Empaako tradition of the Batooro, Banyoro, Batuku, Batagwenda and Banyabindi of western Uganda

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Inscribed in 2013 (8.COM) on the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding

© Engabu Za Tooro (EZT), 2013

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 her or his 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.

Periodic reporting

Cover sheet

State Party

Name of State Party


Date of deposit of the instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession


Element inscribed on the Urgent Safeguarding List that is the subject of this report

Name of element

Empaako tradition of the Batooro, Banyoro, Batuku, Batagwenda and Banyabindi of western Uganda

Inscribed in


Reporting period covered by this report

12-2013 - 03-2015

Other elements inscribed on the Urgent Safeguarding List, if any

Bigwala, gourd trumpet music and dance of the Busoga Kingdom in Uganda (2012)
Empaako tradition of the Batooro, Banyoro, Batuku, Batagwenda and Banyabindi of western Uganda (2013)
Herbal healing practices among the Basoga people of eastern Uganda (2013)
Koogere oral tradition of the Basongora, Banyabindi and Batooro peoples (2015)
Ma'di bowl lyre music and dance (2016)
Male-child cleansing ceremony of the Lango of central northern Uganda (2014)
The culture of the Ik people of North-Eastern Uganda (-)

Executive summary of the report

On 4th December 2013, Empaako tradition of Batooro, Banyoro, Batagwenda, Batuku and Banyabindi of western Uganda was inscribed on the urgent safeguarding list. In the decision, the committee provided for an extra ordinary report to be submitted for consideration during the committees 10th session in November 2015.

Empaako is a naming system whereby in addition to family and given name, a child is given Empaako from a list of 12 of them shared by entire society. The practice is associated with rituals and ceremonies of which meaning form the niche of identity and belief systems of the concerned communities.

This report covers 16 months from the date of inscription in December 2013 to its submission in March 2015.
The period under review focused on resource mobilization activities, involving review of the safeguarding plan to address the gaps identified at inscription and developing international assistance request to UNESCO and other international sources. A structure and mechanism for effective community and stakeholder participation has been established and commissioned. The inscription has attracted contributions mainly from local and national sources, laying a foundation for implementation of a comprehensive and multi-stakeholders safeguarding plan.

According to the design of the reviewed safeguarding plan, raising awareness, comprehensive documentation of rituals, ceremonies and practices and mobilizing clans for revitalization of observance of these ceremonies, are the core activities and in appropriate progressive order. However different aspects of the element can attract supplementary interventions to build on the core activities and scale up the safeguarding impact.

In the period under review, many activities have been implemented which have, raised the awareness of the communities and national stakeholders on Empaako tradition and the need to safeguard it. Such activities have included national press conference, publication of brochure, organization of festivals and production of artistic expressions among others. The raising of awareness has set the ground for the documentation effort which is proposed in the international assistance request submitted to UNESCO.

In the period under review also a couple of activities have been implemented aimed at mobilizing clan and ritual leaders to revive the observance of empaako naming ceremonies. Such activities included the monthly clan’s representative forum and the Kings’ and Cultural Leaders’ pronouncements, encouraging their followers to revive observance of the ceremonies.

Inscription attracted diverse contributions but many institutions tend to identify and adopt aspects of Empaako tradition which easily link to their mandate but not necessarily the identified core safeguarding activities like documentation and revitalization. Aspects of Empaako tradition link very well to sustainable development issues like peace building, conflict resolution and environmental sustainability. While adopting the heritage to those issues may scale-up the safeguarding impact, if it comes before implementation of core activities, may distort the systematic progress of implementation of an effective safeguarding programme.
While the activities of raising awareness, fundraising and establishing mechanisms and programme structure, have assembled sufficient efforts for an effective safeguarding programme, they have not yet translated to significant changes to the viability of Empaako Tradition.

The practice is still faced with losing of knowledge of rituals and ceremonies with the attendant meaning and social values among the bearers. This relates also to the decline in observance of the naming ceremonies and consequently reducing numbers of people who transmit and use them in daily life. The attack of the practice from some religious groups, mainly because of lack of knowledge about it’s meaning can still be observed. In addition, also there is diminishing use of its traditional language in favour of upcoming dominant languages with expressions replacing the roles of Empaako practice.

Contact person for correspondence

Title (Ms/Mr, etc.)


Family name


Given name



Engabu Za Tooro – Tooro Youth Platform for Action


P.O.Box 886, Fort-Portal Uganda

Telephone number

+256 772 469751

Fax number

E-mail address


Other relevant information

Status of element inscribed on the Urgent Safeguarding List

Social and cultural functions

This report concerns Safeguarding Empaako Tradition of the Batooro, Banyoro, Batuku, Batagwenda and Banyabindi of Western Uganda which, in 2013, was inscribed on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.
Empaako is a naming system whereby in addition to the family and given names, children are given one name from a fixed list of 12 collectively called Empaako and shared across communities. They include Okaali which is exclusively for a king, Araali, Acaali, Bbala, and Apuuli which are exclusively for males, and Ateenyi, Akiiki, Abwoli, Atwoki, Adyeri, Amooti and Abbooki which can be given either sex.
Empaako practice is transmitted through a naming ceremony which has several rituals that have slight variations from community to community. The meaning and interpretations of the rituals are linked to the value systems of these communities. In the naming ceremony, the paternal aunties receive the baby and examine its features. Any resemblance to the living or living dead relatives forms the basis of the choice of Empaako to give the baby.
After discussion on proposals, the clan head rules and declares the chosen Empaako by addressing it directly to the baby. A shared meal of millet and smoked beef follows, gifts are presented to the baby and tree or banana is planted in its honour.

In case of a child born outside own clan or an out sider who comes to live in a community, a ceremony which involves sharing Omwani (coffee barriers) and milk and kubukara (a reception ritual involving sitting on the lap of the head of clan to receive blessings) is organized.
In greeting, the two address each other using Empaako and one asks Empaako only on first interaction. Addressing using someone’s exact Empaako, affirms that 'I know and recognize you as person' since they are only 12 shares by entire society.
The use of Empaako helps to define and categorize a web of social relationships and interactions. Addressing using Empaako to a parent, an elder, a leader, a spirit medium or god is a declaration of respect and honour and to a lover, a tender minor, a sick, a suffering, a missed or dead dear one is an expression of love or affection. Empaako is also used in expressing thanks, bidding farewell and appealing for favour from both human and super human beings.
The Empaako is used to affirm human dignity and enforce the acceptable code of social conduct. For instance when some one is found in unacceptable behavior will be asked "Do you have Empaako? "This sends serious message of caution. In the minds of the bearer, addressing using Empaako suspends other factors in order to affirm the supremacy of the common principle of humanity. This is why addressing by Empaako has an effect of diffusing and neutralizing tension and anger and then Empaako is used as a tool in the mechanisms of community conflict mitigation and resolution.

Assessment of its viability and current risks

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 cults 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 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.

Implementation of safeguarding measures

Objectives and results

General objectives
1. Increasing accessibility and availability, for the present and future generations, of information and knowledge of ceremonies and practices associated with Empaako naming system for it’s five communities in Uganda.
2. Enhancing the capacity of bearers of the traditional Empaako naming system to transmit, to successive generations, it’s knowledge, meaning and social values through appropriate observance of its ceremonies and practices.
Specific Objectives
1- Participatory review of the general safeguarding plan in light of the gaps identified during inscription.
2- Establishing structure and mechanisms for effective community and stakeholders participation in safeguarding programme.
3- Establishing strategy for raising the required resources for implementation of the safe guarding plan.
4- Raising awareness of the communities and stakeholders on Empaako tradition and the need to safeguard it.
5- Mobilizing clans and ritual leaders to revitalize observance of Empaako naming rituals and ceremonies.
Results attained in the reporting period.
1- The safeguarding plan reviewed in light of the gaps identified at inscription and launched.
2- Safeguarding programme structure and mechanisms for effective community and stakeholders’ participation in implementation of safeguarding plan established and commissioned.
3- A strategy for raising resources from local, national and international sources established and requests developed and submitted to UNESCO and two other potential supplementary donors.
4- The awareness of the communities and stakeholders in Empaako tradition and need to safeguard it, raised through three festivals, pubic event involving the president, artistic productions (music and monument) and publication of brochure.
5- The leaders of rituals and 44 clans mobilized, to revitalize observance of naming ceremonies through the established monthly clans representative forum and pronouncement of Kings and Cultural Leaders.

Safeguarding activities

1- Reviewing of the safeguarding plan.
A stakeholders participatory process to review a general safeguarding plan was initiated in December 2013 immediately after inscription. This aimed at addressing the gaps and strengthening the plan which was evaluated at inscription stage. An expert was engaged who facilitated the communities to come up with the plan. The process was coordinated and funded by Engabu Za Tooro – Tooro Youth Platform for Action and received financial contributions from clans in Empaako communities.
2- In the same participatory way the International Assistance Request tailored to the technical specifications of Intangible Cultural Heritage Fund was elaborated and submitted to UNESCO. This request titled “Community Self-documental and revitalization of ceremonies and practices associated with Empaako naming system in Uganda” focuses on comprehensive documentation of rituals, Ceremonies and practices by practitioners themselves alongside established mechanisms for encouraging revitalization.
3- Two proposals, picking on specific aspects of the safeguarding plan tailored to specific requirements of particular potential donors, have also been submitted for possible supplementary resources to implement the plan.
4- An implementation structure and mechanisms for effective participation of communities and stakeholders has been established and commissioned. It includes a Project Management Committee constituted by stakeholders from government, NGOs and community institutions. It is structured from community to central level. Alongside this, a monthly clans’ representatives forum is established as a communication, consultative and advisory organ.
5- A three months pilot Empaako heritage conservation project was implemented by Banyoro communities. This project involved using aspect of planting a true during Empaako naming ceremonies to promote tree planting linked to environmental sustainability. The project is intended to scale up in its subsequent phases.
6- Three festivals were held in three communities on the theme of celebrating inscription and launching safeguarding plan. They include Banyabindi Empaako festival at Kinyamasoke 28th – 29th November 2014, Batuku festival at Rwebisengo 26 – 27 December 2014 and Batooro Empaako inscription celebrations on 17th June 2014. These events raised awareness on the need to safeguard Empaako heritage and cultural leaders used the forum to make pronouncements encouraging their followers to revive observance of the ceremonies and practices of Empaako heritage.
7- A brochure on the process of inscription and lay out of the safeguarding plan was produced and distributed to guide and inform community members on how safeguarding plan is progressing.
8- A monthly clans’ representative forum which started during nomination campaign was consolidated and focused on reviewing safeguarding plan, developing proposals and trickling down information to grassroots and mobilizing clans and ritual leaders to revitalize observance of naming ritual and ceremonies.
9- The inscription attracted different talent groups to express themselves on the social significance of Empaako heritage and contributed to raising awareness of the need to revive the ceremonies and practices. Performing Artists produced and launched three music items and the visual artists raised a monument in memory of inscription in Fort Portal, the biggest town in Empaako land.
10- The Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development organized a national press conference presided over by the minister, to inform the country about the inscription and raise awareness about the need for safeguarding the element. The same message was passed on during several regional and national cultural workshops organized or presided over by the ministry. The ministry staff further visited communities to monitor implementation of safeguarding and established communication channels and reporting format and schedule.
11- The Batooro community organized a function presided over by the President of the Republic of Uganda and cultural leaders to officially acknowledge the certificate of inscription from UNESCO and pass it over to the communities. In his remarks, the president called on leaders in all categories of institutions to encourage communities to safeguard heritage for consolidation of national identity and development.
As a challenge the supplementary funding sources tend to pick on aspects of the safeguarding plan which easily link to their own focus and which are at a higher level in the systematic progress of implementation of the plan. This may attract efforts that are not systematically built. Documentation which is the core activity in the safeguarding plan do not easily link to mandates of supplementary funding sources and the targeted core funding from either government or UNESCO may over delay because completing priorities and long application processes.

Participation of communities, groups or individuals in the safeguarding activities

Representatives of community groups as clearly demonstrated in the statement of activities above, initiated executed, and contributed funding to most of the activities done.
Engabu Za Tooro – Tooro Youth Platform for Action is a Ugandan NGO founded in 1999. Its mission is strengthening the capacity of communities through development of cultural enterprises and promotion of folk Art and indigenous knowledge research.
The organization is governed by a nine member Board of Directors and Annual General Meeting of 200 grassroots’ art and cultural groups, Youth, women and elders associations.
For the last 15 years it has continuously implemented projects in the areas of cultural research, documentation, inventorying, production of folklore, professionalizing cultural service providers and promotion of cultural enterprises and performing Arts.
The organization has been funded by the international partners including Hivos (Ten years), Common Wealth Foundation, Prince Claus Fund for Cultural and Development, CIDA, Concern Worldwide and Goal-Uganda among others.
It is a member of several national and international networks in the fields of Art and Culture. Since 2009 it has been accredited and participates, in observer capacity, in the discussions at WIPO aimed at establishing an international instrument for protection of genetic resources, traditional knowledge and cultural expressions. It was recommended in 2010 and subsequently accredited in 2012 to offer advisory services to the UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for Safeguarding the ICH. Since then, it has participated in most of the convention’s statutory meetings, activities of the forum of the NGOs’ accredited to the committee and two international capacity building workshops on the convention. At national level, it has supported the State Party to implement the convention through raising awareness, facilitating several inventorying projects and facilitating nomination of two elements so far and one of which is inscribed, currently facilitating implementation of Post-inscription safeguarding programmes.
The organization is currently holding the chair of a national forum of researchers, experts and scholars of intangible cultural heritage which promotes understanding of ICH and implementation of its UNESCO Convention in the country.
Engabu Za Tooro currently has a core team of 4 senior staff and a net work of volunteers and consultants.
The roles of implementing organization has included the following among others
• Providing secretariat for coordination of stakeholders who include different participating community, government and NGO institutions, and UNESCO secretariat.
• Providing technical backing and facilitation to community- led safeguarding initiatives.
• Ensuring strategic focus and complementarily of different initiatives and contributions towards an effective general safeguarding programme.
• Ensuring financial and technical accountability to the activities that are centrally organized.

Timetable and budget

Duration: 16 months from December 2013 to March 2015

Activity Month(s) & year Funds
(US $) Source of Funding
National Press Conference December 2013 Government
Reviewing safeguarding plan Jan 2014 – May 2014 20,000 - Engabu Za Tooro
- Communities.
Developing a Brochure June 2014 1,000 NGO – Engabu Za Tooro
Producings Music items March – July 2014 6,000 NGOs
Building monument May – July 2014 10,000 Bayimba Cultural Foundation-Artists
Empaako heritage conservation project August – Oct 2014 3,600 Cross cultural Foundation of Uganda
Batooro Empaako festival July 2014 9,000 Engabu Za Tooro & Communities
Banyabindi Empaako festival November 2014 3,000 Community
Batuku Annual Cultural festival December 2014 2,500 Community
Elaborating international Assistance request May 2014 – March 2015 10,000 Engabu Za Tooro
Twerwaneho Listeners’ Club
10 Clans
Developing proposal to two Donors Jan to March 2015 3,000 Engabu Za Tooro
Establishing structure and mechanism May 20 –Dec 2014 7,000 Government
Monthly Clan representative forum Dec 2013 – March 2015 25,000 NGOs
Monitoring and technical guidance Dec 2014 – March 2015 Government

The activities are in two categories;
Those which were centrally initiated and coordinated like review of Safeguarding Plan, Proposal development, establishing structures and mechanisms, clan representatives forum, development of brochure and general monitoring. There were also activities which were initiated by diverse voluntary stakeholders and targeting one or two communities.
These worked out their own time table at community level although coordinating with the secretariat. This work plan therefore combines the two activity categories and summarizes the individual work plans of specific activities.

Overall effectiveness of the safeguarding activities

It is important to note that the current report covers 16 months from the date of inscription to the submission of this report. (4th December 2013 to 30th March 2015). The activities therefore have an effect on raising awareness of the communities and the general society on the inscription of Empaako element and the need to safeguard it. This is the first and fundamental step envisaged in the Safeguarding Plan. The second area of effect under the constraint of this reporting time frame can only be launching of the Safeguarding plan and starting off efforts for revitalization of observance of ceremonies.

The activities and strategies based on the reporting period were very effective to raising awareness, not only on safeguarding the Empaako element in question but also intangible cultural heritage of the communities in general. The impact was not on the targeted concerned Empaako communities only but also on the general population of Uganda.

The monthly clans representative forum which receive information, discuss and plan safeguarding activities, have been effective in trickling down information and learning to the grassroots. Therefore the awareness of the grassroots people who are the bearers and custodians of the heritage was sufficiently raised. The organization of public events like national press conference, festivals and activities involving public leaders scaled up the awareness raising impact. It also underscored the importance of safeguarding intangible cultural heritage as a concern that is crosscutting all sections of society.

The contribution of performing and visual artists by adopting the message into their products opened up the spreading of safeguarding initiatives into all human talent areas, professions and activities. Moreover, their artistic products make the message permanently present or visible. The monument, for instance, raised in the center of the biggest town is now a place of memory, reflection and cultural education where people continuously gather and take memorable photographs. The brochure put the concrete message of the intended safeguarding plan on record, making it easily accessible and transferable.

The safeguarding plan, designed using a participatory approach and attracting diverse contributions both in the design and implementation, was effectively developed. However tasks that wholly targeted funding from community contributions, suffered disjointed implementation as contributions come in bits and such tasks can only survive on services of community volunteers but not hired consultants, experts and commercial service providers.

A general safeguarding plan that allows diverse contributions from diverse sources may face ca the focus and systematic progress. For instance pilot project which uses one of the rituals to promote planting of trees would better have come after implementation of documentation of rituals and meanings of the ceremonies. While it is not easy to get a funder of a project on documentation, except from government or UNESCO, it is easy to get one on using the heritage to promote peace building, conflict resolution or environmental sustainability which are aspects of the element. Yet in the proper progress of safeguarding plan those aspects should come after awareness raising, documentation and revitalization of observance of ceremonies.

B.4. Community participation

The communities of Batooro, Banyoro, Batuku, Batagwenda and Banyabindi are represented by the 44 clan institutions of which membership cut across all the five communities. There are also represented by cultural institutions like chiefdoms and Kingdoms and voluntary community associations. These do not apply uniformly in all communities but each community has at least one of the above community collective mechanisms. The clan leaders represented up to family unit are the custodians of the community’s intangible cultural heritage. They cause and lead all traditional rituals and cultural ceremonies in the communities. Their mission is to ensure practice and transmission of the community’s intangible cultural heritage. Clans, collectively forms Cultural Institutions like Chiefdoms.

The community institutions have initiated, organized and contributed to financing of most of all the activities done so far, as illustrated hereunder;
• The general safeguarding plan and international assistance requests were developed by clan leaders, facilitated by the expert from Engabu Za Tooro NGO,
• All the festivals and events for awareness raising and launching safeguarding plans were initiated and organized by clan and community associations. Officials from the ministry and Engabu Za Tooro NGO were invited to facilitate.
• Empaako heritage conservation project was conceived and implemented by officials of Bunyoro Kitara kingdom with funding from Cross Cultural Foundation of Uganda.
• Community-based music and visual artists initiated and executed the production of music and monument as their contribution to raising awareness and encouraging the communities to revitalize observance of ceremonies and practices.
• The project management structure and mechanisms established to provide governance and monitoring of the safeguarding programme include representative of community institutions.

B.5. Institutional context

The competent bodies involved in management and facilitating Safeguarding Empaako element include; Engabu Za Tooro – Tooro Youth Platform for Action, a 15 years old cultural NGO, accredited to the IGC of the 2003 UNESCO convention. The second is the Department of Culture and Family Affairs of the Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development.

The community organizations concerned with Empaako element include, the 44 clan institutions currently having a monthly clans representative forum on the safeguarding concerns, Tooro Kingdom, Bunyoro Kingdom and Banyabindi culture and Development Trust.

B.6. Participation of communities in preparing this report

A facilitator was identified by the implementing organization to coordinate and compile this report with the participation of the communities.
Updating meetings were organized by the leaders of the participating community institutions in the five participating communities. These leaders included the Executive of Banyabindi Culture and Development Trust, Ekoomi ya Batuku and contact persons for Batagwenda, Tooro Kingdom and Bunyoro Kingdom. The meetings facilitated by the expert, generated information on what the communities feel they have accomplished and the challenges that were met. This information fed into the draft report which was sent back to the communities through their contact persons for comments. The comments received from the communities were considered before a final draft was compiled. The established monthly clan representative forum that convene in Fort-Portal discussed this first report as an agenda item on two sittings. The first meeting generated information for the report and the second considered the draft report. Through the activities executives the staff of the Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development independently collected information provided by the communities which also fed into the process of report development.

C. Signature on behalf of the state party


Naumo Juliana Akoryo