Foto: Eduardo Biral, 1987


  • Autodenominação
  • Where they are How many

    MT454 (Siasi/Sesai, 2012)
  • Linguistic family

The importance of names


Most Ikpeng individuals have an impressive number of names (between six and fifteen, on the average a dozen). The chain of names that each one possesses is recited in a ritual (orengo eganoptovo: "recitation of names") related to the cerimony of returning from a successful war expedition. Or it is recited on very formal occasions during which a "great man" (who is not called "chief", for this term is inadequate) expresses the speech of the group, through special forms. In this case, he begins the discourse through the proclamation of names, and will repeat this several times, to emphasize what he is saying. Each chain of names is called orengo and is composed of a more common and important name, the emiru - which is acquired in an advanced stage of life, always after the death of one's parents -, and imon names- which are given after birth.

The process of naming is cumulative, given that during a person's lifetime he is usually named several times and retains all the names. The utilization of these names is opposed to nicknames which are affectionate epithets, mocking or occasional. The nickname is amut, a term that designates a type of decorative object used jokingly. In contrast with names, the nicknames are descriptive, specific to the individual, depending on the circumstances, and forgettable. Most Ikpeng possess one nickname, and these are the designations that are the most used in daily life, to the detriment of the names. That is, despite the fact everyone has many names, their daily use is rare. In any case, the process of naming is fundamental to the conception of the world and the social reproduction of these people.

The process of naming is done according to a chain of three members, within a kin group. One kin chooses a sequence of already existing names from one of his own kin, generally deceased. Then there is another person who names and someone who is named. The relation between the latter two is, often, one of close kinship, such as parents, uncles/aunts and grandparents.

The choice of the name is not arbitrary, but is determined by rules for the transmission of the names, and also, by considerations of the quality of social identity. Thus, giving a child the name of an ancestor who may have suffered from a grave shortcoming or a pernicious excess, is avoided, for there is the possibility that the destiny of this ancestor may be repeated in the child.

In this manner, through name transmission, the Ikpeng conceive of a continuous relation with the ancestors, which goes back to the mythic founding heroes. But it is not only social continuity that is guaranteed through name transmission, but also new names are incorporated over time, whether because certain nicknames are adopted as names and transmitted or, mainly, through the incorporation of names of foreign captives. Even though they may be few, the importance of captives as namers is great and, as soon as they have children with an Ikpeng, they are summoned by preference to give names.

In the Ikpeng logic of taking captives as a way of substituting a dead person, one can say then that, from the point of view of substance (beings of flesh), the system is conceived as a state of equilibrium (one dies, a foreigner is captured to substitute him); but from the point of view of quality, the foreign substance represents an addition, in the form of new names.

Even though the historic moment in which they are living has interrupted the warrior cycle and capture of foreigners, this model continues to operate on a conceptual level, concentrating on the symbolic plane a way of thinking and acting in the world.