Saturday, June 13, 2009
Tradititonal Naming Ceremony
Here is an excerpt from my experience at a traditional naming ceremony:
At about 1:30pm my host came out of her room and said we should probably go to the ceremony first because we still have to buy a gift and she doesn’t want me to miss it. Of course, I’m thinking we should have been there forty-five minutes ago, but then I realize it is Africa time and we’re probably just about right. We stopped by the market and bought some cloth diapers (they do not have the disposable ones here, I tell her that is better, but the less waste concept doesn’t really seem to compute) and we proceed to the ceremony.
We had driven by the house on the way to the MP’s house, so I knew that the ceremony would be outdoors under a tarp that they had rigged up under some sticks. When we pulled up there were some cars parked on the road and the tent was pretty full, I was convinced we were late, but sure enough we got there and waited at least another fifteen minutes before they began getting things ready to start. The tent had seating on the sides with a large area in the middle where the ceremony was to take place, so there were about four or five rows of none other than plastic chairs, and some folding metal ones this time too, facing each other. This ceremony was to be largely Muslim in nature I could tell by the large number of men in head coverings sitting in front of me, I was right.
Eventually the mother, dressed all in white with a white scarf over her hair tie to cover her head, came out and sat in the chair in the middle of the space between the two groupings of chairs. The baby came out just after her swaddled in a white blanket that had to be hot. The two sat facing away from the house as the first Imam began to talk and pray. There would be a series of four Imams over the course of the ceremony, many of them spoke in Arabic, Krio, Temne, and English, so it was hard for me to follow all of what was being said, but I am pretty sure the gist of it is that they were praying for the baby and for the family. The second Imam to speak actually spoke while holding the baby in the center without the microphone (the others were just outside of the tent, as far as the microphone could reach from the porch where the PA that was going to deafen me was perched. After he spoke for awhile he lifted the baby up and spoke into her ear in soft tones, this was part of the tradition. On the ground, not far from the mother and the baby were some kola nuts in a bowl, nothing was done with them, but I am guessing that they have significance.
Before the name was announced the Imams put a dish in the middle of the open space and began to call for money. People would come up and drop in money first from the mother’s side and then from the father’s side. My host told me to get out a 5,000Le and put it in the bowl (she did as well) when they called the fathers side- as he was her friend, and how we got invited anyway. I believe that the money goes towards school and education fees for the little girl. After the money was given, people were invited to give their gifts to the family. My host had wanted me to give the diapers we brought, and so we both climbed out of the row again (the first time for the money, this time for the gift) and I gave it to the mother who thanked me, she later told my host she was glad that the white woman could come and see the ceremony. Finally after much joking and teasing and rousing the crowd (there must have been close to seventy five people there) the main Imam read the baby’s name, Zienab, everyone cheered and clapped.
It was at that time that they slaughtered the goat. I had seen the goat out of the corner of my eye (it was tied up over and behind my left shoulder a ways) during the ceremony and was afraid that it might be killed for the ceremony and sure enough I heard some bleating and then silence from the goat. I did not watch, but saw my host go over with my camera- she was once again the photographer, and then saw the bloody knife they had used to cut its throat. It was all I could to hold back tears (which luckily I did), I just really hoped that they were going to eat it and it was not just sacrificial, but still I got a bit sick to my stomach and considered becoming a vegetarian again. Then, I realized that this is what I am here for, to learn about tradition, and to understand how things are done and why, and I realize that this is an important tradition, I was pleased to see that they were cutting up the goat when we left (of course the blood stain was still in the dirt, but they had moved the goat to the large mat made of some sort of leaf) to cut it up for people to eat. I am quite sure I have eaten some goat while I’ve been here, there have definitely been some mystery meats, and there are so many goats wandering around, it is safe to say that slaughtering a goat is common, how else would they get meat here? I feel okay with the process by the time I leave, but I have never seen a goat slaughtered before and the bleats just about break your heart that is really what did me in. Just thinking about the bleats upsets me again- a knife to the throat, what a way to go. I know we are top of the food chain, etc. but I still don’t like killing something to survive. Obviously, this affected me more than I thought while I am writing about it. My rational side has completely made peace with the event; I just think my emotional side is having a hard time catching up.
Then, everyone got up and went to the food and ate together and drank sodas (as the group was largely Muslim- the wife is Muslim and the husband is Christian, despite being called Mohammed). Mohammed sneaked my host, her brother, and I cans for Carlsberg though, some of the others were a bit jealous. And of course, music was pumped at an absurd volume while people ate, drank, and socialized. Despite not really understanding all of it, it was an interesting ceremony. I think I like having a ceremony to announce the name of a baby, it is a good way to welcome the child into the world, although I cannot imagine not telling anyone the name of the baby for a week in the States, our families would kill us.
Several people have said that the traditional ceremonies are a good way to bring people together for peace. I believe that I have witnessed that today, especially as the Imam did a good job of including Christians in his discussions (from what I understood). It seemed that it was an occasion shared by all that talked about the future, the future f this child in particular, but the future of the country and of us all really. It was a joyous day for everyone and I think it brought people together to think about the future for this baby.