Empaako is used in Bunyoro for greeting and culturally, it is ludicrous that one would call one’s neighbour by their formal name.
On first interaction, you are asked: What is your empaako” while kneeling if you are a woman and bending for a man.
Whatever the time of the day, empaako is a must use. Oraire ota (good morning), Osibire ota (good evening), is often followed by empaako of whoever is being greeted.
The respondent, echoes the person’s empaako: “Ndaire kurungi, Akiiki (its good morning, Akiiki), Nsibire kurungi, Adyeeri (my afternoon is fine, Adyeeri).
Empaako, are also used when addressing or referring to someone for instance Abooki kankuyambeho (let me assist you, Abooki), Abwooli okugenda nkaha (where are you going, Abwooli).
Praise names which are attached to one’s name, they are similar to English titles like Sir, honourable, madam and mister.
Empaako are used as an address-as part of one’s name. It comes after a person’s full name.
Joseph Baguma Atenyi. It is hyphenated with people’s sir names like Eunice Ngozi Akiiki. Among Banyoro, Batooro, Batuku, Banyabindi and Batagwenda societies, one’s name is regarded incomplete without a praise name.
Empaako is used to restore harmony and reconciliation for instance, during misunderstandings, one can ask for forgiveness in a polite manner: Atwooki nganyira (forgive or pardon me, Atwooki), webale muno, Amooti (I am grateful, Amooti).
Empaako is a borrowed word from the Luo word pako, which means ‘praise’ and give honour. With empaako having Luo roots it points to the Luo influence in Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom.
This follows their migration into the kingdom in the 14th century. Legends have it that empaako culture transcended the Luo migration into the region for they were already in use during the Chwezi dynasty, whom the Babiito-Luo succeeded as rulers of Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), recognised empaako, as a tangible heritage in 2013.
There are 13 known empaako. Of these 12 start with letter A and only one starts with letter O. Twelve of them have Luo origins while only one is believed to be indigenous Bunyoro.
Okaali is a pet-name for only the king and Abaala is for chief. Amooti, Akiiki, Abooki, Araali, Apuuli and Adyeeri are among pet-names given to ordinary people.
Below, among others, are pet-names listed in alphabetical order, together with their perceived meanings and showing the expected characteristics of the holders of each empaako.
Abooki: is derived from the Luo word Abooko which means “I have narrated to you”. The bearer of this praise name is meant to be someone who cherishes the rules of parent, teachers, elders and mentors. It denotes pretty.
Acaali: is derived from Luo word Acalo meaning “I resemble you.” In Bunyoro, it refers someone who resembles another one in nature and character and who easily relates to other people. It is an empaako for the courageous.
Okaali: comes from the Luo word Okalo which means he or she has jumped over you. In Bunyoro it implies someone with highest responsibility as a leader in the kingdom that is Rukirabasaija Agutamba Omukama.
Therefore, Okaali is used for Omukama only and even then by men only when greeting him. Zoono Okaali (King’s mocking-conquer or sovereign).
Apuuli, Akiiki, Araali and Abwooli seem to have no definite Luo roots. There are also empaako reserved for women, while Abaala, Araali, Apuuli, Acaali are exclusively for men.
Some like Adyeeri and Amooti are used for twins and it is uncommon for people who are not twins to use them.
Empaako for twins may, however, vary in Tooro and Bunyoro. However, people nowadays are not using praise names like in the past, which endangers them and might get extinct.
Bunyoro Kingdom is always advocating to conserve the empaako heritage. In 2013, the kingdom signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Cross-Cultural Foundation of Uganda (CCFU), an organisation which promotes the recognition of culture, to pilot a 3-months empaako heritage conservation project.
Twelve forests were planted as per the 12 pet-names that are found in Bunyoro and Tooro. The initiative was driven by the kingdom’s proposal to have empaako conservation since it was under threat from some religious and foreign cultures.
T-shirts and caps with empaako inscription are always on sale as a way of promoting the use of praise names.