African Baby Names
According to Godffrey Olali’s article: “Traditional Child Naming” published in the Daily Nation’s national audio site in Kenya, some clans hold the baby naming ceremony on the third day after birth, while others have it on the eighth. The Kamba community have the Mwithakya, birth attendant, help choose the baby’s name, which is either selected from a hereditary name pool (dead family members or friends), or from a circumstantial pool, relating to the child’s birth.
There are different boy and girl names for a premature child, others for babies born after the mom’s due date, still others for a child born “en route” to the birth attendant’s home. Then there are names referring to natural conditions at birth. For example, Wambua is a name given to a boy born on a rainy day. A girl’s version of that name would be Symbua.
In the text, “African Religions and Philosophy,” J.S. Mbiti states that the Luo tribes seek a name for a newborn while a baby is crying, during which time different names of the living and/or dead are mentioned. If the child stops crying when a particular name is called out, family members and attendants assume that the spirits calling for that name have been appeased, and the baby receives that name.
For the Nandis of the Great Rift Valley, baby naming takes place in the mother’s hut while the men, who have been kept in the dark regarding the baby’s sex, wait outside. The mother and attending women call a spirit’s name to watch over the baby. The baby is supposed to sneeze to indicate that the name has been accepted. Snuff “helps” the sneezing amid the women’s laughter! There are intervals interspersing the women’s laughter, which the men, waiting outside, can count as an indication of whether the baby is a girl or a boy. In Nandi traditions, the original name that a child receives is not used until another substitute name, birth-related and selected by the mother, is given a few days later.
Traditionally, a father prepares beer uki and honey beer, slaughters a ram ilondu, a he-goat mbui, and, in some cases, a bull.
After the birth, a mother from the Maasai tribes will strap the baby to her back and carry him to the thorn enclosure near the hut where he was born. There, the waiting elders assign a name to the child, and a celebration follows during which the jugular vein of a cow is pierced to extract blood. The blood is then mixed with milk and drunk by everyone at the party, including the warriors. Maasai tribes depend completely on their cows and herds for their livelihood. They believe that, when sky and land separated, God Enkai sent them their cows. So it is only natural that the cows’ milk and blood be included in their daily celebrations, and baby naming is no exception.
In the land embraced between Egypt and Sudan, a midwife, friends and neighbors assist the mom-to-be during childbirth, to help her ward off the curse of the evil spirits.
According to Egypt Magazine (society section, Summer 1996 edition), the attendants sing songs while the laboring woman walks, leaning on her friends’ shoulders as they help support her weight. When the birth gets closer, a cloth is placed on the woman’s head during pains and she is helped to her feet so that the baby does not touch the ground but falls instead into a plate. After the baby is born, the cloth is removed from the mother’s head and cut in the middle to make an opening for the baby’s head. The cloth then becomes the baby’s first dress.
Seven days later, the baby’s family holds a party, offering dates and juice to the guests, often to traditional dances and songs.
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