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Opinions of Sunday, 6 September 2015

Columnist: Daily Guide Network

Should a Christian' baby outdooring be done in Church or Traditional home?

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A lady recently reported on an FM radio airwaves that her husband and her husband’s father are ‘fighting’ over where or how her new-born baby should be outdoored – whether by Christian rituals in the church or by African traditional rites at home!

She explained that whilst her zealous penteco-charismatic Christian husband insists that the baby boy (who was to be named after the husband’s father should be outdoored or christened in the church for more Godly blessings, her husband’s father, a die-hard traditionalist, would rather want the ceremony to be done in the house and in the traditional way. She was worried over that controversy, and thus wanted some counselling. Yes, you could easily pity her plight!

But this is certainly not an isolated case; as modern-day penteco-charismatic Christians, who are ordinarily more enlightened in the scriptures than before, see fetishism or paganism in the most of our African traditions and would want to shun them outright. Hence the eight-day outdooring ceremony or name-giving of their new-born babies is preferably done in the church, and they would have none of our traditional outdooring customs –because they are ungodly.

You might ask: What particularly is there in the traditional rite of naming a child which so goes against the tenets of the Bible that makes penteco-charismatics flinch from it? To know this, we shall have to briefly review how the tradition is observed. And I am going to cite that of the Akans, with which I am particularly familiar. First of all, it is to be noted that, interestingly, outdooring customs as found in the Bible and in African tradition consider the eighth day of the baby’s arrival to be the suitable period for the name-giving ceremony, simply because the baby is then thought to have matured into a real human being. For instance, in Akan folklore, a child who dies before the eighth day is regarded as a nonentity or a ‘nondescript’ which deserves to be thrown away or rejected and thus wrapped in a piece of cloth and buried in a refuse mount. It is merely called ‘fi-a’, a corruption of the ‘rejection’ word ‘fi-ha’ (go away).

Going back to our current traditional outdooring ceremony, we are likely to see four processes in its observance. First, the name of the child is unilaterally selected by the father of the baby, and through his sister, it is transmitted to the clan elder or the linguist or the master of ceremony (MC) who announces it before the gathering of elders consisting of the relations of the husband and wife.

Second, the linguist or the MC pours libation to God, ancestral spirits, and the gods to accept and welcome the baby into our world. In the libation prayer all manner of blessings are invoked for the child, such as –long life, strength, prosperity, good luck, extraordinary fertility that will enable the baby’s adulthood produce the 10th child (‘badu ba’) which is regarded as the most honorific feat in childbearing.

As the libation prayer is poured, the baby is either laid on a mat nearby or is carried on the lap of the mother. The libation over, the linguist or the MC dips his finger in a liquor (eg. Akpeteshie, a local gin) and therewith touches the child’s tongue or lips with the words: “XX (child’s name) if you say: it is wine, it should be wine” (wo se nsa a, nsa). Similarly, this is done with water, with the remarks: “XX (the child’s name) if you say: it is water, it should be water” (wo se nsu a, nsu). This is said to allegedly shape him spiritually to speak the truth always, and be tenacious in what he does. The Biblical variant of this is: “Let your answers be yea, yea, and nay, nay” (Matthew 5:37).

Third is the putting of a cutlass into the hands of the baby boy (which are often clasped by the MC’s bigger palm) as he says: “I give you strength for hardwork”. And if it is a baby girl, a basket is put over her for some seconds, as the MC pronounces: “grow up to collect foodstuffs from the farm and be a good wife”, meaning: endowment with the grace of hardwork or industry; whilst that of the ‘basket’ is said to indicate the infusion of diligence in duty and cooking finesse into her. The fourth and final ritual is the drinking of the local gin by the gathering, and their joyful dancing to drum music. There is an additional to this rite in modern times; namely, individual offerings are given to the baby as a welcome gesture.

Whilst penteco-charismatics have no quarrels over the traditional practice of the father choosing the baby’s name unilaterally, they disagree to the three other outdooring steps; but I also oppose two of their viewpoints. I wholeheartedly disagree with them on the libation-pouring question of the outdooring ceremony, which is necromantic, satanic and unbiblical. The practice of necromancy or the invocation of ancestral spirits during libation pouring is condemned by God as very displeasing to Him, an act which drew His anger and judgement, as seen in Deuteronomy 18:11-12: “There shall not be found among you anyone . . . who consults the dead, anyone who does this is an abomination to the Lord . . . and the Lord your God will drive out such people from you”. Certainly no good Christian will pour libation to ancestral spirits to displease God, all in the name of culture or tradition!

Furthermore, I agree with my fellow penteco-charismatics in their denunciation of drinking of alcoholic beverage during such celebration, because the Bible condemns drinking and says; “do not be drunk with wine wherein is excess, but be filled with the spirit”. (Ephesians 5:18). A person who is in-filled by the Holy Spirit will definitely not have the least urge to drink liquor –never! This means, drinking offends the Holy Spirit within; thus any Christian outdooring should be devoid of akpeteshie or alcoholic drinks, instead, non-alcoholic or soft drinks must be used in the aspects of the ceremony demanding the use of drinks. For instance, ‘Fanta’ or Sprite’ drinks should be more preferably used.

However, I disagree to the penteco-charismatics’ condemnation of water, cutlass or basket symbolisms discussed above, which in my opinion are not fetish nor superstitious. In the Christian Biblical tradition, symbolisms abound to represent some notions. For example, since anointing oil symbolises the Holy Spirit, the use of it is an invocation of His holy operations, or is an indication of His holy presence. Likewise, the Cross symbolises Christ, the dove, the arrival of the Holy Spirit etc.

It is in this vein that one can argue that putting a finger into the drink and water so to drip it on the tongue of the baby, is symbolic of spiritually effecting moral impact on the adulthood of that baby. If in the light of this, cutlass and a basket are known to be the symbols of truth, diligence and dexterity, therefore, what, one might ask, could be wrong with the use of them? On what basis could these symbolisms be regarded as superstitious?

Since symbols have the metaphysical meaning of imparting influence or inspiration, or are said to be good historical referents, providing understanding of issues and of course of events, I am of the opinion that our traditional name-giving symbolisms can harmlessly be retained or maintained by Christians: they are in no way paganistic, but rather richly philosophical.

I am clearly arguing for an outdooring in the traditional way; that is the aspect of our customary rites which should of course be pruned of its paganistic, fetish and satanic excrescences. I am thus envisaging a name-giving ceremony in the Christian home where the church pastor will be invited to exclusively officiate, with Christian prayers (instead of libation pouring): where the pastor or family elder will use the symbolism of dripping the baby’s tongue with soft drinks, followed by ‘cutlass-giving’ or ‘basket covering’, all ending in joyful soft drinks refreshment. After all, has Christ not contended that “render unto Caesar that which belong to Caesar, and unto God that which belongs to God”?

It is my contention that the old Biblical Jewish outdooring ceremony held in the temple, could as well be imitated and practised in the parlour of an African traditional home, with all its Christian colorations kept intact. That could be a useful practice. Therefore a Christian outdooring needs not be done in the church. It must be done at home in the blend of Christian and tradition norms.

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