By Shivute Kaapanda
WITH the ongoing onslaught on the validity and the moral standing of the Olufuko Cultural Festival, there is need for serious public dialogue as well as intellectual clarity, specifically for the benefit of those who are inclined to believe that Africa is a place where religious doctrines and foreign legal systems are used as competent lenses of human morality.
Like other customs in the diversity of African cultures, Olufuko is an African customary practice of Aawambo people, which marks the transformation of young girls into adulthood, using culturally acceptable practices guided by customary laws.
Therefore in the context of the customary version of Ancestral law, Olufuko like any other sister practices in Africa, is legally valid and ethical. The legality and morality of the Olufuko practice via the lenses of the law of the Roman-Dutch law creates hypocrisy of the highest order, when it comes to legality on cultural practices of this land. The moral compass was twisted to fit the context of the colonisers over the indigenous population of Africa.
Olufuko has been in practice as a rite of passage of young girls into adulthood since the 18th and 19th centuries in Ombaanhu kingdom and it catered for the neighbouring kingdoms of Oukwambi, Ongandjera and Oukwaluudhi. The 2018 research made by the University of Namibia and the Outapi Town Council helps us to find more clarity on the Olufuko practice as a custom not only limited to Aawambo people of Namibia but also reflected in other African tribes and sub-tribes. The practice is comparable to “Efundula”, practiced in Oukwanyama kingdom, “Umemulo” in the amaZulu tribe of South Africa and the practice of “dhahara” in Kenya. These are old age customs born of African traditions organised to celebrate the rite of passage of young girls from childhood to adulthood.
Some of these practices were banished by religious laws of Christianity and were seen as barbaric and backward by the foreign laws.
The colonial inheritance of the Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776 which influenced human rights in the constitution as another source of law in Namibia to which some argued the right of privacy and dignity allegedly committed by the Olufuko practice, are all inherent of colonialism and apartheid racism.
Olufuko preserves dignity in a traditional context. But, in any context “legal” does not mean moral; and morality is relative. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once gave us a good analogy in contemplating on moral relativity that: “Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music”.
By pointing out that Roman-Dutch law is more appropriate than the customary law of Aawambo or of any other African tribe amounts to a hate and direct violation of Aawambo customary laws of Olufuko. As indicated by activist Desiderius Amutenya in the context of customary law violations “the customary law of Ombaanhu was flagrantly violated to make way for foreign laws” therefore there is a need to look into Ancestral law claims in the same context of ancestral land claim due to genocide and colonialism.
As with Christianity, the Church’s entitlement to advise society on moral values is very much problematic, firstly as a foreign-imposed religious entity. In the words of compatriot Nenkama Agnes Shishani: “No saviour from Israel or any Jew will come save Africa in preserving customary laws on marriage”. No Jewish carpenter would be interested in preserving Olufuko and other African customs if not ourselves. Africans should believe in their own moral and legal consciousness in order to save their own laws.
The legal and moral position of Olufuko does not, however, change due to foreign perceptions. Olufuko remains relevant in Africa the same way any customary practice in any part of the world is relevant. There is no absolute normality or legality, all these are subject to relativity and therefore we ought to deal with the question of “relativity” as we continue with this dialogue.
* Shivute Kaapanda is a critical theorist / philosopher
Confidente. Lifting the Lid. Copyright © 2015