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The Orphan And The Ants Part 6 – The Porcupine Crown

JEFF RAMSAY
Last week’s instalment featured the coming power of Kgosi Motshodi’s grandson Motswasele I (not to be confused with his great-grandson Motswasele II) among the Bakwena as well as that of his Bangwaketse counterpart Kgosi Moleta.

Both dikgosi assumed their thrones following the deaths in battle of their fathers, Legojane and Mongala respectively. Both dikgosi are further remembered as having been gifted war leaders who appear to have significantly escalated the military capacity of their respective merafe. This process in each case can be traced to their coming together in the wake of Mongala’s death to make common cause against Mabelang’s breakaway Bakgwatheng.  In the course of said campaign, Mabeleng’s son Seeiso was captured along with his surviving followers and taken back to the Bangwaketse centre at Seoke. There Seeiso, himself, was allowed to form his own ward, which survives to this day in Kanye, while most of the rest of Bakgwatheng were distributed as batlhanka among various Bangwaketse lineages. Some Bakgwatheng fled south to join the Barolong, while others moved westward to the Matsheng region, where they merged with other groups as the Bangologa. Expansion under Moleta also brought the Bangwaketse into conflict with their southern neighbours, the Barolong and Batlhaping, who competed for control of the Kgalagadi’s trade routes and tribute.

Hearing that the Batlhaping in alliance with other southerners (Barwa) intended to attack, Moleta moved his headquarters from Seoke to Pitsa Hill, also adjacent to Lobatse. From there he successfully ambushed and drove off the invaders at a gorge known ever since as Phata-ya-Barwa. The Bangwaketse next became embroiled in a conflict involving their eastern Bahurutshe neighbours, who were then ruled by a regent named Boikanyo. When Boikanyo refused to surrender the throne to his younger but more senior brother Tirwe, the latter turned to Moleta in support of his claims. Moleta’s forces then clashed with the followers of Boikanyo at Powe, near Dinokana in Lehurutshe, resulting in Boikanyo’s defeat and death.

Moleta thereafter moved his headquarters westward from Pitsa to Makolotwane, but subsequently withdrew from the area at the behest of Motswasele, who kept many of his cattle nearby at Gookodisa.

Moleta then resettled at a place known as Mhakane on the Molopo River from where he could challenge the northward movement of the Barolong. His son Makaba was further sent on an expedition against the Bangologa at Lehututu, whom he deprived of their cattle. The Bangologa subsequently turned for help to their traditional allies the Barolong, who were, however, expelled from the area, it is said with further help from the Bakwena. Moleta

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finally settled at Setlhabatsane, where he died in about 1790. Key to the many Bangwaketse victories during Moleta’s long reign was his determined leadership of his mephato, who acquired a reputation for their collective discipline and battlefield flexibility. These qualities were inculcated through constant mobilisation for hunting and raids as well as the basic training of bogwera.The Kgosi’s own Madingwana mophato was followed by the Maswana, Matshwarakgomo, Maletlathebe, Mankwe, Mathibaphata, Magwasa, Matshologo, Manoga, Matimakgabo and Magaga.Moleta was succeeded by his son Kgosi Makaba II, who continued to build on his father’s military legacy, earning for himself the praise name “Rramaomana”. Sekwena accounts credit Motswasele’s with having been a senior partner with Moleta in many military campaigns. The Mokwena’s qualities are otherwise reflected surviving praise poems, an extract: “Mmamagana yoobogale-gale, yoonoko tshweu, Tsamai aKwena; Mmamagana, kgori, ikudubatse! Kgori o ka ikudubatse mokgethi yo mmotlana, Rapitso yo bo Molebatse. Ya ba yare phoha tsa gago, Tsa ntei tsa tloga, Tladi lesa gala, O tshose batho. “Khuduanya yadikgwa tsaga Tlajwane, gaeanna yahuduanya dikgwa, yatshwara dikgwa, yadigobera tsotlhe. Nne phale e tla hitla, Ka e phalana! Mmamagana motshitshi.” “He is the brave and ruthless refuser, the great traveller among the Bakwena, who wears a white porcupine cap. Refuser! Great Kgori Bustard! Shake yourself that your back feathers might moult. The man Molebatse called meetings, then you beat your feathers and there was the flash of lightening. You scared the people. “Disturber of the forests of Tlajwane [located in what is now South Africa], you kept on disturbing the forests, and you took the forests and ruined them. The antelope could arrive because it is small. The Refuser is like a swarm of bees.” In seeking to interpret the above it may be noted that the first Motswasele is elsewhere remembered as having been a great traveller who had journeyed as far as the Indian Ocean, where he came back with stories of the white men, that is the Portuguese in Mozambique. In this respect, one of his poems also has an early reference to bullets. The “porcupine cap” was apparently worn as a special crown by both Bakwena and Bangwaketse royals in the past during wartime and when they addressing dipitso. The quills of the headdress were set to point outwards in all directions as a symbol of their invulnerability.



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