Empaako tradition is a naming system practised by Batooro, Banyoro, Batuku, Batagwenda and Banyabindi communities of western Uganda, 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. The practice is associated with rituals and ceremonies whose meaning reinforces identity and belief systems. At the time of its inscription on the Urgent Safeguarding List in 2013, the Committee requested an extraordinary report to be examined at its tenth session.
Effectiveness of the safeguarding plan
The main objectives for safeguarding the element were to review the safeguarding plan, increase accessibility of information and knowledge about the element, and enhance the capacity of bearers to transmit knowledge and skills. The main results of the activities undertaken include a participatory review of the existing safeguarding plan; a safeguarding programme and mechanisms established for effective community and stakeholder participation; International Assistance requests elaborated and submitted to UNESCO; the implementation of a three-month pilot Empaako heritage conservation project by Banyoro communities and a fundraising strategy. The safeguarding activities also contributed to an increase in the mobilisation of stakeholders, leaders of rituals and 44 clans from the five communities, to revitalise the element. Public events, press conferences, festivals, workshops, a brochure and activities involving public leaders were reported to be very effective in raising awareness of the element and intangible cultural heritage in general for the specific communities and the Ugandan population. A monthly forum for representatives of the clans, established during the nomination process, has since been strengthened and is very effective in disseminating information and knowledge at the grassroots level. It has also contributed with the involvement of performers and artists for dissemination of safeguarding objectives. For example, regarding the raising of a monument in the main town of Empaako land.
Many safeguarding initiatives have been planned, financed and undertaken by the communities, as well as individuals and groups. Members of the forum and cultural institutions within the five communities, such as chiefdoms, kingdoms and voluntary community associations, are responsible for managing these initiatives. During the reporting exercise, leaders from these institutions provided information on views of the communities regarding what achievements and challenges. The report was also sent to the communities for their comments and discussed at two monthly forum sessions.
Viability and current risks
The element is facing loss of meaning, social value and knowledge among bearers. A decline in observance of the naming ceremonies, as well as the number of bearers are among the main threats to viability of the element. Moreover, those who still give their children an Empaako name often abandon the associated rituals. In addition, it has been reported that there have been attacks on the practice from some religious groups mainly because of lack of knowledge about its meaning. In parallel, the language of the Empaako tradition, Runyoro-Rutooro, is declining in usage even among traditional bearer communities in favour of other more dominant languages.