Naming a child in our culture is generally the responsibility
of parents. Often times a new born is named after a relative, favorite sports
figure or even something totally obscure. In tribal culture there is a naming
practice that is given in honor to the man who paid the most money for the
child’s mother – yes, the dowry payment that a man pays to the woman’s family.
When a man wants to marry a woman, he must negotiate a bride price with the
woman’s family. This negotiation process is long and drawn out; seldom does it
go smoothly. The price negotiated may include traditional shell money, pigs or
modern government currency. At times a portion of the bride price may include a
debt to be paid later. When a debt is incurred, the man will typically live in
the woman’s village until it is paid off. The groom will seek help to pay the
bride price by asking his family and relatives to pitch in and help.
I was given the honor of naming my cousin’s first-born son.
It was important to learn the culture around such an honor and here is what I
found out: First of all, I would never be able to speak the name I chose before
the child his entire life. If the boy was not present, I could use his name,
but never was I to speak his name if he was in hearing distance. I was to address
the boy as Papou (pah-pouw) his entire life. I don’t have an exact translation
for that term; it simply shows that I am the one that named him. Secondly, I
was not to touch the boy in any way until he was old enough to climb up and
down the later of his house; the equivalent of him being weaned off his mother
as a toddler. When the boy reached this age, there would be a simple ceremony
where the boy and I would exchange a gift of equal value, shake hands and then
from that point on we could touch each other (i.e. carry him, shake hands, sit
on my lap or that type of a thing). Thirdly, my Papou and I would always have a
close relationship because I gave him his name. So, whenever I would see him, I
would be sure call to him and address him as Papou.
So what did I name my first Papou? Well, I wanted to give the
boy a traditional name that could also be used as a modern name for when he
went to school out to town. I had learned so many names by this time, but what
I came up with was the name of a river nearby called Keliepekotu. This is the
name I game him and for short he is called Keli! Except by me of course… I
still call him Papou to this day.
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