Tswana people


Tswana / Batswana / Motswana

The Tswana (Tswana: Batswana, singular Motswana) sometimes known as Western Sotho, are a Bantu-speaking ethnic group who are native to Southern Africa. The Tswana language belongs to the Sotho-Tswana language group which belongs to the Bantu language family group. Ethnic Tswana made up approximately 85% of the population of Botswana in 2011.

The Tswana are the native people of south-western Botswana and of the North West province of South Africa, where the majority of the Tswana live.

The largest number of ethnic Tswana people actually live in South Africa. They are one of the largest ethnic groups in the country, and the Tswana language is one of eleven official languages in South Africa.

Tswana people

The Tswana who are the largest ethnic group in Botswana is made of 8 tribes originally settled in the southern and central parts of Botswana.

The 8 Tswana tribes in Botswana are as follows:

In the local naming structure, the full nomenclature of the Tswana is Batswana which is a pluralized reference to this ethnic group. However, the use of the word ‘Batswana’ is generally reserved for reference to all citizens of Botswana. 

The Tswana sub-ethnic groups or tribes share the same customs, laws and traditions with little variations in some ways. On their sociopolitical setup, Tswana tribes are made up of clans who were led by chiefs who made laws and were responsible for ensuring that those are implemented, meting out disciplinary action where necessary. The Tswana were also accustomed to the African traditional religion which was mainly made up of ancestral worship. Most of its characteristics were slowly diluted and gradually abolished due to contact with the European missionaries who first settled in Botswana around 1846. They converted the Tswana through their chiefs and Christianity became the Tswana’s main or official religion, and virtually every other ethnic group in Botswana. Since then, most of the laws were abolished to meet the standards of the new religion; Christianity. The most common law and practice that was abolished is polygamy. Botswana law today differs vastly from the traditional system. Some of the features are aligned to global practices such as outlawing polygamy and practicing monogamy.


They speak Setswana {’Sechuana’} and Sesotho sa Lebowa. Setswana is sometimes referred to as Beetjuans, Chuana (hence Bechuanaland), Coana, Cuana, or Sechuana. It is spoken across South Africa and is one of the 11 official languages recognized by the South African Constitution, it is also the national and majority language of Botswana. In 2006 it was determined that over 3 million South Africans speak Setswana as a home language.Tswana was the one of the first written Sotho languages. The earliest example being Heinrich Lictenstein’s 1806 text called Upon the Language of the Beetjuana. Followed by John Cambell’s Bootchuana words (1815) and Burchell’s Botswana in 1824.

 The languages of the Sotho-Tswana and other Bantu-speakers have a number of common features - they are agglutinative in construction, nearly all the words ending in vowels or with a nasal consonant, nouns do not indicate masculine or feminine gender, and these nouns are highly alliterative in character owing to an elaborate system of noun classes functioning in much the same way that gender does in European languages.
Also, there are similarities in idiom which are not easy to express in a precise manner.

Subsistence and Commercial Activities

Batswana have been called a peasant-proletariat to reflect the fact that they have been migrating to the mines, and to a lesser extent, to the White commercial farms of South Africa, for over a century and that wages constitute their single largest source of revenue. Mine contacts were temporary, often enabling the migrant to return home for the plowing season; until the late twentieth century, migrants were prevented by South African law from establishing permanent residence at their place of employment. New forms of employment have been emerging, especially in Botswana, where diamond mining has led to dramatic economic growth. State-sponsored welfare is important in both countries.

Local economic activities center on agro-pastoralism. Batswana rely on ox-drawn iron plows (but tractors are becoming increasingly common); the principal crop is sorghum. They also grow maize, beans, sweet-cane, and some millet. Some farmers engage in commercial agriculture. Batswana husband goats, sheep, and most importantly, cattle. Cattle are valuable for local exchange, for ritual purposes, for their milk, and less so for their meat; their sale provides an important source of revenue for rural peoples. Most households also keep chickens, and, in the east, some keep pigs. Hunting is far less important than it was in the past, when game was plentiful.

Industrial Arts

Batswana have long been tied to the South African industrial economy and have purchased items that formerly were made locally; these include most metal goods. In the past, men worked in metal, bone, and wood; women made pots, and both sexes did basketwork. These skills were often passed from parents to children. Some men still specialize in skin preparation and sewing, usually for trade, and men still make some wooden items, such as yokes for livestock. In northern Botswana, women make baskets, many of which are exported. Women build "traditional" Tswana huts, whereas men specialize in European-style thatch and "modern"-style houses. The latter are highly specialized skills. As in much of Africa, children fashion toys out of fence wire, tin cans, old tires, and almost anything they can acquire.


Archaeological evidence points to the great antiquity of local and long-distance trade. Marketplaces were not common in the region; most trade occurred among neighbors or with itinerant peddlers; in the early nineteenth century Griqua traders from the south traveled into the region; they were followed by Europeans. Trade increased with the arrival of missionaries during the nineteenth century, many of whom encouraged such commerce as a means of bringing "civilization" to the area. Europeans and, later, Asians established shops over the course of the colonial period. Virtually all villages now have trading stores, and many individuals—especially women—are "hawkers" who engage in trade from their compounds. Botswana is part of the South African Customs Union, and virtually every commodity is available in both countries.

Setswana food and cuisine

Bogobe is a porridge made from sorghum or millet which can be prepared differently to make various porridges. The most popular sorghum porridge is Ting. Bogobe jwa Logala/Sengana is a traditional Setswana dish prepared from sorghum porridge mixed/cooked with milk. Seswaa is Botswana's national dish and is often served at weddings, funerals, and other celebrations. Seswaa is a pounded or shredded meat and often served with Bogobe (Porridge). Madila is a sour cultured milk a primitive form of cheese curd prepared from cow and goat milk over a period of time until fully matured for consumption. Traditionally madila were prepared using Lekuka a leather sack or bag used in processing and storing madila. Madila is also traditionally used as relish, eaten with pap. It can also be used in popular Tswana breakfast meal, motogo, to give the soft porridge that sour and milky taste.


Culture and attire

Batswana wear a cotton fabric known in Setswana as Leteishi and Sotho as Shweshwe. This fabric is often used for wedding celebrations and other traditional celebrations. In Setswana tradition mothers wear mogagolwane, a checkered small blanket during traditional baby-showers, and married women during traditional weddings are identified by it, as well as during various initiation ceremonies. Even during funerals Batswana women don mogagolwane.


Visual arts

Batswana are noted for their skill at crafting baskets from Mokola Palm and local dyes. The baskets are generally woven into three types: large, lidded baskets used for storage, large, open baskets for carrying objects on the head or for winnowing threshed grain, and smaller plates for winnowing pounded grain. Potters made clay pots for storing water, traditional beer and also for cooking and hardly for commercial use. Craft makers made wooden crafts and they made traditional cooking utensils such as leso and lehetlho, traditional wooden chairs and drums among others.

Tswana astronomy

Astronomy is an old age tradition in Africa. As with all other cultures, various ethnic groups developed their own interpretations of the solar system. Using their natural instrument the eye, Batswana have observed, commented on and named celestial objects of interest to them. There are more telling and specific names that relate to unique stellar patterns and their seasonal appearance e.g. Selemela, Naka, Thutlwa, and Dikolojwane. According to Tswana culture, the stars of Orion's sword were "dintsa le Dikolobe", three dogs chasing three pigs of Orion's belt. The Milky Way was viewed by the Tswana as Molalatladi, the place where lightning rests. It was further believed that this place of rest also kept the sky from collapsing and showed the movement of time. Some even claimed that it turned the sun to the east, in a way to explaining the rising of the sun. It was also believed that it was a supernatural footpath across the sky along which ancestors' spirits walked. The moon (Ngwedi) is said to represent a woman; it brings forth light but not as scorching as the Sun (Letsatsi) and its light is associated with happiness. Venus is called Mphatlalatsana (the brilliant and blinding one) by Batswana & Kopadilalelo (seeker of evening meals). The southern African calendar was made up of 354 days, (12 x 29.5 day lunar month). This was 11 days shorter than the solar year, an issue which could not be ignored. The solution was to add an additional month, when necessary, to "catch up". Some years were 12 months long, others 13. After the arrival of Europeans and the introduction of the Gregorian calendar, it was noted that the Batswana people had started forgetting the name of the 13th month. In contrast to Europe, where the new year is in the middle of winter, in southern Africa it logically started in September or October at the start of the new growing season. Raditladi Basin, a large peak ring impact crater on Mercury with a diameter of 263 km is named after Leetile Disang Raditladi. a Motswana playwright and poet.

Division of Labor

In pre-European times, men tended livestock, hunted, prepared fields, engaged in warfare, and participated in the formai public political arena. Women tended fields, gathered wild foods, and were responsible for the domestic arena, including looking after domestic fowl. With the introduction of the ox-drawn plow in the nineteenth century, men assumed the task of plowing, but women continued to perform most other agricultural work. The division of labor became less strict as more men migrated for wage labor and women increasingly engaged in livestock activities, especially plowing and milking. Boys worked extensively with livestock and spent long periods away from home at cattle posts. All children helped in the fields, and girls helped their mothers, especially with looking after younger siblings. Although wage labor has been available for men for over a century, until about the 1970s, women had little opportunity for wage employment; those jobs available were largely as domestics and on White-owned farms. In the late twentieth century greater opportunity exists for both men and women, but men still have an advantage over women.

Land Tenure. Traditionally, the right to use (but not to sell) agricultural land was inherited patrilineally by sons; women received access to agricultural lands as wives. Closely related agnatic kin tended to have fields in the same general area, which facilitated cooperation. Pastureland was in theory communal, but often areas were associated with particular groups. Since the advent of boreholes, the land surrounding them has become increasingly associated with (but not formally owned by) the borehole owners.

In Botswana, the majority of people live in the districts (former tribal reserves), where most land is held in common. Some areas, as provided under the Tribal Grazing Land Policy established in 1975, have been demarcated as commercial ranch land, and wealthy Batswana who are willing to invest in infrastructure (fences, boreholes, etc.) may take out long-term leases. Other land has been reserved as wildlife-management areas. Permission to use land in the communal areas is obtained from land boards. The land cannot be sold. Unlike in Botswana, where very little land was given over to Europeans, in South Africa Blacks were given only 13 percent of the land after 1913.


Among the cultural affinities shared by the southern Bantu-speakers are their lineage descent systems.                    
“Agnation is emphasized in Batswana kinship: along with primogeniture, it  traditionally had the greatest influence on inheritance of property and succession to office. Individuals were identified  with and came under the jural authority of their agnatic group ( kgoda, or the diminutive kgotlana ); however, the formation of discrete agnatic units was and continues to be inhibited by the marriage system, which permits cousin marriages of all kinds. Patrilineal parallel-cousin marriages of near kin, although practiced mainly by the elite but permitted to all, serve to complicate the principle of unilineality and create ambiguous and overlapping links. Thus, there is a cognatic element to the system, which places emphasis upon kindreds (sing. losika ) and gives greater license to individuals to "construct" their social networks than is found in many patrilineal societies”.

The marriage institution

Bogadi or lobola practice (bride wealth)
Exchange of bogadi is an imperative requirement, and the one that legalises conjugal unions. This essential mandate demands that the bogadi cattle be transferred from the bridegroom’s family to the bride’s before the feasts, marking the women’s relocation to the husband’s home. The institution explains why cattle breeding were entirely an extremely important male activity. Its largest contributors were the son’s father and his uncle, while the major benefactors, among the woman’s family, were the maternal uncles and their brothers. This factor sustained their economic strength, the benefit of which was inherited by their sons. Women − wives and their daughters − continued to be disadvantaged.

 It is a usual practice for young cows or oxen to be given, but never bulls, because they possibly symbolised male strength. Cows were preferred because they were thought to symbolise the reproductive ability expected of the woman. The handing over of bogadi is done before sunrise. The bridegroom, demonstrating his manhood, drives the cattle to the kraal of his in-laws and remains at the entrance of the kraal, while negotiations go on at the Kgotla. The fact that negotiations take place here, as opposed to the house, symbolised the masculine sphere of influence. A man could refer to both his wife (or wives) and children as bana bame (my children), indicating that he controlled them in everyday life and that she is always subordinate to him and his male relatives.

A man who does not give bogadi has no legal rights over his own children. He also loses prestige in the community. In addition to his undergoing constant pressure from his wife’s parents, it is also seen as a shame to the woman herself. A married woman is regarded as being more honourable in this society. This makes marriage and therefore bogadi very attractive. Bogadi is a symbol of permanent security and help to the man’s mother, from her daughterin-law. It also is a source of prestige because it gives the male elders a measure of control over the young man, who is entirely dependent on them for marital resources. These younger men are, therefore, not expected to accumulate their own economic resources, nor fulfil matrimonial obligations on their own.

They all practised polygamy, observed the levirate or sororate forms of marriage, gave bridal cattle on marrying their wives. The Setswana proverb Monna thotse o a nama (literally meaning a man is like a seed, he spreads his branches everywhere) gives men licence to practise concubinage.  However, women are not permitted to engage in an affair with more than two men. The term used for a woman who, for one reason or another, remains unmarried but engages in an adulterous affair with a married man is nyatsi (concubine).

The choice of a man’s first wife is a male-dominated affair, because marriage is seen as a means of continuing the patriarchal lineage. The most important function of a wife is thus child-bearing, in which the production of boys is a crucial factor (Brown 1926:58-65; Willoughby 1923:46-138). No one is excused from getting married. Every father expects all his sons to continue his family lineage (Schapera 1956:28-29).

A woman who deliberately chooses to remain single is not only virtually unknown, but is also an embarrassment, and a shame to the community.A woman who stayed single was regarded as refusing to fulfil the fundamental duty of child−bearing. This is why the old maids, the unmarried old females, are known as mafetwa (those who have been passed by) and was the worst form of social stigma a woman could have.

Mafetwa are regarded as bad luck. They are not to touch children, lest they pass their bad luck onto them. Other women do not want to associate with them. A woman who remains single is also considered immature, irrespective of her age (was an unjustified form of indoctrination). For example, she is never involved in marital negotiations (patlo), although her married peers and younger sisters will participate in such activities. This environment makes marriage prestigious and desirable to every woman, because it is only marriage that makes the female a “real” woman.

Betrothal negotiations
Traditionally, the choice of the bride and all the betrothal arrangements rests with the man’s parents, especially his uncle and father. The girl’s consent is taken for granted. Her parents can choose a suitable spouse for her without consultation and she is expected to honour their choice. The word generally used for the process of negotiation was patlo (betrothal negotiations).

The girl herself is referred to as sego sa metsi’ (the one who fetches water for the family for domestic use). The process and the terminology used basically express the purpose for which the bride was sought − to bear children and serve the new family in a host of domestic duties. While this undermines the status of a woman, other women envy her all the same.

The agreement between the two families is a legal guarantee of the marriage. John MacKenzie tells us how Kgosi (King) Sekgoma of the Bangwato, in 1857, had arranged a wife for his elder son Khama, saying: “Before his banishment, Sekhome (sic) had desired his eldest son [Khama III] to take to wife a daughter of Pelutona; …” (Mackenzie 1922:109).

Tswana belief

Traditional Tswana belief was centred around Modimo which literally means the Great High God (Spirit).Modimo can be neither personified nor gendered. It is something that cannot be accommodated in a building or in space. Nevertheless, Modimo has the several attributes that include being supreme (Hlaa-Hlaa-Macholo), invincible (gaOitsiwe), the source (motlhodi), the Enabler (montshi), Mother (mme), and the Light (lesedi). Modimo lives in the sky. Modimo wills good to humankind, and Modimo preserves justice.

Modimo normally acts through Badimo (ancestors). Last, but not least, Modimo may intervene directly to draw attention to the breach of taboos." He is regarded as the Creator of all things, and the person responsible for all human destiny. He controlled human destiny by sending different weather, in order to indicate through winds, hail, heat, rain (or its absence), and death, his discontent with some departure from tradition and from the proper Tswana order of things. Thus, particularly significant events were acts of God or, in the case of death, could also be signs of witchcraft and, therefore, of human envy and greed."

Modimo however, was distant from people, and the ancestral spirits were usually called on to intercede for the Tswana. Together with Dingwe, a kind of ogre against whom children were protected by charms, and the lesser divinities of Loowe, Tintibane, Matsieng, and Thobega (associated with caves and footprints on rocky places), the ancestral spirits were central to Tswana religious belief and practice.

"Something of chief interest about Modimo is that, like most African deities, it is neuter in gen­der. It is an attribute that seeks to empower both men and women together in societal functions, duties, and privileges. Thus, the representation of Modimo in Setswana spiritual space by the indigenous divining set (ditaola) illustrates that domination of one gender, male or female, was not characteristics."

Today, Christianity is the most prevailing belief system in Botswana and other Sotho-Tswana areas, with well over 40% of the population. It was brought into Botswana by David Livingstone in the middle 19th century who converted Kgosi Sechele I (Chief of Bakwena) to Christianity. The main denominations are - Roman Catholic, Anglican, Zion, Lutheran and Methodist Christian Church.

Political institution

At a territorial level gender distinctions are fundamental to most social, political, economic and religious institutions. Central to these, for the Batswana, are the Kgotla (the national council of all men) and kingship institutions.

Kgotla institution
Generally speaking, the political sphere which consists of the Kgotla institution, the council for all men. The Kgotla is a forum in which state matters and disputes are debated and settled. It is the scene of power and important decision-making. This follows the substance of a well-known proverbial Tswana saying that − Kgosi ke kgosi ka batho, (government for, by and of the people), which stresses the need for people’s virtues, open consultations and democracy, but excludes women.

This tradition aims at preserving the past cultural heritage of the people, the wisdom and knowledge of the forefathers, and therefore keeps immense power in the hands of the people. Whilst it completely excludes women from its debates and deliberations, it deals with crucial matters of public policy, which have unprecedented binding authority on all (Willoughby 1928:179). This is despite its basic, well-known principle/saying: Mmualebe o bua la gagwe, which translates as “there is freedom of opinion and fundamental right of participation”. This right of freedom of opinion is restricted to men and, although debates are very democratic, the traditional laws, and policies proceeding from them.

Passages of rite

“There are many ceremonies to mark life cycle events: these include birth, the end of the three month postpartum confinement, several marriage ceremonies, bride wealth payment, and death. Increasingly, funerals have become the most elaborate life cycle rituals”

Incorporation into mephato
There are several ways of identifying people who are to be initiated together.

Membership into a mephato is not by an individual's choice but the system has criteria that are used to select people to be initiated together.The following are the criteria used.

Eldest sons of men of the same mephato are initiated together so that the younger mephato is identified as a "child" of the older one. Madima are identified as sons of Mantwane. Once eldest sons have been initiated their younger siblings may then follow in their order of age. 'No two brothers or two sisters from the same mother and father are allowed into the same mephato. Unless they are twins, they are only allowed if they have only one parent in common. Informant say that a brother and sister, of the same parents, following each in their order of birth may share the same mephato name. Those people who may have been absent when their turn for initiation was due were initiated with younger mephato but given their proper mephato names.

The general sequence of mephato is that of men followed by women but there are occasions when only women are initiated without a male counterpart. Those female mephato without men are; Mantshakgosi, Makgalo, Maisakoma, Matshabatau, Majekere, Mabusapelo, Maatlametla, Matshego, Malwelakgosi, Maisakoma and Mabusapelo. Incases where the village has been relocated the first mephato in the new village was that of women, for instance Makgalo may have been the first mephato at Mochudi initiated between 1869 (Mafatlha) and 1874 (Matlakana) with Mochudi having been occupied in 1874 (Schapera, 1942; Breutz, 1953). A village was equated to a household and a woman was the one responsible for the daily chores needed to maintain the family. A woman therefore played an important role in the house and it was eventually reflected in the society. Every time a new chief was installed the first mephato should be female and hence the saying that "Kgosi 0 itibola ka basadi" that is a chiefs eldest "child" is a woman. The
idea is to show appreciation to the chief s mother who has over the years taken care of her baby, a baby that had grown strong enough to take care of his father's people. Mephato formed for this reason include the older Maisakoma (initiated by Lentswe I), Maatlametla named by lsang, Matshego named by Molefi and the younger Maisakoma named by Lincwe II. Some female mephato were formed probably because of higher female population and probably because more girls were needed as wives in a polygamous society that insisted on initiation before marriage.

Bojale / byale: female initiation practices
Bojale is a female initiation ceremony through which girls are incorporated into mephato. Once the boys had been sent out to an initiation school, girls automatically knew that they would be sent for their initiation ceremony the following winter season. Girls do not have to undergo the laborious pre-initiation sessions that the boys undertook (bogwane). Bojale like other components of Kgatla culture has been changing over the years. There has been some swift changes in the manner in which bojale is carried out especially from around the colonial period when a new religion and government were replacing the traditional religious beliefs and traditional authorities.

Instead of a one day initiation ceremony, girls now stayed up to six weeks learning initiation songs, tribal folklore, social and moral behaviour and the responsibilities of wives and mother (Schapera, 1942). This remained the standard procedure of girls initiation ceremonies until the late 1980s, except that the duration of the ceremony has been decreasing slowly because most initiates were either students or workers. Every late afternoon initiates from each sub ward (kgoro) met at their meeting places and when all had come they went to their ward's central place where all initiates and their teachers from the ward met. While waiting for other initiates to arrive the girls sang under instructions of their teachers. Initiates from the different wards would then march to the main kgotla where they received instructions of which routes they would take that day.

They then made a procession, singing all the time and occasionally stopping for a short rest. They were sometimes instructed to jog or jump over small thorny bushes and all the time they had to keep their heads bowed Initiates were not allowed to walk up straight and even when resting they either had to kneel down or sit in a squatting position without spreading their legs. Those postures were a sign of respect for the teachers. The initiates bad to keep their arms folded on their chests because they did not wear anything on the upper body (Blacking, 1969).

There were.two sessions held every night. The first session began just after sunset and continued until shortly after midnight while the second session began in the early morning hours and lasted until just before sunrise. The reason for doing so was that students and workers could choose sessions they felt comfortable with. Only those people not going to school or working were expected to turn up for the two sessions every night for they bad time to sweep during the day. It was only on the last day before graduation that there was one all night long session and m the morning the initiates were laid down in their order of seniority and whipped. The whipping was known as "go loma tsetse" or "to bite a tsetse fly" Initiates were often taken to open grounds within the village where they danced and sang. These mcluded Seboeng, Sethobong and Phaphane show grounds. From around the 1980s initiates went out as far as Mmaesoke, a ploughing area about 5 kIn to the northwest of the village. Mmaesoke was chos~m as ~ ini~ation ground for girls because the grounds in the village were now developed mto reSIdential areas, while in other cases bars were built next to such grounds. Mmaesoke was not very far from the village and was large enough to accommodate all participants. During the day, participants stayed at home and went around doing their day to day chores. They were not in anyway distinguished from the rest of the people for they dressed ordinarily, ate everyday food and were not put in seclusion. Unlike boys. who practically moved out of the village during their initiation periods, girls remained within the village and continued to live their ordinary life during the day. Girls' activities began at night and ended before sunrise.

The traditional attire of initiates was makgabe and mothikga. This attire was used for a very long time until it was ultimately replaced by European cloth at the beginning of the Twentleth century. Makgabe is a kind of skirt that is made from separate threads sewn together at one end and hanging loose at the other end It was made from a bush plant called bogokgwe or mosoke/atsebeng whose roots and stem were harvested from swampy areas. The plant was boiled for several hours to remove its green pigmentation and to soften it up. It was boiled until it became clear coloured and tender. Threads that carne after boiling were then rolled between the thigh and hand Pieces of roots and stem were processed into one long roll of thread which was then cut up into many pieces that measured from the waist to the knee, and the pieces were sewn together using very thin thread obtained from an animal skin. Charcoal mixed with animal fat was then smeared on makgabe and rubbed until it had a shiny black colour. Small knots were then tied up on each thread as a way of decoration. Since makgabe did not cover the buttocks, an animal skin back apron was made for this purpose. Goat or sheep skins were softened and cut to knee length with belt extensions on either side of the waist for tying up the apron. Except for these two pieces of clothing, initiates remained bare (Blacking, 1969). Women in the village and presumably initiation teachers wore leather skirts called mothikga made from goat or calf skins. In hot weather women remained topless but in cold weather they wore small leather blankets which were tied around the neck like capes (Blacking, 1969). No forms of body decoration were used on Bakgatla girls during initiations. If one had any item of decoration such as necklace or bracelets she had to take them off when going for initiation sessions. One of the most common ways of decorating the body was body painting done by other Tswana communities like Bakwena and Balete (Schapera, 1955; vander Vliet, 1974). These communities used red ochre to paint either initiates or brides. The Bakgatla believed that a woman was to be born out of a girl initiate and the newly born woman had to resemble a newly born baby as much as possible and therefore initiates were stripped of all decoration items.

There is not much material culture that the Bakgatla women used or produced during their initiation ceremonies. Many southern African societies are known to use a variety of figurines in their initiation ceremonies. People like the Venda (Blacking, 1969; Huffman, 1996) and Bemba (Richards, 1956) relied heavily on the use of figurines as teaching aids in female initiation schools. The Venda even used figuratively carved drums during domba ceremonies (Blacking, 1969). During the chisungu ceremonies, the Zambian Bemba people used a variation of special figurines and distinctive architectural enclosures where girls were kept in seclusion. The Bakgatla women did not use any figurines in their bojale ceremonies. Their mode of teaching was songs. Bakgatla women even though lacking figurines had a drum that they used. The drum was used only by women in their initiation ceremonies. The drum was used to symbolize a womb with its bottom opening symbolizing the opening of a womb. The drum was long and narrow with only one carved handle. Its shape is not in anyway similar to that of a womb. The drum was never to be touched by men and when played in traditional events at the kgotla in the presence of men, its lower opening was never to be directed towards men. Not every girl or woman could play the drum: only those with special posts in initiation schools, such as the royal mother's close councilors who could make decisions and suggestions to the rest of the troop. It was believed that some people in the group had strange evil powers or were witches and if they were to play this drum disasters could befall the initiates. Even though there was a traditional cleansing or healing at the beginning of initiation ceremonies, it was always advisable to avoid taking chances with witchcraft and that was why playing the drum was reserved for only a few people in the village. At present the Phutadikobo Museum is housing the women's drum. The drum is probably the only artifact in the museum collection that the Bakgatla brought with them when they migrated from Pilansberg in 1871.

Besides the drum, initiation teachers carried with them branches of moologa tree (Croton gratissimus). They enclosed initiates in the center and moved very closely to each other and the branches became tightly packed, completely screening away the initiates in the center. No reasons have been found as to why only moologa branches were used instead of other tree branches and therefore the significance or symbolism of moologa branches remains unknown. At the end of the ceremony the branches were discarded. On the last night of the ceremony when initiates stayed all night long for dikgalaopa, there was ritual whipping, go loma tsetse, of the initiates who were ordered to lie down on their stomachs and were beaten using moretlwa sticks (wild berry, Grewia flava) that had been previously prepared. Since initiates were large in numbers several sticks were used for this ritual because they would break. Like moologa branches the sticks used for whipping the girls were afterwards discarded.

At the beginning of each initiation ceremony initiates were traditionally medicated (ba aphelwlwa). The idea was to guard them against evil ancestral spirits and at times of intertribal wars they were to be protected from possible witchcraft and curse from enemies (Blacking, 1969). A young virgin was selected from a humble family and one that was related to the royal family. She was accompanied by the royal mother and her assistants to go out and collect plants used in the ritual. The women identified the plants which only the virgin was allowed to dig out or else they would become contaminated and loose their power if.dugout by a non-virgin. The plants were then treated accordingly at the back yard of the chief s house to produce the traditional medicines needed. Plants used for go phelwla remained an absolute secret from the rest of the people so much so that even in the 1980s when there was less emphasis on keeping the procedures of bojale a secret from non-initiates names of the plants used for medication continued to be a profound secret. A small fire was set at the entrance to the kgotla and herbs used for medicating the initiates were thrown into this fire, the drum was suspended above the fire to let the smoke flow inside. It was believed that by so doing the initiates' wombs were being cleansed to be able to bear children. All initiates who had small babies were to squeeze some milk on to the fire to put It out and by so doing they were protecting their children. Other initiates then walked over the fire spot bare footed and the ritual would be completed. All initiates were warned against making and using their own personal traditional medications during the initiation period or else communal medications would work badly against them. There is, in fact, a story of one woman who during her niece's initiation came with her own package of medicines and just as the initiates were entering the main kraal to be named the woman fell down and was paralyzed instantly. She is said to have died a few weeks later. Phekolo was done only on the first day of the ceremony and the powers of the ritual were believed to be strong enough to last an initiate's life time. Many people believed that nothing bad would happen to them once they had been medicated. They said they feared no snakes and other night creatures when they were performing the ceremony at night.

Some symbolic actions have been identified during boja/e ceremonies. The actions are associated witlI child bearing which is an important aspect of societal growth. The Bakgatla believe that a mature woman was born out of a girl initiate and therefore most of the songs sung and actions perfonned center around child bearing. In tlIe most commonly perfonned action initiates walked with their heads bowed, arms folded over breasts and sitting in a squatting position. Initiates were expected to walk with their heads bowed or else they would be beaten for failing to do so (Blacking, 1969). Since they were imitating a fetus which cannot look around and see its surrounding, the initiates had to be forbidden from looking around. They folded their arms in front to hide their breasts presumably because as young children they were expected not to have breasts. When stopping for a rest, they either knelt down or sat squatting and botlI positions are similar to that of a fetus and therefore the assumption is that these postures symbolized fetal postures. When initiates left home for their sessions they left fully dressed because it was nonnally just before sunset, with people moving around and about. As soon as darkness fell they were ordered to undress and they remained with panties only (Kollars, 1991; Motlotle, 1998). The clothes were carried by teachers, wrapped in blankets and carried like babies on the back. This manner of carrying clothes was meant to encourage initiates to get married and to have children.

Male initiation
The male Mochuana (Becwana tribes) “is warned that sexual intercourse among the uncircumcised has the same connecting effect as when dogs indulge in it- that the internal organs of the woman are drawn out of her and many similar things too disgusting to mention” (Brown, 1921:p421).
A group of boys preparing themselves for initiation was called magwane. Magwane stayed in groups doing daily chores at the cattle posts and fields in tlIe rainy season and in winter they idled around in the village. They often sang intimidating songs and provoked people because in Kgatla custom they could not be taken to court (Roberts & Winter, 1915; Schapera, 1978). They misbehaved mostly at night when it was not easy to be identified or else they would be illtreated when their time for initiation came. Periods of bogwane lasted as long as three years until the chief and his councilors felt that the boys were strong enough to undergo initiation. Magwane had a ritual of stick fighting where they divided themselves into two teams and fought each other using moret/wa sticks (Schapera, 1918). They had their own style of clotlIing that distinguished them from the rest of tlIe boys. They had head gear from wildebeest (kgokong). A strip of skin was cut from the wildebeast's spine and was tied into a circle to fit an individual's head When they left the vIllage to be initiated in the bush they left the head gears behind because they were no longer small boys as the gear signified. Magwane also wore leather aprons known as dikola during stick fights. Dikola were normally made from calf skins but could also be decorated with stripes of tshipa skins. From around the 1930s buttons were commonly used to decorate belts worn by magwane.

Once enrolled into an initiation school, magwane were now called magwera. Magwera had a different code of attire. They wore leather underwear known as phuduhudu or moswapo, and leather shawls known as mokoblo. These were made from any animals killed during the ceremony. When returning from the bush they carried ostrich feathers tIedto sticks and these were known as mokoblo. Initially all initiates were given mokobolo butin the later years with an increased population and control of hunting by the Wildlife

Department only senior boys from different wards were given mokobolo. Ifthe group wasled by an heir to the throne, he would wear mokoblo made from a lion skin because it was a fierce animal but less significant than leopard (the chief wore leopard skin). For instance in 1982 Kgafela Kgafela wore mokoblo made from lion's skin. Inthe later years people began to wear short trousers and jerseys during initiation ceremonies. Mokoblo were put over jerseys and rifles became increasingly common. Leather sandals were replaced by European shoes. Bogwane has long been abandoned and now madi tse a dikgokong are worn by initiated men to decorate themselves.

While in the bush magwera spent their time hunting, singing and doing crafts. Hunting was important for meat and leather for making clothes. Besides meat, participants ate porridge regularly supplied from the village by ox-wagons travelling between camps and Mochudi. The most favorite food appears to have been /ebabe made by frying and grinding sorghum grains. After grinding, a powder of moret/wa was added to sweeten this sorghum powder. Lebabe was made by women in large sacks and was collected by initiation teachers. It did not go bad quickly, and once prepared it could be eaten with water without having to cook again. While in camps, initiates made wooden utensils like spoons, stools and leather strap chairs. Those interested in leather products engaged in softening and cutting leather from hunted animals. Initiates camped at different places in the bush and each mephato chose its own camping area. This was determined by the availability of water and wild animals. In some camps they stayed for a single night while in some they stayed for over a week depending on water sources available.

Adornment (beads, feathers, lip plates, etc.)

Women of different statues wear beads. There are few specialized arts. Beadwork is practiced by some, and children are often adorned (sometimes for protection from malevolent forces) with beads and other decorations. Compounds and houses are often beautifully designed and painted.


The Tswana are known for their performance on such diverse instruments as the kwadi musical bow, the ditlhaka flute, the meropa single-headed conical drum, matlho cocoon shakers, and mapapata animal horn trumpets. On Music of the Tswana People a predominance of present-day marimbas and other percussion instruments backup call-and-response vocal performances. Specifically, the Serankure Music Arts group, which perform over three-quarters of the tracks on the album, tends to make heavy use of these nontraditional xylophone-like instruments. Though it makes for a pleasant melodic base for the group's many songs, it definitely casts a more contemporary pan-African sound. Conversely, the remaining four cuts by the Lotlamoreng Lowe Cultural Group are more traditional. Their version of the healing song "Serangapane" begins with a megolokwane, or ululation, by a youthful singer. The song progresses with more megolokwane, a steady stream of hand clapping, and multiple variations on a repetitive choral refrain. "Serangapane" and the other the cuts by the Lotlamoreng Lowe Cultural Group, are first-rate.

Death and afterlife beliefs

Death is usually considered to have both natural and supernatural causes. Traditionally, men were buried in their cattle kraals and women in the compounds. Small children were buried under houses. Many people are still buried in this fashion, although cemeteries are increasingly used. Funerals are highly elaborated, expensive, and can last up to a week. Livestock are slaughtered during the funeral to feed guests. Priests and, often, traditional healers preside over funerals, administering rites to the bereaved that are directed toward exorcising thoughts of the dead from the living so that they will not "go mad" from their grief. After death, elders become ancestors (Badimo) .People who die with regrets are believed to become ghosts ( dipoko ); their souls remain in the grave by day but rise at night to haunt the living”.