In the Kasai region there is a strong tradition of naming a child after a parent, relative, or respected friend of the family. A person who has been named after feels a special relationship with his/her namesake, and often gives gifts or special services as the child grows up. There is a special term given to someone who shares your name: “Shakena”. For example, a woman named Marie would refer to a child who has been named after her not as Marie, but as “Shakena”.
This has been a somewhat confusing and amusing culture to discover, because people often adopt the persona of a person’s “shakena” (namesake) when they are referring to someone. We have several times been confused when an adult refers to a small child as ‘uncle’, only to discover that the child is the namesake of the uncle, and therefore they refer to the child as they would they uncle, rather than using their own identity as ‘nephew’, etc. A case of this occurred when we were visiting Pastor Tshiwala with Simon Mbuyi, a member of his church. Simon has 2 daughters – one named Tshiwala, after the pastor, and the other named Margaret, after Pastor Tshiwala’s wife. Simon was describing his children to Pastor Tshiwala, saying “you don’t like your mother anymore – you are more fond of me. Margaret, on the other hand, will only be content with her mother.” After asking a few questions to clarify our confusion, we discovered that Simon was projecting the persona of his children onto Pastor Tshiwala and his wife – thus referring to them as his children. And we thought learning Tshiluba was hard enough without these twists thrown in!
Another amusing example of this linguistic culture happened the other day. I was visiting Pastor Tshibabua’s family, and had just finished eating a banana. I was about to toss the banana peel outside, when Tarsis Bob (Bob’s Shakena because of their shared name) stopped me. “Just leave it on the table, and I’ll give it to Shakena. He will be so happy to see what his wife left for him!” I was not sure if I had heard correctly, but I started laughing – why in the world would he save a banana peel to give to Bob? Tarsis Bob then picked up the banana peel and walked outside to the pig-pen near the house. “Look, Shakena! See what treat your wife has left for you?” Of course! They have a pig named Bob, who thus takes on the persona of my husband Bob, whom he was named after!! :)
From the left, Bob the pig,
Seraphin, Bob, and Tarsis Bob