Empaako is a naming system practised by the Batooro, Banyoro, Batuku, Batagwenda and Banyabindi, whereby children are given one of twelve names shared across the communities in addition to their given and family names.
Addressing a person by his or her Empaako name is a positive affirmation of social ties. It can be used as a greeting or a declaration of affection, respect, honour or love. Use of Empaako can defuse tension or anger and sends a strong message about social identity and unity, peace and reconciliation.
Empaako is given at a naming ceremony performed in the home and presided over by the clan head. The paternal aunts receive the baby and examine its features. Any resemblance to existing relatives forms the basis of the choice of name. The clan head then declares the name to the child.
A shared meal of millet and smoked beef follows, gifts are presented to the baby and a tree is planted in its honour. The transmission of Empaako through naming rituals has dropped dramatically due to a general decline in appreciation of traditional culture and the diminishing use of the language associated with the element.
Empaako is still faced with threats to its viability. Some people from the traditional Empaako communities no longer give Empaako to their children and no longer use it in their daily lives. Majority of those who are still giving Empaako to their children and using it in daily life, have abandoned the naming rituals.
They have lost the knowledge and meaning of the Empaako naming ceremonies and beliefs, practices and social values associated there with.The knowledge of the naming ceremony is not documented as the number of elders with such knowledge reduces. In these communities any knowledge which is only transmitted orally, is currently not accessible to the young generation.
The cultural meaning and value of Empaako is rooted in the naming rituals. The Empaako received without carryout the ceremony does not carry the attendant meaning and value and is culturally dismissed as illegitimate. Members of the community ask the bearer of such ”Empaako Yaawe Bakagiriira oburo?” (Was the ceremonial millet meal taken for that Empaako of yours?) while dismissing it as valueless.
Two religious groups preach against Empaako and their followers do not give Empaako to their children and abandon their own Empaako on the day of conversion. These religious groups have an estimated number of 700,000= followers in the above named Empaako communities.
The attack on the tradition thrives on mainly gross lack of information about its meaning and social values. Documentation can avail information that can facilitate dialogue with such groups.
The language of Empaako tradition (Runyoro-Rutooro) is declining in usage even among its own traditional communities. Fashionable expressions from advancing dominant languages are replacing some roles of Empaako practice especially among the Youth.
It’s against this background that Engabu za Tooro (EZT) an NGO in heart of Empaako Community of Tooro has come out to champion the safeguarding of the this noble Intangible Heritage with support from UNESCO. Engabu za Tooro is partnering with Empagi za Bunyoro (EBF) to conduct the capacity building of that Empaako Intangible Heritage amongst the respective Empaako communities. To this, we applaud Owekitinisa Stephen Rwagweri Atwooki Executive Director Engabu za Tooro (EZT) for championing the above cultural cause