Re-Thinking Our Names

If the president comes to visit here (a village in Serere District in Teso) even today, you will see how someone will lift up a child and say this is Museveni, instead of naming the child the father’s name. Ebe Museveni. Museveni is just a visitor who has come to visit you and then you name your child a visitor’s name? Ebe Obama – names for which you don’t know their meaning and the deeds of that person.

They remove the respect of their parents, grandparents, ancestors, on grounds that they do not like their names – names like “Apulengeria”, which do not sound modern. And this is the case of all Iteso – the ‘educated’, those in urban centres, those in the village, all. You find a child shares a name with a dog.

This naming of children other people’s names has interfered with the Iteso socialisation system. Those days, the one whose name is given to a child has a role to play in socialising their namesake. In the past it would be like today a woman in the other home has delivered a baby and we would all go for etal (a custom – in this case  ceremonies to celebrate the birth of a new child).

These days you give birth to your child and you walk back alone lere, lere. For us those days an announcement would be made that a woman has borne a child and today is the naming ceremony and the clan would gather. The child would be given a name. Part of the naming ceremony is that when a name is given, the mother gives the baby the breast to suckle. If the baby does so, then it has accepted the name. If it doesn’t then it has rejected the name.

Now people are borne like porcupines. Our traditions have gone into hiding. People have studied – have gone to school – have attained formal global-western education. People have studied and are in their work places there, a child has been born, it is no longer the case that the father of the child will even bother to ask the elders that a child has been borne what name should it be given.

When the child is still in the womb, they have scanned and seen that it is a girl or a boy, the couple already begins to give the unborn child a name. When the baby is borne the father usurps the power of the elders and he names his child without consulting with them. You see that. I do not know what has brought about that status quo. It is because people think they have read.

But also there is the aspect that people have become more calculating. If you count and quantify the millet that you have to use to make the brew that those who are coming for the naming ceremony will drink, in terms of the cups of millet you would have had to buy from the market, how much money is that? A person will more likely choose to go and sell their millet than to host a baby naming ceremony. Those days they would make a lot of brew for the naming ceremony.

It is the volume of greed among people that has increased. When a young wife is married, the things (bought food items) which they put in akevera (polythene bags) are what have bought problems. The young wife wants the things in akavera to be for her ekale (household). They don’t want tata (grandma) to see those things – the things go straight to the young wife’s house. But also me tata when I see things in akavera, also me my heart beats faster. I begin to imagine my daughter in-law as greedy. This is what brings confusion in ere (homestead).

When the daughter in law gets pregnant, she begins to make up all sorts of excuses – tata will kill me, she is a witch. Right now there is a young lady who has just given birth in hospital who refused her mother in law to go and be with and assist her at the hospital. Her husband is the only one who went with her to the hospital. She falsely accused her mother in-law of being a witch.

So how do you start as tata to go and give that child a name? Or how do you expect the parents of the child to send the child to you if the mother has already accused you of being a witch. There is no way in which you will be given the opportunity to be part of the socialisation of that child – the child will grow on its own and be socialised differently. That is why you see that our children have gotten bad dressing habits, bad manners.

The contents of this post are the words of wisdom that were shared in November 2016 during a focus group discussion with ordinary Iteso women, Ateso, residing in a village in Serere District in Teso in North-Eastern Uganda.

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One comment

  1. Stan Burkey · · Reply

    It appears that within a generation or two, Iteso culture will have disappeared. No one will be alive who remembers the customs and rituals.

    Liked by 1 person

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