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UNESCO injects sh1bn into revitalisation of 'Empaako'

By Agnes Nantambi

Added 11th August 2018 01:39 PM

Empaako is a naming system where children are given one of eleven pet-names shared across the communities in addition to their given family names in the Tooro culture.

UNESCO injects sh1bn into revitalisation of 'Empaako'

Empaako is a naming system where children are given one of eleven pet-names shared across the communities in addition to their given family names in the Tooro culture.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has injected about sh1b into the revitalization of the rituals performed while giving Pet names commonly known as Empaako.

According to Stephene Rwagweri Atwoki the executive director Engabu za Tooro, the naming rituals are facing extinction yet they were culturally recognized.

Engabu za Tooro is a Community Based Organisation(CBO) currently partnering with UNESCO to implement a two year project on safe guarding the Empaako Heritage through documentation.

Empaako is a naming system where children are given one of eleven pet-names shared across the communities in addition to their given family names in the Tooro culture.

It is practiced by the Batooro, Banyoro, Banyamwenge, Banyakyaka , Batuku, Batagwenda and Banyabindi from western Uganda in the districts of Kyegwegwa, Kyenjojo, Kabarole, Ntoroko, Kamwenge, Kasese among others.

According to Rwagweri, the use of Empaako can defuse tension or anger and sends a strong message about social identity and unity, peace and reconciliation.

Speaking during the handle over of equipment worth sh700m to enhance the comprehensive documentation of the rituals and practices of Empaako naming system, Rwabweri said UNESCO is contributing 80% of the funds and the local communities contribute the 20%.

 "This project will be implemented in three phases one being capacity building of the locals to document their own practices in a standard way which can be internationally consumed and can be put in the historical center's like museums, "he said.

Others, he said are helping the communities constitute own documentation teams to enhance sustainability on top of establishing a state of art documentation Centre within Fort Portal with first class equipment. 

He explained that the rituals and practices associated with Empaako are associated with the beliefs and patterns of the people and if they disappear, the unique identity of these communities will also disappear if not safeguarded.

"We safeguard the Empaako against three key threats among them, communities abandoning the naming rituals over time and just naming the child without taking them through the traditions, as was the case before. This means killing the value of this practice because giving the name without carrying out the ritual is like giving someone a Christian name without baptizing him," Rwagweri said.

He added that because of modern influence and lifestyle, the culture has been dying on top of the uncompetitive development of its contextual language (Runyoro-Rutooro), which has been weakening yet oral traditional thrives in the vibrancy of its language.

Rwagweri also said that the documentation Centre will capture, document, publish and avail knowledge in abundance so that UNESCO can be petitioned to endorse Empaako rituals on the world list of intangible world cultural heritage.

 "We cannot revitalize the Empaako systems without revitalizing the language. If the language weakens, it means the practices and oral expressions associated to it are disappearing, "he said.

He said the project also has a component of improving the competitive development of Runyoro-Rutooro language on top developing human resource by training language experts through scholarships.

The other threat he said was the attack from some modern contemporary religious groups which have associated the Empaako system to paganisms which has discouraged many from practicing it.

Some of the rituals he said include sharing a meal from the same basket during the naming process to promote togetherness, planting a tree in case of the birth of a boy child to symbolize the survival of the clan and a banana tree in case of the birth of a girl child to symbolize responsibility of a mother towards providing for people, among giving gifts to the new born as assign of procuring the future of the child. 

George Mwebembezi the acting Board Chairman, Engabu za Tooro, challenged the locals to respect the equipment and handle them with care.

"We shall be monitoring the equipment so that they stand the test of time, the cost is very big we cannot allow losing in any way, "he said.

Hajat Nalubega Hajara a senior cultural officer Ministry of Gender Labor and Social Development while officiating the handle over ceremony stressed the need to protect cultures saying they are the DNA's.

"I applaud Engabu za Tooro for the great job in supplementing on government's role of protection the cultures of the different people, everybody should be proud of their cultures, "she said

She decried giving people Empaako without understanding the rituals performed during the naming process.

Prof. Oswald Ndoleriire appreciated the Engabu za Tooro towards the campaign to revitalize the culture saying it was heading to extinction.

"Time will come when we shall not exist physically, so it is upon us to do something, to revitalize the heritage by working so hard to realise our presence, "he said.


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