ALL the controversy surrounding the reintroduction of a girls' initiation ritual at Outapi in the Omusati Region is theatre blown out of proportion. This came to light after the organisers of the Olufuko festival came under heavy criticism for trying to revive a tradition where young girls were prepared for adulthood.
The organisers of the festival scheduled for August 21 to 27 now say they have been "misunderstood".
While the festival will be known as Olufuko - the name of an ancient Owambo initiation rite - the event will be a trade fair where the region's cultural diversity will be showcased and where people will exhibit and sell traditional foods and products.
One of the proponents of the festival, Omusati governor Sophia Shaningwa, said the Olufuko initiation for girls will be only one of the many facets of traditional lifestyle that will be exhibited and "dramatised".
Shaningwa explained that the demonstration of the Olufuko tradition will include how it was done in the past to "show the people who have never seen or who have never experienced it in practice".
She said it will not be an actual exercise as it was done in the past, where the participants went through initiation rituals to prepare them for marriage.
She said the name Olufuko, which refers to female initiation into adulthood and where men could choose their brides, may have cause the confusion.
It was reported earlier that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN) called on its members to boycott the festival, saying that it clashed with Christian practices.
In a pastoral letter denouncing the ritual, ELCIN leadership said they they "view it as a route through which the youth will be encouraged to be promiscuous and that this might lead to an increase in the spread of sexually transmitted diseases".
Shaningwa repeated that during the festivities "traditional practices will be showcased, agricultural products will be displayed and sold too".
She said no ceremony will be held where men will choose brides. "It will just dramatise the practice," Shaningwa emphasised yesterday.
The NamRights human rights group also came out against the planned revival of the ritual, saying it is discriminatory and degrading to young girls.
The director of NamRights, Phil ya Nangolo, asked the Ombudsman to investigate the practice, and also wrote to President Hifikepunye Pohamba asking him to intervene in terms of the provisions of the Constitution to ensure that girls below the age of 18 are not involved in the ritual. Nangolo also encouraged businesspeople to boycott the event.