State Minister for the Elderly, Gidudu Mafwabi, notes with concern that Empaako tradition is at the verge of extinction.
Empaako is a respect name; pet name; praise name or an honorific used by Banyoro, Batooro, Batuku, Batagwenda and Banyabindi in western Uganda which makes them a community with an idiosyncratic culture.
The empaako becomes the second Ugandan element following the endangered Bigwala (a gourd trumpet music and dance from Busoga) to enjoy international heritage protection.
Mr Mafwabi says the empaako culture is facing formidable challenges in today’s world especially the .com era where modernisation, urbanisation and educational institutions have damaged their use.
The minister observes that education has pushed some trendy people to retrogress empaako by viewing them as time wasting and archaic wondering that despite being workmates from the same tribe, majority of stylish people living in cosmopolitan areas find it hard to greet each other in their traditional way as “empaako yawe?” preferring “Hi?”
It is noted that Christianity, too, is contributing to the extinction of empaako element with such radicals as some born again Christians like the Sisiimuka (Revival) section of Bunyoro in the Church Of Uganda do not greet their tribe mates using empaako regarding them as satanic and immoral.
The initiation of the Faith of Unity (Enyikiriza y’obumu) by the deceased self-professed god, Desteo Bisaka-a Munyoro himself from Kagadi has also proved destructive to Bunyoro’s empaako cultural norm.
Revered for having honorifics for addressing people, Bunyoro has for centuries maintained her standard of identity with praise names symbolic of respect and love to one another.
With or without knowledge of meanings of praise names, Bisaka incessantly brainwashed his followers that praise names are diabolic.
So, none of his followers, albeit being Banyoro is permitted to have a praise name which is Bunyoro’s eccentric identity.
This erosion of empaako culture has raised the eye brows of the minister.
“Since 2012, Uganda has had its intangible cultural elements at the verge of extinction inscribed on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) list of elements in need of urgent safeguarding including empaako element”, he said.
In an effort to preserve empaako against extinction, a cultural centre and museum linked to empaako traditions has been set up at Uganda Rural Development and Training Institute (URDTI) in Kagadi town, Bunyoro province.
The chairman Uganda Community Museums Association (UCOMA), Abraham Kitaulwa, recommends that the empaako element should be safeguarded and information about it effectively transmitted to the young generations.
He adds that there is need for sustained capacity building for all community museum managers in Uganda to identify and publicise ICH elements through museum spaces.
Mr Kitaulwa also recommends that the Ministry of Education and Sports “should incorporate the Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) elements into the extra curriculum activities in schools, the cultural institutions should fully join the safeguarding of elements in their areas of jurisdiction and tertiary institutions should encourage their students to research on these highly considered elements among others.”
This, as the minister launched a booklet and a video documentary profiling six Ugandan ICH elements at the verge of extinction produced by UCOMA under the 61360-dollar UNESCO funded project at the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development headquarters in Kampala.
Other ICH elements being threatened include Bigwala gourd trumpet music and dance of Busoga Kingdom, male child cleansing ceremony of Lango performed to rectify an anomaly of impotence among infant boys, Koogere tradition (female chief of Busongora about 1500 years ago, the Madi bow lyre and dance of Madi people of West Nile sub-region and the skill and art of bark cloth making in Buganda.