Empaako Tradition Submitted To UNESCO For Inscription

The proposal to have the Empaako tradition inscribed as an intangible heritage has been submitted to the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Tooro King Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru IV
Tooro King Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru IV

The UNESCO committee in-charge of intangible heritage will meet in Azerbaijan in December to consider the proposal.

Empaako or pet-name is a local practice of giving a special name which is specifically used for greeting, praising, honouring and pleading for a favour. It is shared by communities in Tooro, Bunyoro, Busongora, Butuku, Kitagwenda and Bunyaruguru.

Steven Rwagweri, the Executive Director of Engabu Za Tooro (EZT), a local cultural organisation in the region which initiated the idea of having the tradition inscribed, says the proposal was submitted on Monday to the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. EZT collected views from several personalities, institutions and organizations in areas where the tradition is shared. Rwagweri says that consultations were also made with the King of Tooro, Oyo Nyimba Kabamba Iguru Rukidi IV and his Bunyoro counterpart, Solomon Gafabuza Iguru. Ivan Rutakirwa Bwebale, the self-styled cultural leader of the Basongora and clan heads from Tooro and Bunyoro also shared their views.

Once it has been inscribed as an intangible heritage, the pet-name tradition will be listed among the important cultural intangible heritages in need of safe guarding.

Bunyoro's Omukama Solomon Gafabusa iguru
Bunyoro’s Omukama Solomon Gafabusa iguru

UNESCO will provide funds for four years meant to implement the programme of safeguarding the tradition through activities such as sensitization.

Last year, EZT received a boost when the government endorsed the request by the Batooro to have the pet-name tradition recognized by UNESCO, as an intangible heritage.

Rev. Richard Baguma, an elder in Tooro Kingdom who has been part of the team seeking peoples’ views, says he is eagerly waiting for the outcome of the Azerbaijan meeting. Baguma says the demand to have the Empaako tradition inscribed by UNESCO is overdue because it is currently under threat. Baguma cites some religious groups such as the Bisaka cult of the Faith of Unity, who have distorted the meaning of the pet-name tradition and encouraged their followers to abandon Empaako. Baguma says such cults have associated the pet names with the demi-gods and yet the pet name is used to praise, greet and adore.

He says such misconceptions will be fought once the tradition has been inscribed.

The Intangible Cultural Heritage was established in 2008 by UNESCO aiming to ensure the better protection of important intangible cultural heritages worldwide and the awareness of their significance.

Only those countries that have ratified the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritages can present elements for inscription on the lists. Currently, there are 146 countries that have ratified the Convention, which was adopted by UNESCO’s General Conference in 2003.

The committee on intangible heritage meets annually to evaluate nominations proposed and decide whether or not to inscribe those cultural practices and expressions.

In 2012, the Bigwala, gourd trumpet music and dance of the Basoga was inscribed by UNESCO on the list of intangible cultural heritage in need of urgent safeguarding.

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