Child patrons at the recent Son of the Soil (SOTS) festival shocked adult showgoers with their downright disregard of their mother tongue- Setswana and impecabble command of the English language.
The first President of Botswana Sir Seretse Khama who once said ‘tshaba ee senang ngwao ke mokang e latlhegileng (a nation without a culture is a lost one) must be turning in his grave. He would have hung his head in shame at a realisation that, undoubtedly Setswana culture, together with its language, were gallopping to their most inglorious demise.
Firstly, most child patrons were totally ignorant of traditional games and could not utter a single word in their native language. SOTS is a great initiative by young Batswana and it gives people a chance to celebrate Tswana culture through music, dance, food, dress and traditional games. This year the organisers of the event introduced a kiddie’s corner, where children were provided with a mixture of traditional and modern games. The traditional games the children were introduced to included mainane and dithamalakane. SOTS was held under the theme ‘Kwa re go yang’ and it was very relevant to young people because they are supposed to uphold Setswana culture for the future generations.
One of the greatest observations from SOTS kiddie’s corner was that all the children were communicating in English. They were very fluent and careful enough not to utter any Setswana word. One of the features at the kiddie’s corner included mainane (traditional storytelling) and one skilled orator recited stories (go tlhaba mainane) reminiscing over the olden days. The story teller Jacque Bothongo Matsheledi told the few children that came for the event, a story about Chiwele, a girl who refused to relocate with her parents because she was too attached to the old house and became exposed to danger.
Most of the children were hearing the story for the first time and Matsheledi even had to explain some of the aspects in English so they could understand. The children confessed that they were not taught Setswana as a subject at their schools, no wonder they struggled.
She said she tried to relay the message with the story of Chiwele to teach children to listen to their parents. She explained that there is a challenge because parents teach their children how to speak English only, disregarding Setswana in the process. “We forget where we come from and if we don’t encourage children to uphold culture, then it’s going to be lost forever,” she said. She said they have not been engaging children in the past, but this year’s SOTS saw it fit to include them as well.
“These poor kids are surprised to see these traditional games like koi and morabaraba, they are lost because they only know PlayStation,” she said. She said Son of the Soil aims to improve this by showing children where they are going (kwa ba go yang) hence the theme. The coordinator of Botswana Traditional Games Association, Evans Kesiilwe, said the main objective for the traditional games at the event was to teach those who do not know and also learn from experienced players. “We have various games like mhele, morabaraba, black mampatile, koi and 'safe'. We realised that these games are dying out, we want to document these games so that foreigners can also learn,” he said. Even at the traditional games where Kesiilwe was coordinating, no child was there to express interest. The only child there was playing cards (dikarata) and the modern rules he was applying were different from the old ones. Koi and 'safe' were only played by people who grew up before the digital era of television games and PlayStations.