s) of any individual all the way, one must also be conscious of the fact that each one of us as individuals belong to one or the other group, be this cultural, social, economical, religious and what-have-you. It is our individual right, which culminates in our group rights and constitutionally both types of rights are protected. The individual cannot exist without the whole and vice versa. So when we are considering the rights of either, we should keep in mind that one does not necessarily exist without the other but that there is a symbiotic relationship between the two.
One cannot but appreciate the ecumenical section of society and communities as the moral compass of our society and communities. As much as it is the duty and obligation of society and communities to give moral direction to society and communities, society and communities cannot be subjected to whimsical religious moral values and standards alone. But such must be an aggregate of the different moral values and standards pertaining to society and communities at any given time - a product of give and take to bring about the necessary syntheses and compromise among a diverse people.
Those quick to jump to conclusions and condemn our cultural practices as archaic, uncivilised, and all scornful labels they generously heap on such practices, seem to have lost sight of the fact these very traditional communities and their traditional practices have been the bastions of our traditional existence, and by extension of society at large. With the observations of traditional practices we seem to have had little problem in maintaining moral values and standards within our communities and society at large. In the wake of the erosion, degeneration and retrogression of such traditional practices, which coincided with the advent of various foreign beliefs and religions, we have seen a complete breakdown of communities and the social fabric in every imaginable facet of our modern and so-called civilised and developed living today - a euphemism for decadence and moral decay.
Those who have been vociferous in their condemnation of Olufuko have done everything but inform and convince society why in this age, Olufuko is an abominable traditional practice compared to yesterday? What has changed about this very practice today that makes it undesirable, distasteful and non-traditional other than the contamination of modernity. Please let’s go to the essence of the practice and the purpose it was designed for other than engaging in its superficiality, misinterpretations and misconstruction to suit the pseudo-morals of some modernisers, and their religious fellow travelers who think they are riding the moral high ground compared to the rest of us.
In my own tradition there is also something that I would liken to Olufuko, which is Ouramue, a process of preparing young girls for womanhood. The practice of ouramue, which also entails cousins inter-marrying, has been grossly twisted to fit the moral bankruptcy of the “modernisers” and “civilised” that I would not be surprised that, likewise, Olufuko may be misunderstood, if not deliberately twisted to suit the moral values and whims of those who seem to have bought into, and are confused by adopted foreign cultures to the extent that their own traditions and cultures have become some kind of nemeses to them.
The essence of Olufuko, I am made to understand, is initiation of young girls into womanhood, and also preparation for their latter lives as wives. I don’t see anything wrong in this. In fact such socialisation is already happening in our homes, schools, work place where the younger generation is being prepared for their latter roles as mature members of society whether as wives, husbands, mothers or fathers, men or women or what-have-you.
Please, if modernity has taken away the need for members of any traditional community to be so initiated, it does not mean that such initiation is inherently and integrally abominable. On the contrary for all these centuries such initiations have been the sustenance of many of our cultural groupings. If that has been the case for centuries why should it now stop within the blink of an eye? Why should such a cultural sine qua non of a traditional community be forfeited for religious reasons only? Yes, if modern day living is becoming out of tune with some of our cultural traditions, the best we can do is to adapt them to changed circumstances and times, but not to dismiss them out of hand all of a sudden as if they have not been important edifices of our cultural existence!