Traditional leaders of the Oukwanyama, Kaoko and the Chief Tom Royal House in Kunene Region have thrown their weight behind the Olufuko initiation festival.
Young girls from some of those traditional authorities joined the Olufuko festival this year, in what appears to be a show of defiance of critics of Olufuko, and solidarity with the Outapi Town Council, the organiser of the event.
The Himba are among the adolescent girls undergoing initiation this year, which marks the transition from girlhood to womanhood.
The regional and local authorities for Oshana, Ohangwena, Oshikoto and Kunene regions have also given their backing to Olufuko, which started on August 24 and runs until September. Other countries such as Nigeria, Kenya and Angola have shown interest, with unofficial discussions being held on the possibility of including similar cultural exhibits from the three countries in the near future.
Girls from Ombadja in Angola are already participating in the initiation process. As a cherry on the cake, the national broadcaster, NBC, has entered an agreement with the Outapi Town Council to beam the event live for the next three years.
And as a hint at which direction Olufuko is taking, the chairman of the Omusati Regional Council, Tataati Shileka, spoke of the importance of male circumcision, as part of the transition from boyhood to manhood, saying contrary to widely held views of the practice as a pagan relic, Christian males are also now being circumcised.
The remarks, made during the official opening on Friday, had some speculating that the Olufuko festival would evolve to include male initiation as well.
Nevertheless it was the Deputy Minister of Education, Arts and Culture, Anna Nghipondoka, who explicitly condemned those criticising Olufuko as degrading to women and a backward practice, after which participating girls are deemed ready for marriage.
“It is about initiation where girls aged between 16 and 20 years are taught to look after themselves, how to behave as women, and learn about transition from girlhood to womanhood,” Nghipondoka said.
“They learn about the art of cooking and household management, and sexual education is part of that … to abstain from sex before marriage.”
“Olufuko is not a marriage proposal as some people believe,” said Nghipondoka.
She said the girls who participate in the initiation go back to school after the ceremony. “The girls participate on their own accord, under the guidance of their parents. To appreciate Olufuko one has to go back to the roots. It evolves around family, culture and identity.”
The deputy minister recommended that a study be carried out to determine the life conditions of the girls who undergo initiation before and after the ceremony, and that such information be shared with society on what happens during the initiation, as well as the legal and social implications of the initiation.
“This will help avert any fears and concerns of the public,” she said.
The Ombalantu Traditional Authority chief, Oswin Mukulu, expressed the hope that Olufuko would help address the issue of intimate relationship killing in the country, while condemning men who engage in such heinous acts of violence.
“In the past men also dated girls but we understood when she would say, ‘I have thought long and hard about this, you are not the right person for me.’ We did not kill the girl, we simply moved on and dated other women,” said Mukulu.
“But why do today’s men kill? Also at homes, mothers can see the daughter has many material things – two cellphones and expensive things that cannot be explained; yet parents never ask how did the daughter acquire such things. Children need to be taught to be content with what they have at home.”
Omusati Governor Erginus Endjala said the Olufuko festival should be viewed as another cultural festival, similar to the Germans’ Wika Carnival; and the Omagongo Festival, the Afrikaners’ Groot Trek event or Brazil’s Rio Carnival.
“Other cultures celebrate their festivals, therefore there is nothing sinister about Olufuko. It is befitting to go back to our roots and instil good behaviour in our society,” said Endjala.