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Kenya: The Borana People – The Naming Ceremony

Gubissa, the naming ceremony for THE eldest son, is an important moment of the social life of the Borana people, an ethnic group living in northern Kenya.

The celebration is held between sixth months and two years since the baby’s birth. Eight days before the ceremony, a large hut, the galma, is built and the child’s father invites the family’ numerous relatives to the naming ceremony. Each attendant to the event brings an oodha full of curdled milk as a gift, which is why the ceremony takes place after the heavy spring rains have greened up the pastures which provide abundant forage for cows. The arrival of the guests from the nearby villages indicates that the party is about to start. Seven people, the Torban, help the baby’s father throughout the event.

Two sticks, five twigs, one of which is bigger than the others, and a big branch are placed in a row before the entrance of the cow fence. One of the sticks, the Wades, is for the baby’s father; the other, the Danis, is for the baby. Two of the twigs, the ootti, are placed above the door of the galma. The others, including the largest one, are put on the wall at the bottom of the hut. The branch, called Gulanta, is located in the center of the place.

The baby’s father puts a lock of hair of the baby and his umbilical cord, which has been cut into small pieces and kept by the baby’s mother in a flap of her dress until the day of the ceremony, into a wooden bowl (qorri). Then, the father puts the mchira, a copper bracelet, which is the symbol of belonging to the tribe, on the baby’s wrist.

The two parents enter the galma to prepare the buni, a ceremonial drink, made with toasted coffee beans and fresh milk. A few drops of oil are poured on the palm of the hands of the attendants, and they spread it on their wrist and face. Everybody drinks the buni while an elder prays.

Women start milking cows at about nine o’clock in the evening, then everybody gets back to the galma. The baby’s parents eat eight roasted berries. This gesture symbolises that their son is now officially entering the family.

One of the elders intonates a sort of litany, to which everyone responds. Then, the father lifts the baby up in his arms and says, “Wario Gollicha makes jeda jeda,” and the others reply “Gudaa fate hate bulfad”, which means “may the baby grow well, long life to his father and mother”.

The invocation is repeated 16 times in turn by the father, mother, grandfather and grandmother, which totals 64 times all together. Then, a silence filled with mystery falls. After a while, the baby’s father starts to sing a song that invites attendants to celebrate, “Ho, hoyoyo jilla, hahahe!”. Another three songs are sung to wish the baby a happy life, many cows, green pastures, and abundant water. Outside the hut, people dance, women clap their hands, while young people do high jumps as the dances require. Curdled milk is served to attendants throughout the event.

At about three o’clock in the morning, the dances end. Everyone goes to sleep, while the baby’s father and the seven torban remain in the galma and continue to sing until the sun rises.

At the beginning of the new day, the Sorìo sacrifice is performed – the baby’s father slits a bull’s throat. The Danis and Wades sticks are placed under the rivulets of blood so that they get soaked with the bull’s blood, while the reading of good wishes is performed and some pieces of meat are distributed to those who brought milk.

A final ceremony, the handura, which is the umbilical cord, marks the end of the great event. The baby’s father, followed by the mother who holds the baby alongside the grandfather, enters the cattle fence. He holds the bowl containing the baby’s umbilical cord and the lock of hair, he puts pieces of this mixture on the back of some cows, the “baby’s handura cows”, which symbolises the baby’s legacy and the guarantee for a wealthy life. This ceremony is repeated for four days. Before leaving, the elderly make good wishes and some meat is offered to attendants, before they return to their own village and their work.