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In Luoland, babies’ names were delivered in dreams by relatives

By Anne Atieno | Jan 29th 2022 | 3 min read
In most instances, the spirit of the dead would press for the child to be named after them, causing the child to cry often. [istockphoto]

Children are a source of joy in any African family. And as such, special occasions would be set aside for their naming and shaving.

Among the Luo, a child would be given a name by the mother.

However, in some instances, a name would be sent as a dream to any member of the family who would make the name public.

According to the Luo Council of elders Chairman Willis Otondi, it was rare for a child to reject a name.

He says that the child would cry if they didn’t want the name. “The child would cry until the parents search for the right name and find it. It was until the child is given the name that they stop crying,” Mzee Otondi says.

In most instances, the spirit of the dead would press for the child to be named after them, causing the child to cry often.

However, he says that if the name was not found, nothing bad would happen to the child, when they were grown-ups.

Otondi explains that a child would also be named according to the season or time he or she was born. For a male child, a name like Otieno to mean born in the night, would be given to him.

The community would also hold a shaving ceremony where only elderly women were involved.

According to Otondi, it was not a must for the family involved to prepare a special meal for the women who came to shave the child. 

The shaving would be done after three weeks of birth and would be done specifically by an elderly woman. “Men would completely stay away as elderly women were the ones required to perform the shaving ceremony,” he adds.

The women would sit down and discuss before shaving the child with a brand new razor blade.

Otondi, however, says that since Christianity took over, the shaving ceremony became a thing of the past, since currently, even the parents of the child can do the shaving.

Among the Gusii community, children were named based on seasons, time at which the baby was born, grandparents or family members, place of birth order of birth, and circumstances under which the baby was born.

The naming system was basically based on the premise that a male is socialized to ‘gather wealth’, hence, the term Omosacha for man or husband, while a female is socialized to ‘take care of the wealth hence term Omokungu for woman or wife.

With the arrival of the colonizers and missionaries in Gusiiland, Abagusii people devised “modern” ways of wealth gathering and ended up with names relating to education, white-collar jobs, and money.

For the Kuria community, when a child was born, the mother would stay indoors for four days if it was a girl and five if it was a boy. It was until the days elapsed that the naming and shaving ceremonies would be held.

Kuria Council of elders’ chairman Nyagusuka Magige, notes that during this time, the child would be given a name and would be shaved on the same day. The child would be named after their departed relatives.“Most would name their children after their parents,” Mzee Magige says.

 In Kuria, if the mother was still young, she was not allowed to watch when her child was being shaved. However, she would be allowed to do the shaving herself if she was experienced and of advanced age.

The child would also be shaved along with the family, 40 days after bereavement, to appease the ancestors. 

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