Otse mbaka, this is who we are : cultural loss, change and recuperation in Ovamboland

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This thesis is an investigation into the terms of cultural change in north central Namibia. I am primarily concerned with issues of agency in the processes which result in cultural change, and look at both historical and contemporary agents of change in order to determine who and what impacts cultural dynamism, and what implications this has for a newly independent country within a globalised world. These issues are presented through the lenses of Identity, Power and Politics and Globalisation. In this thesis, I posit that traditionally, Ovambo people have not been empowered in decisions regarding cultural change, which has resulted in a sense of cultural 'loss'. This sense exists within the context of culture being seen as strongly associated with the past - past practices, activities, traditions and customs, as well as early development theory which insisted that such things were indicative of a backward and primitive society at odds with the principles of modernisation. In order to progress, such practices were, with and without reticence, abandoned or changed. Contemporary Ovamboland, however, represents a dynamic cultural mélange of traditional and modern life, which co-exist whilst negotiating issues such as the impact of HIV/AIDS and neo-liberal style of post-independence democracy. Therefore, by investigating the cultural shortfall in traditional development theory, and using examples of different forms of cultural development, I suggest that when culture is seen as an important consideration of development, as well as supported as a field of development in its own right, cultural identity becomes clearer, and cultural futures are determined more democratically. In order to demonstrate these ideas, I am drawing from a number of case studies in which I was professionally involved, as well as through interviews conducted in the field. By presenting the differing agendas of international engagement in development work as well as different types of cultural development projects, I will highlight the complexities of development theory in practice, particularly when capital is involved, and how these relate to the wider issues of cultural preservation versus cultural change.
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