tribal secrets

12 names for millions of people

21 January 2010

mutooro_arsenal.jpgThe most special thing about a kingdom in western Uganda, Tooro, may be the 11 “pet names” they exclusively use when showing respect, gratitude, praise. The 12th name is booked for somebody important.
These empaako actually do not mean anything in the local language – they have been brought to the Batooro by Luo invaders. Solomon Akugizibwe has the details.

What makes the Batooro of western Uganda special? Is it their young king Oyo, the escapades of their Queen Mother Kemigisa, their closeness to the famous snow-caped Rwenzori montains or their western jazz style? Or is the most special thing their “pet names”?

The pet names are so much embeded in the Tooro culture that everyone born or married in Tooro adopts them. Among children it is punishable to call an elder by their religious or traditional name because it is a sign of disrespect and indiscpline. Batooro use pet names to greet, praise, show gratitude or ask for favors from people.

The first eleven pet names or empaako are Bbala, Abbooki, Abwooli, Acaali, Adyeeri, Akiiki, Amooti, Apuuli, Araali, Ateenyi, Atwooki. However, the 12th pet name Okaali is reserved for the king only. He is the only Mutooro with two pet names. Upon becoming a king, no matter what his pet name was before, he takes Amooti used to greet him on an everyday basis and Okaali used only on special ocassions, traditional ceremonies and rituals.

Surprisingly, the pet names do not mean anything in Tooro culture! They originated from the Luo who invaded Bunyoro – which Toro was part of – and assimilated them into their language. Empaako were tagged with special Luo meanings, for instance Akiiki means saviour of nations, Abwooli is a cat, Apuuli is a bitch and Ateenyi is the legendary serpent of River Muziizi – which separates today’s Bunyoro and Toro Kingdoms.

The Batooro share many cultural traits with Banyoro, including pet names, because Tooro Kingdom was originally a province of Bunyoro-Kitara until 1830 when Prince Kaboyo rebelled and declared Tooro independent.


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