‘What’s In or Not In a Name’?: The Untold Story of Canoe Naming among the Basubiya of the Chobe District in Botswana

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Ndana Ndana
Glorious Bongani Gumbo
Andy Chebanne


As a broad and multidisciplinary study on the socio-economic activities, ethno-culture and indigenous communities’ social ecology of the Chobe District, the focus of this paper is the Subiya onomasticon (a vocabulary or lexicon of proper names) in general, and the names of canoes in particular. The paper aims to unpack the untold stories behind the naming of canoes, an important feature of Subiya culture, and the fishing culture in particular. The paper reveals that while names are assigned primarily to identify, and therefore, distinguish one item among a collection of nameable items, canoes are assigned names to, among other things, reflect people’s personal experiences/aspirations/fears, places from which items were sourced, the items’ quality, appearance, size, and capacity to carry out appropriate tasks to the satisfaction of human society. More subtly, canoe names are also rhetorical tools in society’s surreptitious communication which, among others, provides a therapeutic avenue for members to vent out their feelings in a more diplomatic way without any direct and violent confrontation that is likely to undermine social cohesion and order.

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