Unesco honours empaako tradition

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A child speaks to Tooro King Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru during kingdom celebrations recently.

A child speaks to Tooro King Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru during kingdom celebrations recently. Unesco has earmarked the kingdoms’ pet name as a world cultural heritage. PHOTO BY JOSEPH KIGGUNDU 


Posted  Wednesday, December 11   2013 at  11:52

In Summary

Culture. United Nations cultural organisation recognises the Batooro pet name as an intangible heritage to safe guard tradition.


Ms Jane Kabataizibwa Abwooli, 24, is a youth from Mwenge in Kyenjojo District, where most Batooro have roots in Tooro Kingdom. Ms Kabataizibwa is Omubiitokati, meaning that she is a lady from the royal clan, the Babiito. When she meets any one, she stops, bows down and greets: empaako yawe? a typical Batooro cultural greeting by first asking for the pet name.
“Having cultural identity is not something that should be ignored” Abwooli observes and adds: “Young or old we must respect the saying---‘East, West, home is best’, everybody needs a cultural identity or sense of belonging”.

Besides their family names, the Batooro, Banyoro, Basongora, Batuku, Batagwenda and Bunyaruguru, all ethnicities in western Uganda, have pet names called empaako. These pet names are said to be of Luo origin though the Luo do not use them.

Addressing a person by her or his Empaako name is an affirmation of social identity and unity and a declaration of affection, respect, honour or love. Having sensed that empaako has dropped in sections of these ethnicities, Engabu Za Tooro (EZT), an NGO based in Fort Portal, asked the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) to inscribe them internationally.

And on Saturday, their wish was granted when Unesco inscribed Empaako as an intangible heritage during a conference held in Azerbaijan from December 2 to 8. Mr Stephen Rwagweri, the executive director of EZT, who represented the Empaako communities at the conference, said the need to recognise Empaako followed a research in the kingom which indicated that the tradition was under threat from groups such as cults.

Forinstance, the Bisaka cult, which has a large following in Kyejonjo District, prohibits its believers from greeting using the pet name, which they associate with the demi-gods.