Baby-Naming Ceremonies

The Fulbe love to get together with family and neighbors. There are many opportunities for this to happen, because a huge feast is prepared for every baby-naming ceremony, marriage, and funeral. The neighborhood women and family members are expected to help at every one of these events.

Baby-naming ceremonies, also known as a dennaboo, are interesting. The women gather to cook the majority of the meal on the evening before the dennaboo, finishing up the rest of the cooking first thing the next morning. Usually the actual naming of the child is at around 10:00 am. Money is collected as people arrive and carefully recorded. Gifts are brought for the family, usually fabric, clothes, or dishes for the parents and perhaps soap for the baby. Generally, musicians called “nyaamakalaabe” come, expecting to be paid at least a 500 GF (approx. 10 cents) per song.

The baby’s name is kept secret until that moment when a sheep or goat is sacrificed and an elder of the village or neighborhood calls out a blessing followed by the baby’s name. The nyaamakalaabe pick up the name and shout it to the crowd, often adding their own blessings to the announcements. Then the crowd is hushed while an elder leads a prayer of blessing for the child. Afterwards, the baby’s head is shaved. Sometimes a special type of fruit with its leaves are placed in a bowl of water, and the leaves are used to moisten the hair before shaving. This is supposed to insure the baby will have good character. Cola nuts may also be placed in the bowl. Later, the hair and the umbilical cord may be buried under a tree by the mother.

Another interesting thing often happens
at baby naming ceremonies. A married woman who has never had a baby or one who has not been able to conceive a second time will put the baby on her back, and carry wooden tablets with Quranic verses written on it. The married woman is then followed by many children who are chanting blessings on the future children she will hopefully conceive. After they are finished chanting a blessing on the “future mother”, someone throws out candy to the children. This is similar to the American custom of throwing the bouquet to unwed girls.

The Fulbe greatly rejoice in large gatherings such as this and deem the greater number of people as a greater blessing and indication of status.