Kalanga people


Kalanga / Bakalanga / Bakalaka

The Kalanga or Bakalanga are a southern Bantu ethnic group mainly inhabiting northeastern Botswana, Matebeleland in Zimbabwe. Few of them in Limpopo Province in South Africa. They are historically related to the Nambya.

Globally, this group totals 458,000 in 2 countries.

The Kalanga of Botswana are numbering 227,000. The BaKalanga are one of the largest ethnolinguistic groups in Botswana.

They are part of the Bantu, Shona people cluster within the Sub-Saharan African affinity bloc. Their primary language is Kalanga. The primary religion practiced by the Kalanga is ethnoreligion.

Kalanga people

Bakalanga are the second largest ethnic group after the Tswana in Botswana. Historically, their lifestyle has been different from that of the Tswana, in their customs and laws. This could have been because they moved a lot, from country to country, more than the other ethnic groups, therefore adopting different cultures along the way before finally settling in Botswana. They first settled in South Africa, however, were also the first Bantu speaking people to settle in Botswana. Meanwhile, there are small groups that were left in Zimbabwe and South Africa. From Mapumbugbwe settlement Bakalanga moved to Masvingo, Zimbabwe and finally to the north eastern parts of Botswana.

Some Bakalanga along with Babirwa and Batswapong were adopted into the Ngwato hegemony, and as a result there are many Bakalanga, often referred to as Batalaote, in central Botswana.


Culture and life

Bakalanga are pastoralists who rear cattle and grow crops as shown by their settlement near rivers like the Shashe and Ramokgwebana.

Similar to other ethnic groups such as Batswana, Hambukushu, Subiya, Bakalanga practiced polygamy with variations to their betrothal practices, for until as recent as the latter part of the twentieth century. Likewise, such practices gradually disappeared with the arrival of the European missionaries, though not completely.

One distinct feature of theirs is religion; Bakalanga were famous for rainmaking rituals, as they prayed to their ancestors and god Mwali, for rain for a better harvest. They have music and dance associated with this, called wosana and mayile. These are practices that have not vanished due to colonialism, and are still practiced today through ceremonies such as weddings and healing. This involves the performance of mazenge dance by women uttering exhortations to ancestors to heal a person, performing unintelligible ancestral communication, or performing ndazula dance  to celebrate a great harvest.  They have meant the dress code to date when performing their traditional music and dance.  

Their socio-political structure is almost just like that of the Tswana. They are divided into clans that are led by chiefs.



The native language of the baKalanga has two varieties: 1) TjiKalanga, or simply Kalanga, in western Zimbabwe, 2) Ikalanga in northeastern Botswana. Together with the Nambya language, these varieties form the western branch of the group (Guthrie S.10) that also includes Central Shona. Kalanga-speakers once numbered over 500,000, though they are now much reduced, often speaking Ndebele or Central Shona languages in Zimbabwe, Tswana in Botswana, and other local languages of the surrounding peoples of southern Africa.

Because of their stay in Zimbabwe, their language adopted some traits of the Shona language, which is one of the languages in Zimbabwe. Bakalanga established settlements in villages such as Nswazwi, Maitengwe, Mapoka, Nlapkhwane, Nshakashogwe, Tsamaya, Tshesebe, Masunga, Marobela, Tutume, Masukwane, Mulambakwena, Domboshaba and many others around Francistown. 



According to Huffman (2008), the original Bakalanga people descended from Leopard's Kopje farmers. These people occupied areas covering parts of north eastern Botswana, western and southern Zimbabwe, adjacent parts of South Africa and Mozambique by around AD 100. They traded in ivory, furs and feathers with the Indian Ocean coast for goods such as glass beads and cotton clothes. The majority of these prehistoric Bakalanga villages have been discovered in Botswana and Zimbabwe in areas close to major rivers and were usually built on terraced hilltops with stone walls built around them.

The Kalanga are linked to such early African States as Mapungubgwe, Khami, and the Rozvi Empire. The early Bakalanga people living in the Shashe-Limpopo basin monopolised trade due to their access to the Indian Ocean coast. By around AD 1220 a new and more powerful kingdom developed around Mapungubgwe Hill, near Botswana’s border with South Africa. Some of the early Bakalanga people living in the lower Shashe-Limpopo valley probably moved towards or became part of this newly formed kingdom. But studies of climatic data from the area suggest that a disastrous drought soon struck Mapungubgwe, and the Shashe-Limpopo region was uninhabited between A.D 1300 and 1420, forcing the ordinary population to scatter. Mapungubgwe had become a ghost town by AD 1290. Its golden era lasted no more than 50 years culminating in the rise of Great Zimbabwe.

Later, in the 15th century, the centre of power moved back west, from Great Zimbabwe to Khami/Nkami and in the 17th century to Danan'ombe (Dlodlo). The moves were accompanied by changes of the dominance from one clan to another. In the 17th century, the Lozwi established southern BaKalanga became a powerful competitor, controlling most of the mining areas. The Lozwi even repelled Portuguese colonists from some of their inland posts.

In south-western Zimbabwe (now Matabeleland) and adjacent parts of present-day Botswana, Kalanga states survived for more than another century. The fall of the Kingdom of Butua came as a result of a series of invasions, beginning with the Bangwato Kgosi Kgari's ill-fated incursion of around 1828 and culminating in the onslaught of Mzilikazi's Amandebele.

Finally, the Zimbabwe plateau and Lowveld as well as Botswana basin were subdued to British rule by Cecil Rhodes.