So, your girlfriends or co-workers have surprised you with a baby shower. But, what are you going to do so that your relatives don’t feel left out of the ‘new baby’ excitement? Or maybe your baby decided to arrive ahead of the baby shower that was planned. How can you arrange for your loved ones to meet the new bundle of joy, and still having a sort of ‘baby welcome’ party. Naming ceremonies are an ancient African tradition that have long been forgotten by many people of African descent, but they still serve a purpose today. The naming ceremony is one of the many rites of passage and initiation that we should guide our children through as we prepare them to be the adults that will take leadership in the world tomorrow.
The Baby Naming Ceremony is a celebration that allows the parents to present the new baby to friends, relatives and the community, and allows for the child’s name to be announced, the meaning explained and for the ‘village’ of loved ones to welcome the little one with gifts and blessings. The timing and structure of the event has always varied from culture to culture, but the naming of a child is very significant in all African cultures. Since the name a person is intrinsically tied to their identity (character and purpose), within African societies, the name chosen is key to the child’s success in life. If you do some searching and talk with friends or family members from the mother continent, you will get a wide variety of formats and rituals that are associated with a baby’s naming ceremony. As such, the specifics of the event can vary from family to family and even, from child to child. However, there are some rituals that seem to be common to most, if not all African cultures. The Eight Bowls of Life Lessons is one such ritual and while the elements may vary, it is an essential part of the birth rite of passage.
The Eight Bowls of Life Lessons
Prior to the naming ceremony, eight bowls will be prepared on a specially decorated table and are filled with specific foods or elements for tasting. Some foods that may be used for the elements are:
Usually, a family or community elder officiates the ritual and introduces each element to the gathering. While explaining the symbolic meanings of each element and declaring the life lesson that it represents, the officiant puts each element to the baby’s mouth to be tasted. Then each bowl is passed for the items to be tasted by the parents and all the participants. Then the officiant expresses prayers for the child’s well being and good character to complete this aspect of the ceremony.
The Purpose & Setting
Your baby’s naming ceremony may be an intimate occasion, just for your family and the closest of friends. Or, it may be a large community event to express thanksgiving for the addition of a new life. But, either way, it is not a religious ceremony. A baby naming ceremony is a great opportunity for the family to:
So, a naming ceremony must be distinguished from a christening, infant baptism or dedication – which are usually part of a main church service. A traditional African naming ceremony is often kept outdoors, to facilitate the child experiencing and being welcomed by the elements of nature. You could picture the warm morning sunshine kisses your little one’s skin and cool breezes tickle her bright eyes, while her tiny feet are being placed in the dirt and and grass. But, it may also be hosted in a variety of locations. So, if an outdoor venue is not feasible, it may be hosted in your home, a reception hall or even a restaurant.
The Typical Format
At the end of the day, you will likely customise the event and feature activities that you and your partner find meaningful. Just ensure that the atmosphere is celebratory. Try to keep the formalities to a minimum and reserve a lot of time for feasting and feting. A typical baby naming ceremony would have the following rites and segments:
Then the formalities of the ceremony are usually followed by a party with lots of food, music, games, singing, dancing and just a lot of happiness.
Whether you are trying to have a gathering for loved ones who got left out of the pre-birth festivities, or you’re looking for an alternative to a baby shower, a baby naming ceremony is a beautiful and significant family tradition to begin. The most beautiful thing about the naming ceremony is that it is not time-sensitive. So, if you have an older child, a naming ceremony would be an memorable way to celebrate their next birthday or another important milestone in their life.
Didan Ashanta is a natural living enthusiast who blogs at DidanAshanta.com. A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in Tokyo with her husband and 1-year-old daughter.