It came as a surprise, therefore, when in early 1996 the national television channel screened a half-hour programme on a recently held efundula} The TV programme (Carstens 1996) recorded the preparation of the ceremony, the performance of dances, songs and specific ritual practices, as well as interviews with some initiates and the ritual leader, an elderly man. The next surprise came when I prepared for field research later in 1996. Some of the very people who had said earlier that they did not know whether the ceremonies were still held now informed me that in recent weeks they had heard announcements over the Namibian Broadcasting Company’s (NBC) oshiWambo radio service that omafundula were to take place in different areas of Oukwanyama, the most populous of the Owambo districts that straddles the Namibian-Angolan border.
This was even more puzzling: initiation ceremonies undoubtedly took place regularly as public events. And yet, so many Owambo friends had pleaded ignorance when I had asked them about initiation. These apparent contradictions raised a set of questions concerning the shifting, multiple representations of culture, gender and sexuality in colonial and postcolonial Namibia. Revisiting the shifting and seemingly contradictory representations of women’s initiation during the colonial and postcolonial eras provided an opportunity to rethink the gendered reconstruction and re-appropriation of such cultural spaces as are tied in with the evocation of sexuality. Furthermore, it allowed the questions to be asked of how local identities and identity politics have rested, and continue to rest, on shifting constructions of gender.