The naming ceremony of a new baby is one of the most important rites of passage in life.
In traditional African society, the naming ceremony announces the birth of a newborn, introduces the child to his or her extended family and the larger community, and above all, it confers on the child a name. The name given to a baby can have an enduring influence on their personality and upbringing.
Face2face Africa takes a look at 7 of Africa’s most colorful traditional baby naming ceremonies, in order to explore the rich culture behind them and the significance attached to the occasion.
Among the Umtata people of the south eastern cape of South Africa, newborn babies are welcomed with a rite of passage known as “Sifudu.” During the Sifudu ceremony, the new born child who is usually just a few days old, is held with it’s head facing down and passed around a smoking fire lit in the middle of a room. The fire is made out of the leaves of the Sifudu tree and the burning leaves give off an especially pungent odor.
The Umtata believe that the ceremony ensures that the baby grows up to be a strong, healthy adult able to hold their own in society.
The Akan people of Ghana name a newborn child on the eighth day after they’re born. The new born child is usually named after relatives (dead or alive), or the circumstances surrounding his or her birth. The Akan traditionally leave the naming ceremony until the eighth day as a way to confirm that the child has come to stay and will not be returning to back to the world of the ancestors. It’s also common for the Akan to name a child after the day of the week that they were born.
Christianity is the prevalent religion in the DR Congo, so in most cases, a newborn child is given a Christian name followed by two traditional names. Names are often chosen by a maternal uncle, the mother, or a sister to the mother. Often the names chosen reflect an event surrounding the birth or serve to carry on a family story.
Among the Akamba people of Tanzania, a child is named on the third day following their birth. Before the naming ceremony, the newborn is regarded as a spirit and not as a complete human being. A goat is slaughtered in appreciation 0f the ancestral spirits for the gift of a child and the fertility of the parents. The announcement of the newborn baby’s name by his or her grandmother or an elderly woman relative is the climax of the ceremony.
The Hutu of Rwanda give a name to a newborn child on the seventh day after its birth. In the days before the naming ceremony, mother and child are secluded at home and not expected to go outside of the house. The naming ceremony is attended by adults and children and food is served followed by celebrations.
Among the Yoruba of south west Nigeria, a child is named eight days after being born. The circumstances surrounding a child’s birth often influence which name is chosen. Names are typically picked by elders, although members of the community can also pay a token to choose a name for a child. The ceremony is presided over by an elder, who is often a grandparent of the child. Prayers are offered using traditional items like salt, water, palm oil, honey, kola nut, and dried fish.
In the traditional Edo society of Nigeria, a name is chosen for a child only after traditional healers reveal which of the newborns dead relatives or ancestors have reincarnated through the child. The elders pray for long life and good health for the new baby, in addition to blessing the parents. A coconut is then broken and its water is shown to the mother as an emblem of the mystery of life.
The prayer of the elders is followed later in the evening by a larger ceremony attended by friends and well-wishers. Traditional food and drinks, including kola nuts and alligator peppers, are served as the guests join in the celebration of a newborn life.
BY MARK BABATUNDE