By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
June 13, 2022
Akan people of Ghana, from which my lineage springs, have a naming ceremony eight or ten days after a child is born. It is called the Outdoor Ceremony, where the child is brought into the outdoors to see the light of day.
During that ceremony, the child is given a name that confers a specific identity upon him or her. Not a tear is shed if that child dies before the naming ceremony. It is as if that entity never existed, so precious is a person’s name in that society.
The Hindus also have their own naming ceremony. It is called Namkaran (also spelled Naamkaan). It is one of the most important of the 16 Hindu “samskaras” or rituals that celebrate the different stages of life. In the Vedic tradition, Namkaran (in Sanskrit “nam” = name; “karan” = create) is the formal naming ceremony performed to confer a newborn’s name, using traditional methods and following the astrological rules of naming (Subhamoy Das, “Indian Arts and Culture”.)
Namkaran is one of the most important Hindu rituals, and is held within 11 days after the birth of a child.
Among the Hindus, a Rashi name is even more important to them. Generally, the Rashi name is not an additional name like one’s middle name in Western culture. The main name is selected according to the newborn’s Rashi, which is based on the position of the planets at the time of birth. Getting one’s name according to one’s Rashi or sign is auspicious, auspiciousness being a core concept in the life-cycle ceremonies for Hindus.
Life-cycle ceremonies, therefore, are important to Hindus. They signify a person’s life and his/her moral purity. The name “Susheila” follows Kumbha Rashi (Aquarius). The letters of the alphabet associated with Kumbha are “ga”, “sa” and “sha”. Thus, the name Susheila signifies someone of good character: (su = good; sheila = character). That is the name that Camille Robinson-Regis and her PNM colleagues were making fun of when they ridiculed Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
The act of naming is serious business in African and Indian philosophical and theological thought. Therefore, it can be offensive and/or insulting when we trample upon another person’s name or “call someone out of her/his name”. So, when Camille and her friends called Kamla “out of her name”, she was justifiably insulted. After all, “what is fun for little boys is death for crapaud”.
The disdain and mutilation of Indian and African names stems mostly from ignorance rather than malice. Even a sophisticated scholar such as Windford James, a linguist, fell into that trap recently. We also ridiculed former prime minister ANR Robinson when he was named Chief Olokun Igbaro by the Ooni of Ife.
In her contretemps with Camille, Kamla erred not so much in calling upon Camille to cease distorting her name, but to counter-pose it with Camille’s European name, which Kamla called “her slave master’s name”. In doing so, Kamla appeared to have brought Camille’s name (and her culture) into contempt by elevating her Hindu name and culture, implying that Camille’s name/culture were inferior to hers.
Many Africans in the New World kept their African names in one variation or another (such as Cudjoe [Monday child], Cuffie [Friday child], Quamina [Saturday child]). In recent times, African-conscious groups such as the Nation of Islam (US) and NJAC (T&T) have cast aside their Anglo-Saxon names and opted for an “X” as their surname, or they adopted an African name. They’ve also given their children African names.
In condemning Kamla’s unfortunate correlation, the PNM Women’s League called her comment “blatant race baiting” and said that it not only mocks our “African ancestors’ survival of brutality of chattel slavery but also denigrates their advancement beyond that”. (Express, June 3)
The prime minister responded as though he were driven into a frenzy. He drew upon the whipping of Kunta Kinte, a character in Alex Haley’s Roots, until he accepted the white man’s name, to demonstrate his disdain for Kamla’s insult to his culture. He concluded: “Susheila, that’s how we got the name.” Is this an accurate rendition of how most of us got our European names? Even in this missive, the prime minister continued to pour scorn upon Kamla’s Rashi name.
Laurel Lezama-Lee Sing, a PNM junior leader, couldn’t resist the example set by her senior leaders. At the notorious PNM meeting, she thanked the lady vice-chairman (Camille) for “providing us with the full name (of Kamla)” and informed her audience: “Anytime you hear it, say, Shu Kamla, Shu Sheila from now on.”
In Legacy of Violence Caroline Elkins reminds us that a nation “is a cultural construction comprised of ideas and sentiments… Nations are groups of people who see themselves as sharing a common language, religion, sets of traditions, and history—or an identity—that binds them together in an ‘imagined community’”.
This episode suggests that we need to learn more about one another’s culture and religion if we wish to build a cohesive nation.
I do not believe Kamla denigrated African culture by saying Camille possessed “a slave name” or indulged in race baiting. However, the venom that resulted from these exchanges reveals the thin veil of distrust that covers up the turbulent underbelly of our national lives. Uncomfortably of “the castle within our skins”, we are unable to refrain from pelting big stones at one another.
This unfortunate incident highlights the need for more education of our citizenry and the imperative that we show more respect for the cultures and religions of our compatriots.
We can start this process by calling people “in their correct names”. It may help us come to terms with one aspect of our sordid historical past.
9 thoughts on “Doh mess with ma name”
Names are important cultural expression of life. My name is Indian and I love it. My children names are English, Biblical and Indian. That is who they are , born in an English speaking country, we are Christians and finally Indian. I am five generation removed from India coming from one of the castes.
My mother, my aunt, my mother in law all changed their Indian first name to English name. Not that they did not like their first name, it was simply not culturally appropriate for them. They choose simple names.
As for Kamla response to the “bald head” PNM leader I think it was a classic well deserved shut up. I laugh my head off and was glad KPB did not apologize. Camille look like she was a bully in her school days. One can imagine her saying to her opponents, I am Camille Robinson Regis whilst beating her chest furiously. I like her name but after attacking KPB that name lost it shine for me. Massa names were beautiful, but no doubt came with the baggage of slavery. Camille should feel shame and change her first name to this beautiful African name Zuri, it is a catchy Swahili name popular . Zuri as it refers to ‘beautiful”. Zuri Robinson Regis. Just break the slave baggage for your ancestors sake and do it Camille.
I am not not surprised. You are quick to appease and calm the waters at the dignity and expense of your own. Using your educational status to appease the oppressor. Sat friend,
he has calm the lion in you. Sat must be laughing in his grave . You has become a pussy cat. Real House negros style. Your intellectual diatribes, twisted and skewed offering on the issue is not the really on ground into days world in T&T.
You learned a lot, it seems, from Liberal Right ,Wellesley College. Oh what a Spin. Dr C, you have been Batting on Kamla’ team for a minute now. You remind some of a FETED African the likes of Wade Mark, that will always have a reactionary mindset, they are mentioned from the dawn of European conquest to the present. There should not be much to Hola about your Akan lineage, Akan and other Ghanian Tribes was front and center into sending most of the Afrykans across the Atlantic into Slavery. You are out of rank Dr C. Kamla’ insensitivity have put her in deep water for her ignorance. in the USA, the black man among himself, can use the N word, anyone else is taboo, it is unspoken law. Slavery and slave-nameing should never emanate from the mouth of a former/aspiring national leader. The Saffron leader must be told that she is wrong by the people she hope to lead in the future, if there is a future for her. The time is now to start grooming new leadership for Nation building. Transporting South Asia to the caribbean, have migrated with it, all the 3000yrs of continued learned Arayan and European belief, division, oppression and subjection, which will never be conducive to the Caribbean/Trinidad. In Brazil, Racism is outlawed in all its forms and had it been anywhere else? Kamla would have had to back track. In reality, Kamla’ generation have always harbor hidden Hate and Division, it is now evolving politically. In Kamla’ UNC they all think alike, no wonder they don’t think very much.
Posting the Video for clarity…
I think Kamla is standing on thin ice to raise this ‘Allyuh have Slave Name’ thing.
Prof Wrote: ‘The Hindus also have their own naming ceremony. It is called Namkaran (also spelled Naamkaan). It is one of the most important of the 16 Hindu “samskaras”.
It is not what Stephen Kangal told us of how his peeps came by his name (Kangal).
“I think Kamla is standing on thin ice to raise this ‘Allyuh have Slave Name’ thing.” RamK
You are the perfect candidate to answer a few questions in relation to that statement you made —- Is there anything PNM leaders can do and they are wrong? Why is it Kamla is standing on thin ice when what she said was factually correct? Do you understand the history of PNM leaders and supporters seeking to name shame Indian people names? Do you support such behaviours? Moonilal/Coonillal, Jayanti/Janti, Kamla/Kamala, etc
Isn’t it time Ramk you took your head out of the sand and see the world for what it is?
I would be totally embarrassed to have a ‘Slave Name’ (Title) and be a member of the UNC. Ok, Taharqa Obika doesn’t have a Slave Name… But in its context… It is pretty embarrassing..
I am no batsman for this Rowley PNM, but ‘ethnicity’ seems far away from Min Camille Robinson Regis’s mind. Pretty sure quite a few in her audience came out of so-called ‘Mixed Homes’.
Kamla will not want to get into this ‘Slave Name’ and ‘her’ ancestor topic, it is not a pretty picture and can be very … well.
>>Coolie Women Are in Demand Here
By Gaiutra Bahadur
>Tiwary informed me that there had once been a settlement of tawaifs not far from my great-grandmother’s village. Tawaifs are courtesans who sang and danced for princely landowners in another era. The women once practiced the high art of pleasure, but now are just viewed as prostitutes. In fact, not seventy miles away sits Muzzafarpur, a town with an infamous red light district that has been home to tawaifs for generations. The town has an established connection to the great sugar migration. Every single emigrant registered as a coolie there from 1877 to 1879 was a woman.<
You talking nonsense your mental construct is that of someone living in 60s. We are in the 21st century RamK. Terms like coolie or ni*gar are no longer applicable. If someone call be a coolie I will give them a nice hug and a big thank you. The coolie was a very hard worker and there is a sweetness to it… cool…e. I rather enjoy. The coolie man or the coolie woman don’t bother me it is part of my heritage.
There is the feeling that black folks are thin skin would be outraged at a comment of their name being that of a slave owner, but the slave owner is long dead and gone. And the name is just that an English name! Marla Dookeran one of the most outstanding economist were so shaken that she started and online petition to remove KPB, only idiots would put their name to that, would love to see the list.
Mamoo cease to be amazed anymore.
Coolie Women Are in Demand Here, By Gaiutra Bahadur, is an online piece from her book (I think), Coolie WomanThe Odyssey of Indenture Gaiutra Bahadur..
I posted the link for you.. let me post it again..
Koli (Coolie) is not an offensive word. It is a ‘Caste’ of people in India. The problem is, its literal meaning is Black, Black People.
It amazes me how y’all can use the ‘Black People’ term to label AfroTrinis. Can we at least acknowledge that some of the blackest people to be seen are Indians?
Got to run.
mr. Cudjoe , your moderator has no humor ?
My comment is deleted .
I try again .
Comment to what is in a slave name :
– at least you Trinis know were you are .
– and what did V.S. Naipaul say in ” the The Middle Passage ” ?
good day ruth
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