When Sipho was born, her parents could not decide on a name, and so she remained nameless for two weeks. They eventually got so desperate that the mum started to call the numbers in her phonebook to ask them what they thought was a good name.
It so happens that the mum keyed in the wrong digit while trying to call one of her friends.
The stranger listened to her lament without interrupting and even went ahead to suggest a name. She explained that she should name her Sipho (meaning gift) since she was a gift from God.
The mum only realized she had spoken to a stranger a day later! She took it as a sign.
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Talking of naming, various African cultures have unique and fascinating ceremonies that babies undergo to be named, before becoming fully-fledged community members.
Empaako Naming Ceremony
Empaako is a praise name given to a baby from among the 12 names shared across the communities of the Batooro, Banyoro, Batagwenda, Batuku and Banyabindi, found in western Uganda.
The naming ceremony is performed at home, presided over by the clan elder with the participation of relatives. The names are given concurrently with the traditional names.
The 12 empaako include Okaali (a reserve for the king), Apuuli, Araali, Bbala and Acaali, exclusively for men, and Akiiki, Adyeri, Amooti, Ateenyi, Atwoki, Abbooki and Abwoli, shared among both sexes.
The naming ceremony is conducted three days after birth for a baby girl and four days for a baby boy. The numbers three and four are sacred figures among the communities concerned when used in the life of a human being and, therefore, are applied in every ritual action.
After birth, the child and the mother stayed in a sacred room for the specified days. During those days, the father was not supposed to engage in any sexual activities but to care for the mother and baby. There are six rituals of the naming ceremony; the procession and ceremonial laughter (Enseko z’orweyo), recognising, selecting the Empaako (Kuruka), a traditional meal (Ekihuro), giving gifts (Kurabuka Omwana) and planting of the Omutoma tree.
On the day of the ceremony, the paternal and maternal aunties move in and out of the house four times while laughing, carrying a basket of banana peels and dirt swept from the house.
After the fourth time, the aunties pour the dirt on a banana tree specifically for making local beer known as Embiira if the baby is a boy. If it is a girl, the contents are poured on an edible banana tree known as Enyamunyo.
Next is the ritual of selecting the Empaako. The paternal grandfather sits on a small stool in the living room, which must be the only chair in the room. The father, uncles and aunties sit on the floor.
He then requests the baby be handed over to him, and he inspects its features to ascertain that it belongs to the family. If indeed the baby belongs to the family, the ceremony continues. If not, everything stops and the council of elders converge to sort out the mess.
Paternal and maternal relatives propose several names. In the end, the grandfather declares the Empaako by addressing it to the baby directly four times.
Next, everyone shares a traditional meal, after which family members offer the baby gifts such as goats, cows, chicken and money.
The last part is planting the Omutoma tree (for a baby boy)to signify the abundant life of the clan as represented by a rich natural environment and the characteristics and functions of the tree. It is the most enduring tree.
If it is a baby girl, a banana, a perennial food plant and staple food for most Empaako communities, is planted instead. It is to signify the responsibility to guarantee subsistence and food security for the home and community.
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The unique Borana Naming Ceremony
The naming ceremony among the Borana happens between six months and three years after a child's birth. They do not rush in naming a child as they believe names have the power to shape a person's destiny, therefore, has to be carefully selected. Before then, the parents call the child by random names of their choice.
Upon choosing a name, the parents inform the elders, who then decide on the ay for the ceremony. The ceremony is known as gubbisa for a firstborn son and moogatii for any other child.
The ceremony lasts for about three days. A ceremonial hut known as galma is built eight days prior, particularly for the celebrations. The father of the child invites relatives and neighbours to the event.
On the day of the ceremony, each guest brings an oodha(gourd) full of fermented milk as a gift to the family. To begin with, the father shaves the child's head, signifying a fresh start.
For a baby girl, the centre of the head is kept shaven until marriage time to determine her single status. The father fits the baby with a copper bracelet(mchira), a small metal bell on the right upper arm(hagaloo) and a necklace(hagaafii).
The two parents then enter the galma to prepare the buni, a ceremonial drink made from roasted coffee beans and fresh milk. Everybody in attendance drinks the buni while an elder prays.
Women start milking cows at about nine in the evening, and then everybody gets back to the galma. The baby's parents eat eight roasted berries, symbolizing that their son is now officially entering the family.
The father lifts the baby up in his arms and informs everyone of the name chosen. The people then respond with a short prayer wishing the baby a long life.
Upon announcing the name, women burst into songs and dance, which continue throughout the night, with the child's name chanted in between the lyrics.
The child is passed from one person to the next as they continue to proclaim a happy life, abundance of cattle, pasture and water.
At the crack of dawn, a bull is sacrificed. The meat is shared among the guests, marking the end of the ceremony. The child becomes a full member of the community.
Did You Know? 🚀
The baby name 'Sarah' is banned in Morocco. It is considered too Hebrew. A parent would have to opt for 'Sara', the more Arabic version.
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