ONGWEDIVA - Abisai Shilomoka Heita, who has “declared” himself as the king of the Ombalantu Traditional District, says the Olufuko initiation rite which formed part of the just-ended Olufuko Festival is paganism and “an antagonism to Christianity.”
Heita says he was appointed as king by the Ombalantu royal family.
Speaking to Nampa at Ongwediva recently, he said although he is not against the festival his opinion is that any Christian who associates himself with the Olufuko initiation rite by taking their daughter to be prepared for womanhood there, is in violation of Christian norms and principles.
The Olufuko initiation rites are said to prepare young women for womanhood.
“I support the order by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia that its members must distance themselves from the Olufuko initiation, and I suggest that any Christians who make themselves guilty of associating with this event should also be prepared to be expelled from the church,” he said. He went on to say the church’s stance should not be criticised or condemned, because such stance was taken in defence of the interests of the church and the Christian ideology.
Heita, however, argued that as “one of the custodians of the traditions and cultures in the country”, he has no problem with the hosting of the festival on the grounds that its initiation rites have been part of the tradition and culture of the AaWambo people before Christianity became dominant.
However, he pointed out that it becomes a problem when church members associate themselves with the activities of the Olufuko Festival, after the church leadership had rejected it.
Heita also stated that he feels that he should be the patron of the Olufuko Festival, since according to him, he is the designated king of the Ombalantu Traditional District - the host area of the initiation festival.
Referring to the festival’s current patron, former President Dr Sam Nujoma, he went on to say that it is not “proper” for a statesman to be the patron of the Olufuko Festival. Heita is no stranger to controversy.
He continues to call himself king of Ombalantu despite the stance of the Ombalantu Traditional Authority (OTA) that Chief Oswin Mukulu remains the head of the Ombalantu tribe.
The OTA has repeatedly said the Ministry of Regional and Local Government, Housing and Rural Development has never received a formal request for the appointment and installation of a king in Ombalantu. The Outapi Town Council, in conjunction with the regional and traditional authorities in the Omusati Region, initiated this first-ever Olufuko Festival.
The event is made up of four categories - traditional/cultural performances which include the Olufuko initiation rite, agriculture, arts and commerce.
News of the revival of the tradition, which was said to have died out some 80 years ago, attracted heavy criticism from churches and local human rights organisation, NamRights.
In a statement signed by Bishop Shekutamba Nambala of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN) last month, the church rejected the introduction of the Olufuko initiation rites.
The leadership of that church also called on its members to distance themselves from the Olufuko Festival activities.
“We would like to make it clear to our members that ELCIN neither condones, nor supports, the traditional initiation rites for girls,” the church statement had read.
NamRights described the festival as an undue and outdated revival of traditional marriage practices. “We totally reject the Olufuko practice because it is discriminatory and degrading against girls,” NamRights Executive Director Phil Ya Nangoloh said in a media release issued last month. He called on the business community and any other concerned persons to reject the festival so as not to encourage the violation of women’s right in the country.
Reacting to the ELCIN statement, the Olufuko Festival’s organising committee defended the initiation rites for young women, arguing that “even Jesus himself went through initiation in accordance with his Jewish culture and tradition.”
The committee also put it to the church that the Namibian Constitution does not give religion a superseding role over culture and tradition.
Chairperson of the Organising Committee and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Outapi Town, Oswin Namakalu, said 16 companies, 90 kapana stalls, 76 small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), 40 arts and craft entities and 42 agricultural equipment companies and livestock farmers featured in the Olufuko Festival.
Former President Nujoma officially opened the festival on August 23, and President Hifikepunye Pohamba also paid a surprise visit to the festival.