The Namibian (Windhoek)

28 August 2012

Namibia: Olufuko: Brides Return Home

AFTER being enclosed in a traditional homestead with strangers for six days in an initiation ceremony aimed at preparing them for "womanhood", the Olufuko 'brides' started a new chapter in their young lives.

The girls from various Aawambo tribes in the Omusati Region have returned to their communities to continue with their lives, and some might have a prospective husband at their doorstep negotiating for their hand.

The Olufuko Festival which ended at Outapi over the weekend was a combination of a trade fair and a controversial initiation for girls called Olufuko.

Dressed in attractive handmade traditional jewellery, the Odelelela, smeared with a traditional lotion called Oshide and milk fat, 17 young, shiny girls aged between 15 and 19 years took part in the Olufuko ceremony.

Girls took part in more than 10 traditional activities in and outside the homestead. Every activity had a connotation.

The initiation ended in style. On Saturday, one ritual required the girls to jump over a fire outside the homestead. A ritual called Okukokola was last on the list. The girls were smeared with Omalodu, a traditional brew. They were given figurines made of salt from Ongandjera.

Crafted specifically for them, the statues called empalo, symbolise babies, and were even given names by the girls.

All the brides were schoolgirls, and fears were expressed that they might be penalised at school for their participation in the rituals.

Omusati governor, Sophia Shaningwa, gave a stern warning to schools not to turn away teens who participated in the Olufuko ceremony.

"Any principal that sends back the kids that attended the event will be dealt with by the governor," she said.

The revival of Olufuko provoked much controversy and debate.

It attracted heavy criticism from the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the local human rights organisation, which called it a revival of archaic child marriages, and especially condemned a violation of the girls' rights through "virginity testing".

However, the Roman Catholic Church blessed the Olufuko Cultural Festival last week, hinting that the church was not against the initiation. Officiating at the opening, Pastor Jose Thomas of the Onamulenge congregation said the festival should be a platform for preserving culture and customs.

Oswin Namakalo, the chief executive officer of the Outapi Town Council, said some schools barred their pupils from visiting the festival.

"They said it's a satanic event," he said.

According to him, a church congregation at Outapi even threatened to suspend any follower for three to four years if they attended the event.

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