Empaako Naming Ceremony Amongst The Banyoro Empaako Community Of Western Uganda
The people of Bunyoro are known as Banyoro (singular Munyoro). They belong to the expansive Kitara Empire/Kingdom of Bunyoro-Kitara in Western Uganda, in the area to the immediate east of Lake Albert(Mwitanzige).
Their cultural leader is the Omukama (King). Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom is currently comprised of the districts of Hoima, Masindi and Kibale, Buliisa, Kiryandongo, Kikuube, Kagadi and Kakumiro.
The native language spoken is Runyoro-Rutooro, a bantu language. Runyoro-Rutooro is also spoken by the people of Tooro Kingdom, whose cultural traditions are similar to those of the Banyoro.
Inspite of Western cultural imperialism, the Banyoro have maintained their rich cultural heritage. While many Western cultural elements have been assimilated, many Banyoro proudly uphold the ancient traditions of their ancestors one of them being the Empaako Intangible Cultural Heritage
The Empaako Intangible Cultural Heritage in Bunyoro unique to Bunyoro community of western Uganda, are praise names known as the “empaako”. These names are given at the same time a child is given or named a Kinyoro Cultural or traditional name.
For a girl the naming ceremony is conducted three days after birth and for a boy it is after four days. The Empaako praise names are special names used to show love and expressing general appreciation or endearment, drawing a person’s particular attention or seeking reconciliation.
In situations of personal conflict, they are used to restore order and harmony. Children call their parents by the empaako, not the regular names
The empaako is also the salutation when the Banyoro greet each other. Instead of the Western “Good morning, John?” the Banyoro substitute the empaako for John “oraire ota Amooti-Good morning Amooti”.
There are 12 empaako praise names, shared by all Banyoro they are Abwoli, Adyeri, Araali, Akiiki, Atwoki, Abbooki, Apuuli, Abbala, Acaali, Atenyi , Amooti and Okaali. The official empaako of the Omukama is always Amooti, regardless of what it used to be before he became the Omukama (Cultural King).
Another, very special, empaako reserved for the Omukama or King alone is Okaali. Okaali praise name is only used by the King and no any other person can be allowed to use it
In Bunyoro empaako community, twins are automatically given empaako either because they are first or second born and also if they are female or male. Female- first born- Amooti Nyangoma
Female-second born-Adyeri Nyakato,Male- first born-Amooti-Isingoma, Male-born- second- Adyeri– Kato. The siblings which follow twins are also given particular Empaako, e.g. Kiiza is always Amooti, Nsungwa-Adyeri, and Kaahwa-Ateenyi.
The Empaako Naming Ceremony/Ritual In Bunyoro Empaako Community
Traditionally child delivery was administered by the traditional birth attendants in the Bunyoro empaako community in one of the rooms(omukisiika) in the family house and this is where the child stayed(stays) for three days for the case of a girl and four days if the child is a boy, in case of the modern hospital childbirth on return the room the child is first laid to rest becomes the sacred room until the specified days above are over and the proceedings of the empaako naming ritual are sanctioned.
During the sacred days the farther of the child is not expected to engage in any sexual activities in case of polygamous setting and he is expected to keep around the mother and the baby offering great care and support. Within the three or four days of the child’s sacred period(while in the sacred room) village folks who are friends and relatives of the family continue to bring food drinks and others items which will be used during the empaako ceremony at the end of the specified days.
Early morning at dawn ( hamambya) at the end of the sacred days village members, friends and relatives begin to throng the home of the child to be given the empaako, women start preparations of the food items eg grinding of millet, frying and pounding of the ground nuts (ebinyobwa), collecting firewood in the nearby forest or hill etc, men and boys start fetching water from the fresh wells, making final touches on the ceremony hour, elders will start to arrive and engage guiding of the required ceremony standards of the day, meanwhile the mother of the child keeps inside the sacred room taking grate care of the child and breastfeeding the baby to ensure limited cries during the ceremony proceedings
The Empaako Ceremony/Ritual proceedings
At exactly 6:00 am a goat is slaughtered, it is taken to a nearby banana plantation or bush and the mother to the newly born baby is called up to slap or cane the goad once a gesture which signals that the mother of the child has acknowledged the kick off of the day’s proceedings starting with the slaughtering of the goat.
The goat is slaughtered later on the intestines of the goat well prepared or cooked and given to the mother to take as a way of replacing blood lost during child delivery and also to increase on the breast milk, the rest of the meat is used to serve the guests who have come to witness the naming ceremony
Food & Drinks preparations
A traditional meal is prepared and this is the chief corner stone of the entire ritual, it entails the following items millet bread “ekihuro ky’oburo” and a traditional sauce ground nut sauce known as “enyobwo”. In Preparation of the millet bread by the women, the millet must be grinded on a traditional grinding stone drawn from special rocks it is called “emengo” the said millet is mixed with dry pounded cassava and grinded substantive floor is collected into a traditional basket referred to as “ekiibo”.
The millet cassava mixed floor is mingled to prepare millet bread using traditional sauce pans called enyungu/entamu and this traditional use of the ancient artifacts or items must be adhere to, no plastics or metallic items are supposed to be used in the sacred meal preparations.
Other women continue to engage in the preparation of the traditional sauce referred to as “enyobwo”, The women fry the ground nuts and pound them in a traditional pounding motor made from trees later the gnut floor is mixed in the cooked dry beans other ingredients like traditional non salt drawn from Kibiro salt mines along the shores of lake Albert (mwitanzige) in Hoima district are added including tomatoes and onions to spice up the sauce thus fully constituting a traditional meal referred to as “Ekihuro ky’oburo n’enyobwo”-meal of gnuts and millet. This meal is the major meal jointly shared by those performing the empaako naming ceremony
Another sacred meal prepared is called “Amacalya sauce” it is comprised of the following traditional mashrooms called “obutuzi bw’ensorro”, sliced and dried young pumpkins (Ebikeke), white aunts (enswa z’empahu”, Ground nuts (ebinyobwa), cooked and dried and pounded young leaves of cow pies-vigna unguiculata (enkoole) Dried meat (Omukaro gw’enyama), Onions (Obutunguru) and Tomatoes (Enyaanya) these are prepared jointly and fine sweet out come of the sauce is what is called “Amacalya” tasty sauce.
Amacalya sauce is jointly eaten by all those performing the traditional ceremony. Two other special sauces prepare include the goats meat which is shared across all those performing the empaako naming ceremony but the intestines are all reserved for the mother of the baby other guests also do enjoy the goats meat as the ceremony progresses on
Further there are three traditional baskets prepared called “endiro” each containing a different food item the first basket contains coffee which is referred to as “akaitamukago” traditionally whle making long lasting friendship this coffee is brought forward and cuttings are made on the stormach of the two people intending to be long life friendship who shall never betray one another, however for this case the sweet cooked coffee mixed with salt is simply eaten to signify the strong friendship amongst the family members, the newly born baby and those perfuming the empaako naming ceremony
Another basket prepared contains special type of banana called “egonja”-musa species, it is smoked on the traditional fire until it ready to be eaten, signifying that the baby should be a darling of the people, he should be loved the way this special sweet banana is adored and loved to be eaten in the society of the Banyoro empaako naming ceremony in western Uganda.
The third basket contains a combination of fried sim sim “sesame” or locally called amacande ground nuts, cow pies-vigna unguiculata
On drinks fresh water drawn from fresh natural wells (eiziba) must be used, this is put in a pot and placed at the corner in the sitting room as early as 6:00am to allow it cool, traditional alcohol prepared from traditional bananas “embirre” and others herein referred to traditionally as “tonto” and another traditional drink referred to as haragi a special whisky type are filled up in two bigger traditional calabashes, traditional small drinking calabashes are also prepared known as “enkooba”-for taking the alcohol and “entahyo”-for drinking water
The empaako naming ceremony between 12:00pm-1:00pm
Once it clicks mid day a signal which is always given by the cockcrowing, the grand father of the child sanctions the practical final ceremony, he sits on the a very small stool chair which must be the only chair in the sitting room others amongst whom include the farther, uncles and aunties of the baby sit on the floor which is littered by lemon grass traditionally known as “eteete”.
The child’s grandfather summons the new baby be brought into the sitting room, the baby is carried from the sacred room by one of the sisters of the farther to the child, he hands the baby over to the grandfather who inspects the features of the child to ascertain as to whether he or she belongs to the family, if confirmed that baby belongs to the family then the grandfather hands the baby over to the its father and the father hands over the baby to the mother and the mother then hands over the baby back to the grandfather, but if the child is confirmed not to be belonging to the family then the ceremony doesn’t proceed and a council of elders converge to sort out all the possible mess entailed there in
Once the grandfather is inhold of the baby once again he moved to the door step and the farther of the child moves in front of him holding the amblical code known as “Engoma” if the baby is a girl a small hole is dug by the farther just besides the front door and if it’s a boy then the hole is dug inside the house.
The girl is reffered to as Birigenda and the boy Owomuka implying the girl will one time go away and get married but the boy will instead procuce children belonging to that family reasons why the boys amblical code buried inside the house
If it is a boy the umbilical code is planted in a special style where by four leaves of special tree called omuko-the Uganda coral or eryntrina abyssinica and some special shrubs called orweza “mount knotgrass” and orwihura are laid down in the hole then the umbilical code placed on top and there after covered again by the same items in same quantity but before they pour there traditional alcohol called “tonto” and also after covering the hole they repeat the pouring all aimed at drawing blessings for the baby.
If it is a girl its omusambya-“Nile Tulip” tree leaves and three of them but the sharp ends of the leaves put in the hole facing the direction where they are going to plant the banana, reason is because the girl will go away, but for the boy the muko leaves are set in a harvesting or triangular form signifying asking for production of more children by the baby boy
Planting of the Banana
After the mini-ceremony of the burying of the umbilical code then comes the planting of the Banana plant, from the door step the grandfather proceeds with the farther and the uncles and the aunties to the place where the banana plant is planted, the grand farther hands over the child to the its mother who must be kneeling down, the grand farther does some short of gardening and then symbolic of planting sim sim “sesame” is and other seeds like cow pies-vigna unguiculata (this is called kumiisa or kusugira) is signifies that the child must be a hardworking farmer and also signifies that a banana is planted alongside other crops for sauce once this is done then a hole is dug and the banana plant is inserted in, the child is laid down besides the banana plant and special shrub of orweza “mount knotgrass” and orwihura are laid down and words of blessings are spoken on him or her and during normally at this juncture the child can not cry he or she remains peaceful through out the banana planting process
Final naming segment of the Empaako to the child
After going through all the preliminary processes, including the banana planting segment the grand farther of the child picks the child from the ground and they proceed back to the house for real naming segment of the child.
The grand dad sits on a small stool which is the only one in the living room, reaches out to his pocked and gets money which is locally referred to as “simoni or ensimbi”, and gives it to the child. The grand farther announces the official empaako to the child depending on the features on the baby has as inspected at the beginning of the process, these features must be resembling one of their ancient relatives, Then the traditional foods or meals as expounded above are brought and it’s the grand farther who starts by eating millet and groundnut source, as the rest call up on the loudly the empaako of the child “empaako yaawe niiwe Amooti” your praise name is Amooti.
If they are twins automatically Female- first born is- Amooti Nyangoma, Female-second born-Adyeri Nyakato, Male- first born-Amooti-Isingoma, Male-born- second- Adyeri– Kato. The siblings which follow twins are also given particular empaako, e.g. Kiiza is always Amooti, Nsungwa-Adyeri, and Kaahwa-Ateenyi. Important also to note is that in Bunyoro empaako community the traditional name to the child is given one the same day the empaako or praise name is given and it also depends either on the childs features of resembling any of the relatives or it could be depending on the circumstances eg a name Mugisa (blessing) implies one born with luck or when the family was in utmost blessings.
Later all those in the house begin putting presents of money etc in a traditional basket others can decide to bring food crops chicken, goats etc which aren’t brought in the sitting room if they are in bulk but they are announced to the grandfather and the father of the baby, all the prepared traditional meals and alcohol drinks are finally shared and the baby is given back to the farther the farther hands over the baby to the mother as the traditional meal eating continues.
The other guests are also served in the courtyard merry making and eating singing and dancing traditional songs continues until the wee hours of the night.
In a nutshell Empaako naming ceremony/ritual is one of the most treasured ceremonies across Bunyoro and beyond it is such a beautiful intangible cultural heritage and still celebrated todate though it is being affected by external threats emanating from other religious believers like the Faith of Unity and Sisimuka an Anglican faith these don’t believe in the traditional cultures to Bunyoro Empaako Community, it is a unique and interesting ceremony which one wouldn’t wish to miss in a life time.
Well as I conclude What is your praise name??
Wishing you a happy 2020
“Egunda gunde Karuziika nk’obujogera bwa Koogere”
Executive Director-Africa Centre for Cultural Research and Development