In this era of globalization and adoption of Western culture, one would think, “what is in a name?!”
Indeed, many modern parents improvise with children’s names as they go along I have heard, for example, that best friends Pastor Freda Sserwadda and Apostle Sarah Bunjo named the latter’s baby girl Fresera (from their combined Christian names).
And when it comes to surnames, as spirituality and sentimentalities dig deeper, anything from Mwesigwa (God is faithful) to Kabiite (sweetheart) is admissible. No need for the drama that comes with a naming ceremony as is required by most African cultures. Or so I thought. I was one of the g believers that ancestral beliefs no longer exist until I tasted them after falling in love with a man from a Ganda traditionalist family.
No wonder back in the day, our great-grandparents insisted on matchmaking checking out the prospective suitor’s family before he even met their daughter. Had I lived in that era, maybe I would be writing a different story today! But I was in love… left to my own devices.
Giving a child a name could sound trivial but in the Kiganda culture giving a name is one of the biggest ceremonies performed on a child after birth, done by that child’s grandfather. The day my son got his name and was officially accepted in his family is one I will live to remember.
After giving birth to my son, a prince – my fianceacute belongs to the Ganda royal family – the grandfather had to give him a name but it took time as my fianceacute kept postponing the date on which we were to take the boy to Mityana, their family home, for a name.
His claim was that I was not yet ready to meet his parents, despite him being known by my entire family. I wondered what the fuss was and even asked him to teach me his family’s ways if there was anything special required of me to be considered ready to meet my future in-laws, but he kept me waiting.
I changed tactics, asking him to take my toddler son to meet his grandfather my intention was to see where my man came from even without a naming ceremony, but surprisingly, he took just the boy with him, leaving me behind. When he returned, he told me we would finally go together to the village in two weeks’ time.
He warned me that it was going to be a big function at which my son would be officially given a clan name and accepted in the family. I could not wait for two weeks to elapse finally I would see where my two most special people come from.
But puzzlingly, there were conditions before we set off for Mityana we were supposed to be at the family home by 9am. Secondly, the message from the village for me was, if I was not sure about my son’s paternity, I should keep him away from the festivities, lest he died. I did not make much of that. He was my fianceacute’s son, after all.
The day came, but we delayed due to inevitable circumstances. We arrived at around 11am, instead of 9am as instructed, which made my father-in-law furious, complaining about educated people who fail to keep time. He told his son that the function had to wait until noon.
I wondered, why keep us waiting when everybody had clearly arrived!
When it clocked noon, we were called upon and I was taken to a side room and others went into another room next to the one I was in. I could hear everything, but see little. The function began with pipe smoking as a way of calling on the dead ancestors to be part of the congregation. My heart skipped a beat what was this?
Before long, the spirits of some great-grandparents, long dead, started speaking through a medium, one of the family members, and the naming ceremony kicked off. I later understood the time strictness was because the spirits visit only at 10am or noon.
One of the dead ancestors presented a long, two-part Kiganda name for my toddler boy and delivered the message on behalf of other spirits. Speaking in a voice I had not heard in the family since meeting them hours earlier, the spirit said the name had been derived from a former kabaka, who was a great fighter. They directed that the name must not be separated while in use and gave my son a cloth called engozi and brought him to me.
They then took both of us to a banana plantation were they had dug a hole and placed a banana leaf in it to form a rudimentary basin, and then got some leaves and squeezed them in the water turning it green and washed my boy’s body. During the bath, the lady in charge chanted some words, calling for blessings, favour and strength to continue the legacy of princes.
After that, he was washed in a bowl of milk for him to be pure and later fed him with honey which was meant to make him sweet. We later prepared for lunch and this was the biggest shock of my life. During lunch, there were more plates than people present clearly, the invisible jjajjas were staying for lunch.
Next came the chicken the chicken prepared was meant for men only and they told me when I legally get married to their son, I was expected to stop eating chicken. I asked what would happen to me, pushing my luck further by querying, “Doesn’t the Nnaabagereka eat chicken?” I was told if I ate chicken, the ancestors would victimize me with unusual sicknesses.
They told me, mothers to princes and princesses are not allowed to eat chicken, eggs and fish in the Ganda culture. What had love got me into!?
At lunch time, three plates were put in different corners for some invisible people to eat. The lady who did it chanted in Luganda: “My dear, eat from here and accept the meal we have provided and open doors of success to us.”
This left my hair standing on end and got me so scared. In my head, I imagined snakes to have taken the food, because when those corner plates were later cleared away, they only had a few leftovers, like someone had just eaten from them!
As if the day’s events had not left me bewildered enough, my mother-in-law started telling a story of how she gave birth to twins – Wasswa and Nakato – but in essence only Nakato was around. I asked what had happened to Wasswa and she said he was alive and if I wanted, he would come and pay me a visit.
I was left speechless with the revelation that Wasswa was a snake one of my in-laws is a snake!
At the end of lunch they thanked my son for the meal and their great ancestor, Jjajja Ddungu for providing the meal. The family then retreated for a family meeting which involved both the dead and the living. This is where the dead came back and talked to the living through a medium.
My fianceacute was criticized for making himself too busy and forgetting to go back to his family to perform some rituals. I heard the spirits boast that they were the masterminds behind all the problems he had. They told him to buy them some alcohol and never to drop the long name given to his son, lest they “act on him”. After the family meeting, when the dead had left, it was time for my in-laws to talk to me.
My father-in-law told me: “We will not hide anything from you we have special powers and we can talk to the dead that makes us unique as abalangira (royals).”
I was told the dead royals appear in different forms depending on the message they want to deliver they may appear in form of lions, snakes or even actual human form. They told me they do not get involved with blood sacrifices and do not eat pork.
By the time I left, I was feeling feverish as the day’s ordeal sank in. Had I not had a child already with my fianceacute, I would never have had a child in that family, knowing what I now knew. I blamed my fianceacute for hiding all that from me as I realised I was indeed still not ready to meet my in-laws.
How was your child given a name?
Not all naming ceremonies, even in Buganda, are like Namata’s experience, however.
I am a Mutooro, but my mother is a Muganda. When I had my baby, I wanted to pay homage to my Ganda heritage so, I called my maternal grandfather on phone and asked him to name my baby. He gave him the name Samuel after quoting Bible verses, and recommended that ‘his people’ find him a surname.
All my children automatically have my surname, given to them by me.
When my daughter was three months old, my siblings joined me at my fianceacute’s home in Bbunga for the naming ceremony. After a sumptuous lunch in the sitting room and without any other drama, my daughter’s grandfather carried her in his arms and said in Luganda, “I name you Nakafu, after my beloved sister.” I had already given her the Western name. We then prayed and left.
I have four children and there was no ceremony to give them cultural names. The firstborn was given a name by my father, the second born was named by my mother, our third born was named by my wife and it is the last born that I named personally. But there were no ceremonies for that.
I took my son for the naming ceremony at our family home in Busiro. There were other nieces and nephews for the same purpose and we were all told to bring the children’s dried umbilical cords (obulira). I remember they put water in a basin and immersed each of the umbilical cords in the water.
If it floated, then that child’s paternity was questionable, if it sank to the bottom, the child would be considered a true son of the home. None of our umbilical cords floated so, they gave our children names and we were on our way.
Hassan Badru Zziwa
Growing up, all my elder brothers took their children to our father for a Kiganda name. After a big family meal, the child would be given a name, especially one that would immortalize a dead ancestor or a beloved but aged person. But by the time I had my own children, my father was old and tired so, I have named all of my children personally, without any ceremonies.
Source : The Observer