Zenabu’s Baby Naming Ceremony

My good friend Kolbugri‘s second wife Fozeaa just had another baby girl and they invited us to the suna (baby naming ceremony). I was honored to be invited to the observe the ceremony where the Muslim elders come and bless the child. This is a private ritual that I had not yet seen in my three years here.

Here’s how it went down. An Islamic name was chosen by the lumaam (maalam) based on the child’s gender and birth day of the week. One of the men brought the name over on a piece of paper and presented it to the father and who passed it around to those attending the ceremony.

ZENABU was the name to be given. It is a transliteration of the Arabic name  زينب, or “Zaynab” which was Mohammed’s daughter’s name. It is also connected to the Hebrew name ‘Zenyeb’ which means ‘pride of her father’.

The paper with the name was added to the aduuwa – the contributions to the religious men performing the ceremony. The aduuwa consisted of a bowl of maize, a two cedis, salt peter, twelve kola nuts, and a tuft of cotton.

The maize is for the Muslim men to give to their wives to make sa’abu (or tuo zaafi). The two cedis are to cover the cost of grinding the maize at the mill. The saltpeter is to be used in the soup their wives will prepare. The kola nuts were distributed among all those that attended the ceremony. But the cotton was by far the most interesting element…

I later interviewed Mba Sampa to find out the significance of the cotton. It is kind of the equivalent of the phrase “dust to dust” in the Judeo-Christian tradition (Ecclesiastes 3:20). When a Mamprusi is buried in the Islamic tradition, they are wrapped in a fari or kasiŋŋa – a simple, white shroud. So the presentation of some white cotton to the Muslim men is a statement of recognition of the child’s mortality and a metaphorical downpayment for her funeral rites.

Once Mba Sampa, the head of Kolbugri’s family gate (and also the Kambonnaaba, chief of the NaYiri’s warriors), arrived, the blessing ceremony began. MbaSampa would request (in Mampruli) the blessing he wanted for the child, her mother, father, family and even her friends. He would then toss some coins in the a metal plate and the Muslim men would breaking into an Arabic prayer. MbaSampa was improvising blessings and the elders would recite the same Arabic prayer each time. This back and forth went on for about 20 minutes until all the coins and bills were gone – they totaled 60 cedis (about 15USD).  At the end, the men took all the money and the rest of the aduuwa.

At one point, MbaSampa requested a blessing that “God may allow Zenabu and Wumpiinikasi (my daughter KJ) to grow up and roam together and come back home safely.” I was observing this event as a bystander and when I heard him say that I was overwhelmed with emotion. I was touched by the bond that I share with these friends of mine and that their prayer was for my my child’s well-being. At the same time, I was devastated that my friend believes that he needs to hire men to speak to God on their behalf.

In his first letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul declares that “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 2:5) The Apostle John called Jesus our “advocate who pleads our case before the Father.” (1 John 2:1)

Oh, what a gift it is that through his perfect sacrifice, we can be made right with God through faith in Christ Jesus! (2 Corinthians 5:21)

And so as I sat there watching, I prayed my own silent prayer in Jesus’ name.

May God allow Zenabu and Wumpiinikasi to grow up and know Christ as their Lord and Savior so they can roam this life and then go home to the loving arms of their Creator.