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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.