Mar 14, 2015
Rites of Passage - Naming Ceremony in Ghana
Naming and outdooring ceremonies are celebrated in most Ghanaian communities. It is called a naming ceremony because it is the first day the child is given a name and it is also called an outdooring ceremony because it is the first time the child is taken out of doors.
Different ethnic groups have different names for naming and outdooring ceremonies. Among the Akans, it is known as Abadinto or Dzinto, to the Ewes it is called Vihehedego, the Gas call it Kpodziemo and the Dagaris call it Sunna. In some communities, the baby is not taken out for some days when it is born.
This is because they to know if it can survive the many dangers it will be facing after birth. During this time, the baby is regarded as a stranger or a visitor. Such a child is known among the Akans as Ohoho, to the Ewes, it is known as Amedzro and to the Dagombas, it is known as Saando for a boy and Saanpaga for a girl.
The day for naming the child differs from community to community. Among the Akans, it takes place on the eighth day whiles it takes place in the Northern and Upper Regions on the 3rd and 4th day for boys and girls respectively.
The choice of names and the procedures involved differs from the ethnic groups.For example, among the Akan, the child is given the first name on the day which he or she was born. For example, Ama and Kwame for a girl and a boy respectively,born on a Saturday.
Some ethnic groups also consult their cults to name their children. An example of such ethnic group is the Anlo. Some children are also named due to some circumstances. Example, Anto or Antobam in Akan for a child whose father dies before it is born. Awia or Kawia is also for a child born on a sunny day, this is among the Kasenas. Sometimes,in the Northern and Upper Regions, a diviner is consulted for a name.
Moral education and character training in the Akan society start from infancy, and is lifelong. The various rites of passage of the society offer settings for moral and other forms of education. The child naming ceremony (abadintoɔ) of the Akan, for example, is the occasion for teaching even the young baby to distinguish between truth (nokorɛ) and falsehood (nkontompo). The naming ceremony usually takes place eight days after the child is born. The officiate at the naming ceremony places the child on his/her lap and the child’s name is called out aloud. The officiate dips his/her right index finger into water and let it drop onto the child’s tongue. This is done three times with the saying each time: “If you say it is water, let it be water you are tasting.” Then the officiate dips his/her right index finger into palm wine for the child to taste saying, “If you say it is palm wine, let it be palm wine you are tasting.” The child is then shown a black object and a white object followed each time by the saying, “If you say it is black, let it be black you are seeing and if it is white, let it be white you are seeing.” By this ceremony the child receives his/her first moral instruction to speak the truth (nokorɛ) all the time.
The newborn is believed to have the ability to differentiate between sweet and non-sweet taste stimuli, and s/he is, therefore, expected to learn from this experience and grow up to be able to differentiate between truth and falsehood, and to be truthful. The vicissitude as well as the contrastive nature of the world is further reinforced by the water (representing positivity) and the wine (representing negativity). The child is taught to see every negative situation as an opportunity for growth and learning. It can be hard to see the silver lining when things are not going one’s way. But one needs to consider that the longer one wallows in negativity, the longer it will take for things to change for the better. If one continues to focus on the bad, one will never see the good that can come of it. There is a fine line that splits one from feeling positive or negative and this starts to become a lot clearer when one becomes aware that positivity leads to enthusiasm and negativity leads to difficulties.
Let us consider an excerpt from a naming ceremony of a baby girl that was held on the eigth day in Ampia Ajumako. The child was named after the father’s mother a female born on Friday. The child’s full name is Afua Seguwaa Hammah. The following is what the elderly person who was performing the name ritual said:
Abɔfra woaba tena ase, mmɛyɛyɛkyerɛ nkɔ. Wo maamenom ne wo papanom na ahyia ha nnɛ yi. Yɛrema wo din nnɛ. Edin a yɛde rema wo ne Afua Seguwa Hammah. Yɛbɛfrɛ wo Afua firi sɛ yɛwoo wo Efiada. Saa da yi na wo kraa pene so sɛ bra asaase yi so. Yɛde wo reto wo nana Afua Seguwaa. Ne din pa ara ne Seguwaa, ne mmarima din de Segu anaa Saigoe. Yei nti bɛbu subanpa, mmɛyɛ biribi a ɛbɛma nkurɔfoɔ anya kwan adidi wo atɛm ama ebi aka wo nana. Bio yɛde wo papa din Hammah reka wo din ho sɛdeɛ wobɛfa wo papa su na woatiatia n’anammɔn mu ayere wo ho ayɛ adwuma na woosi nkete te sɛ wo papa. Yɛka sɛ nsuo a, ka sɛ nsuo, yɛka se nsa a, ka sɛ nsa. Mfa nsuo ngyina w’ano mu nkasa nkyerɛ yɛn.
‘Baby, you are welcome to this world. Have a longer stay, just do not come and exhibit yourself and return. Your mothers and fathers have assembled here today to give you a name. The name we are giving to you is Afua Seguwaa Hammah. You are named Afua because that is the day your soul decided to enter into this world. We are naming you after your grandmother Afua Seguwaa. Her Seguwaa is the feminine form of Segu or Saigoe. In view of this, come and put up a good moral behaviour. Again we are attaching your father’s name Hammah to your name. Follow the footsteps of your father and come and work hard. When we say water, let it be water, when we say drink let it be drink. Do not put water in your mouth to speak to us.’
In the past, in some farming communities, the baby boy was shown a cutlass (machete - # ) and the baby girl was for a moment covered with a basket (kεntεn). The cutlass was to signify to the child that he was expected to grow up to function as a hard-working individual who will not only sustain his family, but also become a productive member of the society. The basket signified to the girl that it was the task of the woman to collect foodstuffs from the farm, carry the load home and prepare food to feed her family and others.
The eight-day-old baby may not be cognizant of what the naming ceremony is all about. The full meaning and the educational value of the ceremony are learned gradually through the years at successive ceremonies. While the rudiments (for example, differences in tastes) are learned by the individual at one’s own naming ceremony, added knowledge is gained at successive ceremonies at which s/he is a parent, relative, or a participant in one way or the other. In this regard the naming of one is essentially not an individual but a social learning situation. The ceremony is an educational event to inculcate in the participants the Akan values of honesty, duty, obligation, and a deep sense of and commitment to to family among other things.
The ceremony serves to teach the ancestral history as the past accomplishments and qualities of the ancestor who previously bore that name are retold. The occasion reminds the participants that as individuals each has a contribution to make to the corporate life of the group. It also serves to emphasize to the newborn that s/he belongs to a lineage with tradition and history that s/he can be proud of. The ceremony also serves to teach the newborn and remind the adult participants that life is full of contrasts – occasions when living can be very “sweet” or when living can be very “bitter;” there will be ups and downs (life's zigzag), disappointments and joyous situations, and that one should not give up when the going gets tough.