. Efundula: Women’s Initiation, Gender and Sexual Identities in Northern Namibia
scale premarital pregnancies of young women (‘teenage pregnancies’) and AIDS. The social significance of efundula in regulating female sexuality and fertility, which, as informants in Owambo have suggested, need more attention in research and education, has certainly not been recognised by the Christian churches. Instead, the Lutheran church particularly persists in its policy that young women have to ‘repent’ for partaking in initiation ceremonies by confessing in front of the congregation. They also have to attend the church-run ‘schools of repent’, usually of three weeks duration, before they will be re-admitted to the community of believers. Individual parish pastors, on occasion, express different personal views, but the prevailing moral discourse of all Christian denominations in Owambo continues to reject ‘traditional’, African sexual and ritual practices for their perceived immorality. The message to young people is, put simply, that they should ‘behave’, that is, abstain from any sexual activities until their church wedding.
The dominant church discourse of gender and sexuality is strongly reminiscent of the mission’s earlier prescriptions. Gendered identities that were promulgated by the missionaries in the first half of the 20th century are presented in the postcolonial discourse as ‘traditional’: a ‘good woman’ is depicted as being weak, shy, passive—in fact, she ‘does not speak up’. Women, like children, ‘are to be seen, not heard’. This notion of femininity is opposed by that of a hegemonic masculinity that emphasises strength and virility (Becker 1995:115). With the ‘Christian’ language and system of belief goes an idealised concept of a desexual – ised mother-woman. If women do not live by the standards of ‘Christian’ gendered morality, this is cause for considerable moral anxiety even among the youngest generation of church leaders. This point was driven home to me when, in 1999, I lectured at the Lutheran training seminary in Windhoek on ‘AIDS and the church’. A number of male students articulated the perception that women and female sexuality were root causes of the AIDS pandemic in Namibia because of women’s lax sexual mores. The women students in the class sat silent throughout.
On a more general level there is also a postcolonial, secular reincarnation of the Christian morality discourse on the excessive African sexuality, with a comparable summary rejection of local practices. This discourse has gained currency in Namibia among some local feminists as well as among international researchers, consultants, and development aid workers. At its core, it has indiscriminately redefined local practices pertaining to gender and sexuality as ‘harmful traditional practices’ (HTPs). Women’s initiation has come to occupy a central place in this discourse, partly, it appears, drawing on the international campaigns against women’s circumcision. These campaigns are irrelevant in Namibia in the absence of any modifications on the initiates’ bodies. Yet, when researchers from the Uni-
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