The Namibian (Windhoek)

23 November 2012

Namibia: Olufuko - Why the Church Is Against This Initiation Rite

opinion

ARGUMENTS have been raised against the Church, especially the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN), for warning its members not to associate themselves with the traditional initiation rite of Olufuko which has been reintroduced by some Swapo and traditional leaders and it was performed during August this year at Outapi, Ombalantu, in Omusati Region.

The Church is also accused of having caused Olufuko to die in Owambo traditional society several years ago.

However, there are well-founded faith-based reasons that need to be taken into consideration in the face of these arguments. These are some of the reasons upon which the Church's stance rests and on which the Church will continue to stand its ground:

• The Church consists of the people who have been baptized in the name of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These believers have accepted that it is Jesus Christ who redeemed them with His blood from the wrath of God. They believe that they have been delivered from idolatrous worship to be His disciples and active members of His Body: the Church.

• We as Christians are fully convinced that there is only one universal living God who created heaven and earth and all that is in them. He is the centre and source of life and all the blessings that He extends to all His creatures. We as human beings depend on His goodwill for our daily existence.

• When a person becomes a Christian, he/she has decided to repent and believe in Jesus Christ and be baptised in Christ JesusÂ' name. The person has offered himself/herself to God through Jesus Christ. By entering into a relationship with Jesus Christ, the person has died to sin and been resurrected with Christ into a new life. Through baptism and faith in Jesus Christ the Saviour, the person has emerged as a new being and should not allow himself/herself to being the old self.

Given all the above, there is nothing that a traditional rite like Olufuko can offer the Christian believer. Some Christian women, including ELCIN members, went through Olufuko rites before they became Christians. They know very well that what was being practiced was evil. It entailed believing in Namunganga (witchdoctor) who is regarded as very important and powerful during the Olufuko ceremony. He is believed to be the one who imparts good luck and fortune to the initiates. To bless their future marriages, he performs certain rituals like using his penis to stir Oshiwambo traditional drink (omalodu) which all the initiates have to drink. People believed in this and other related secret powers. People (especially in Oukwanyama area) also believed in the beating of drums as a method of inviting blessings. Anyone for whom the drum was not beaten during the Olufuko ceremony was not regarded as having been initiated into the rite of passage.

As Christians, we believe that God is the only source of blessings and fortunes. He is the Savior and Redeemer. There is no need for practices such as indulging in Olufuko to bring about good fortune.

Also, the practice of Olufuko is a clear demonstration of oppression and humiliation to the girls being initiated. Many of them are forced into it and undergo practices that violate their bodies and, in certain circumstances, even their constitutional rights. During Olufuko ceremony, young women are kept half-naked and made ready to be chosen by men without undergoing proper marriage procedures. The ChurchÂ's position is that women are created in the image of God and their bodies have to be respected and protected. Their dignity and humanity and womanhood have to be treated with veneration and awe.

Instead of taking Namibian girls to Olufuko and making them dependent on the good fortunes falsely imparted by Namunganga, they must be encouraged to believe in themselves and that they can live independently. They must be equipped fully with quality education and training so that they can decide their own destiny.

* The author of this opinion piece, Dr. Abisai Shejavali, is the former head of the Council of Churches in Namibia (CCN).

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