By Prince Kelly O Udebhulu
In Esan mythology, a new born child’s naming ceremony is an event in which the child is given a name or names, recognizing that a name is an identifier.
Comparatively, one of the most important things in the life of every married person is to have a child or children. So much joy accompanies the birth of a child after a 9-month long journey. To the Esan people, a child is a gift from God, and the birth of one symbolizes the coming of good things into a family, ‘Omonigho’, meaning a child is valued more than riches/wealth.
Occasionally, before the birth of a child, some names are jostled about but an important event or circumstance in the family or occasion in the community may be used to name a child born during such an occasion.
But in practical Esan tradition, it was unusual for a man to think of a name before the child was born except in cases where the native doctor had already warned the parents that the name of the person that the baby was reincarnating must be given to it.
Esan people, being firm believers in reincarnation, often went to consult the oracle before the actual naming ceremony, either to receive the name of the person being reincarnated or for the child to take up the profession of the man when he was alive.
However, where this consultation was already made, the name was only known to the family and the child still had to go through the naming ceremony.
Traditionally, when a child is born by a young couple, the practice is to ask the grandfather or great grandfather to send a name. Although the parents of the child can give their own pet names to the child, the name given by the paternal elder of the family supersedes.
However, during Christian baptism, Christian names can be added. Recently, Esan names have been used as Christian names.
The Esan traditional naming ceremony is held at the third traditional month after the birth of the baby. Notably, Esan has five days in a week; this means in lunar calendar, two months and half makes three months invariably (A lunar calendar is a calendar based upon cycles of the moon’s phases-synodic months-, the details of when months begin varies from calendar to calendar, with some using new, full or crescent moons and others employing detailed calculations).
Primarily, family’s elders and very close friends gather to pray to God for long life, good health and prosperity for the child and its parents. The elders present the family name to the father of the baby. Oracular consultations and divination may precede this phase. Later on, the main ‘naming’ ceremony occurs. Although the family elders and friends (male and female) are present, the ceremony is usually a mainly female affair.
When all are seated with males on one side and females on the other side of the living room or compound, the mother, who is gorgeously dressed for the occasion, holds the child.
The eldest male representative of the head of the family says the opening prayers in Esan language with kola-nuts and drinks. He breaks the nuts and shares them. Subsequently, the eldest female member of the family now takes up the remaining activities of the naming ceremony.
She will ask the mother of the child what she calls the child. The same question is asked seven (7) times. On each of the first six occasions the mother will give an unthinkable name to the child which the other women will reject.
In response to the seventh (7th) question, the father of the child whispers the actual name to his wife, who then announces it publicly.
In response, it will be greeted with blessings for the baby, and those present will chorus: “O RETO (He or she will live long with it).
Note that all Esan names have meaning and so this day was the appropriate day for relatives and friends or enemies to tell the parents what they thought of them. Anybody wishing to give a name carried the baby and did so. It was not Esan custom to give monetary presents by those wishing and to give-names; this obviously is a borrowed custom probably from other traditions outside Esan land.
Applicably, if the woman was still living where she delivered, outside her home, it was on this day she returned borne. That night custom decreed that she went to ‘greet her husband with the baby’ and she slept at Odugha!
It is interesting to know that on the day, particularly if she was the only wife, and not with her own parents, the woman had to begin to fend for herself: she could then go to the pond for water or farm for wood – early ambulation modern doctors preach to quicken involution.
Archaeologically, nothing like naming ceremony on the seventh day in Esan history and no husband touches a woman’s food during her menstrual circle or after birth until she is dried though modernization influences nowadays.