THE Namibian Government and other respondents have dismissed as “frivolous, vexatious and inappropriate” a court case in which NamRights is demanding the abolishment of the girls’ initiation rite, Olufuko, hosted annually by the Outapi Town council in the Omusati Region.
The Olufuko Cultural Festival is an age-old tradition of Ovawambo that prepares girls for marriage.
With the advent of Christianity, the Olufuko initiation was demonized as “a pagan practice” and was gradually relegated to obscurity, but in 2012 it was re-introduced in its modern form.
NamRights, through its executive director Phil yaNangoloh, approached the High Court weeks before the hosting of this year’s Olufuko Festival in August.
The respondents include the Namibian Government, the Outapi Town Council, the Traditional Authorities of Ombalantu and Ombadja and Founding President Sam Nujoma who is the patron of the popular annual event.
The respondents said that the case has no merit, but yaNangoloh is unfazed and is pressing ahead.
“Let the case run its course,” he said, “because the organizers of Olufuko are to my opinion actively participating, reviving, promoting and safeguarding a festival which is manifestly unlawful and unconstitutional for persons under the age of 18.”
He said that “it is patently clear” that girls under the age 18 are being initiated. “Even a cursory look at the pictures proves conclusively that some of the girls are way below the age of 18,” he said, expressing the hope that the court will decide in his favor.
“Olufuko gives girls under the age of consent a license to become sexually active and to bear children. It is for a girl what graduation is for a student,” he said.
Answering a question, YaNangoloh who said that he wants nothing less than a court order abolishing Olufuko, also said that he would be satisfied should the court simply order the organizers to advertise the event as “not for girls under age 18”.
Traditionally, Olufuko initiation rites include girls as young as 12, but the Outapi Town council’s website elevates the minimum age to 15, describing Olufuko as “a female initiation, under which girls between the age of 15 and 20 have to go through in order to become mature and marriageable women.”
The revival of Olufuko in 2012 was immediately denounced in a pastoral letter signed by Bishop Vaino Nambala of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Namibia (ELCIN), but when Father Jose Thomas of the Catholic Church opened the inaugural Olufuko Festival with a prayer, it became clear that Christians were not united on the matter.