ONGWEDIVA – Many members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (Elcin) continue to defy the church’s threats to excommunicate them if they undergo the traditional Oshiwambo initiation called olufuko.
Elcin, during its State of the Church Address held recently at Oniipa, echoed its stance that it would excommunicate young members going through olufuko, as well as parents and guardians allowing their children to undergo initiation.
Olufuko is an Oshiwambo traditional initiation practice, whereby young girls are trained to become fully responsible adults.
Outapi Town Council in Omusati Region hosts an olufuko cultural festival annually, and has consistently rubbished the church’s claims the event promoted sexual activities or early marriages among young girls. If anything, council often argued, the event taught young girls morality and uprightness before marriage.
Elcin members who subscribe to the ideals of olufuko did not appear too impressed at the church’s hard stance on the matter, especially after presiding Bishop Shekutamba Nambala, in his address, repeated threats to excommunicate devotees of the traditional practice.
There are no known incidents of excommunication in the Elcin family of congregations due to olufuko participation yet.
“It is not as if the church comes to olufuko to do a roll-call. The church is one thing, but culture is another aspect which defines who we are. Whether it is sinful or not is a matter between my God and I,” a proponent of olufuko, who is an Elcin congregant, said.
“My participation is personal, but I still need to be made to understand in what way olufuko is sinful. I am a Christian and I don’t see how my participation makes me less of a Christian,” another participating congregant said.
Both congregants spoke on condition of anonymity, citing possible victimisation.
Bishop Nambala said the initiation is a form of child abuse, giving underage children the right of way to engage in sexual activities and subsequently have children.
“Those who are defending olufuko are hiding behind the concept of culture, yet they are failing to live by their culture because the things they use and the food they eat are not part of their culture,” Nambala reiterated.
“In addition, they do not send their children or relatives, so how are they are able to tell others about the good of olufuko if they barely know anything about it,” the Bishop asked.
According to Nambala, participation in the initiation defies the church values, principles and ethos.
Pressed on the practicality and implementation of ousting members from church activities, Elcin general-secretary Alpo Enkono said the church relies on the community and church elders to report fellow congregants’ participation.
Apart from the informants, Enkono said some participating congregants also willingly come to confess and seek to be restored to take part in the church activities.
“One does not even need to wait to be reported. We should know the principles of the church and live by them,” said Enkono.
Enkono said participating members in olufuko are not barred from attending church services, but are only denied privileges in taking part in church activities such as the Holy Communion amongst others.