Last Updated
Wednesday 22 October 2014, 07:00 am.
Shoshong people heritage

While poverty is measured more in physical item contexts, it can also be a derivation of a lack of spiritual and/or emotional belonging which is oftentimes incorporated in indicators such as cultural association to the landscape. In this article DR SUSAN O KEITUMETSE combines oral history and written records to come with a storyline relating to the history of the people of the Shoshong as an example of existence of multiple communal identities in historical landscapes that need to be corroborated through various sources.
By Correspondent Fri 11 Oct 2013, 14:54 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Online :: Shoshong people heritage

Oftentimes when we look at landscapes of spectacular environments such as Shoshong we only see the bio-physical environment which blurs us from the communal environment that transforms the biophysical into a cultural heritage product. With the advent of Botswana's brand motto of "Your destination, my pride", it is important that the relationships that communities have with environments of potential tourism value be looked into as a prerequisite of landscape brand development to allow for meaningful community participation to take place.

While poverty is measured more in physical item contexts, it can also be a derivation of a lack of spiritual and/or emotional belonging which is oftentimes incorporated in indicators such as cultural association to the landscape. This article combines oral history and written records to come with a storyline relating to the history of the people of the Shoshong as an example of existence of multiple communal identities in historical landscapes that need to be corroborated through various sources. Although there are loads of communities living around Shoshong today, this article focuses on Baphaleng, Bakaa and Bangwato heritage within this spectacular landscape of Shoshong.

My previous article on Shoshong dated 16th August 2013, illustrated mainly oral histories with a few references towards written historical events. In this article I use evidence of the written sources from missionaries, traders and later historians to match the oral events outlined in Mmegi article of 16th August, with a focus on the people heritage of Shoshong. This article is meant to illustrate the complexities of interpreting community heritage within a multiple identity landscape such as Shoshong village and its aim is to provide a case study for approaching initiatives on interpretation of multiple communal identity in a single cultural landscape.



The written history of Baphaleng is scanty and appears in written records as anecdotes that require time to be patched together to come up with a logical story that supplement their oral histories. A distant linguistic association of Baphaleng with the Masilo descendants is contained within Ngcongco (2003)'s account of Masilo clans as follows:

"...The chiefdoms that claim descent from a common ancestor, Masilo are... the Bahurutshe chiefdoms...the Bakwena chiefdoms...the Baphalane and Bakwena cluster of Botswana which comprise the Bakwena of Molepolole, the Bamangwato, the Bangwakets and the Batawana" (NGCONGCO 2003:33)

Oral history associates Baphaleng with 'Kwenane' lineage from the original Kwena cluster of Masilo originating from the Limpopo area that later moved into present day Botswana (Ngcongco 2003  Parsons 1973)). In trying to tally oral history language with the present, it is of interest to note that Kwenane river currently exists in the Limpopo area of present day South Africa. Oral history relates that while in the now Molepolole area, having arrived earlier than other bigger Kwena cluster members, Baphaleng did not like the treatment they received from Kwena (equivalent current Bakwena) after their  later arrival in the area, hence moved into the exteriors of Molepolole such as Lephepe where they mixed with Bakgalagadi groups as they dispersed to Shoshong etc, earning them an identity as Bakgalagadi. The early arrival of Baphaleng, though still errouneosly placed, is also evidenced by Parsons (1973) as follows: 

"The westward expansion of the Kwena cluster forced Kgalagadi communities from the Kweneng District north and westwards. The Kgwatlheng-Kgalagadi retreated to the Letlhakeng gorge; Phaleng-Kgalagadi settled in the Shoshong hills;..." (Parsons 1973:94).

Therefore Baphaleng have been associated with the Bakgalagadi due to their earlier presence in present-day Botswana, although Baphaleng of Shoshong and Serowe contest this association as inaccurate. It is evident that the lack of understanding of the origin of Baphaleng among historians has led them to make none-commital categorisation of Baphaleng as Bakgaladi, a categorisation that has at times been extended to Bakaa as well (ref Willoughby 1905). Examples include Parsons (1973) above who labels Baphaleng as "Phaleng-Kgalagadi" as well as Ngcongco's non-commital labelling of Baphaleng as "...commonly referred to as Bakgalagadi."  as per excerpt below:

"The Kwena-Kgabo went to occupy Dithejwane hills in the present Kweneng district. There they intermingled with groups such as Bakgwatleng, Banakedi, Baphaleng and others now commonly referred to as Bakgalagadi." (Ngcongco 2003: 37)                               

Although Chebanne and Monake (2008) also follow earlier written records and relates Baphaleng to Bakgalagadi, the issue of first arrival within present-day Kweneng as well as Shoshong area remains constant as Chebanne et al (2008) places Baphaleng around the 1560s (16th century) and he asserts that they were found by Bakwena and Bangwato tribes when they finally arrived in present day Botswana in the 17th centuries with Baphaleng apparently being the first Kwena cluster members to settle in what is now the Lephephe, Shoshong, and Mahalapye areas, the first group settling in the area possibly around 1600 CE.

Chebanne and Monake (2008:133) also observe that of all their identified seemingly Bakgalagadi groups, Baphaleng apparently " not speak Shekgalagari anymore" and that Baphaleng remnants live near the Kgosing Ward in Maun and do not want to be identified as Bakgalagari anymore. These observations that include placement within a settlement pattern are indicators that they are not originally Bakgalagadi as they state in their oral traditions. Phaleng ward is also available in Serowe. Of particular note is Chebanne and Monake's (2008:135) assertion that " can be deduced that most of them were brought under the domination and the influence of the Bakwena, a large group moved further west to Letlhakeng area,[but] some even going in the direction of Baphaleng, and yet others in the direction of Matsheng." , matches the oral history among Baphaleng that indicates that they were cousins to the Kwena cluster members, possibly being of the Kwenane or Phalane streams, but were more closer to the Ngwato from where they originated- which will explain why they have always been around each other and even invited Bangwato to Shoshong hills during the Matebele war as  per Baphaleng oral history and as narrated in Khama's own account of Himself (Parsons 1973) and referred to in later sections of this article.

Oral tradition points that having arrived earlier in what is currently known as Kweneng, when the Kwena arrived they harassed Baphaleng into what Chebanne rightly refers to as areas of Bakgalagadi where they probably intermarried in the process of dispersal to Lotlhakeng, Lephepe and later to Shoshong, earning them an identity as Bakgalagadi.

Further oral history suggest that the name Baphaleng is said not to have been their original derivation, just like Bangwato revered phuti later on. The oral history extends to the derivation of Baphaleng's current totem of phala which according to the oral traditions came about when the late arrival of Sotho-Tswana streams (Kwena, Ngwato, Ngwaketse) enquired about Baphaleng whereabouts and it was said that they were where there are loads of impala (phala) eating impalas, hence "ba phaleng" or "ba ko go jeng phala" in peripheral areas originally inhabited by Bakgalagadi, which got them the name Baphaleng prior to their settling in Shoshong and later joined by the Kaa and then the Ngwato. Baphaleng's stay in the periphery of present-day Molepolole seem to have accorded them an identity as Bakgalagadi who apparently do not speak their supposed language anymore.

However, whatever the association, it is clear from both oral and written accounts that Baphaleng arrived earlier than other Kwena related cluster streams in present-day Botswana and due to social stratification that determined landscape settlement dynamics, they were pushed into the frontier where they negotiated space with frontier communities of the time such as Bakgalagadi and probably intermarried during the various migrations.

Having been in Shoshong earlier, Baphaleng are said to have invited Bangwato to Shoshong to move away from the marauding Matebele who were killing them in large numbers around Mosu area where they were situated. This account is confirmed by Khama III himself in his interview with the missionary Willougby captured under the title Khama's own Account of Himself compiled by Parsons (1973), where Khama III notes the following:

 "First collection of Khama is living at Serotlhe, which came afer Lotlhakanen, which followed Moshu...Baphalen were at Shoshong when Bamangwato at Serotlhe...When the Bamangwato nation were living at Natla they fought the Mashona at the Matopo Hills...The Baphalen were with them in that fight, and returned afterwards to Shoshong." (Parsons 1972: 139). A specific event at the then Lesoso village further outlines that :

 "And one day about 4 in the afternoon the oxen were sighted coming to the hill where the Bamangwato were hiding, and the Matebele after them. Then they saw the Baphalen running along under the rocks and making for the oxen; but the Matebele made for them and they retreated; ...and the Bamangwato gathered together and descended on them. Then the war began." (ibid: 141)



Oral history associates the name Bakaa to be derived from their nomadic nature as a group that scattered all over southern Africa, meaning 'ba ka ya' as in 'they could go if they want' culminating to the name, Bakaa. The presence of numerous Kaa offshoots in most parts of Botswana and RSA testify to this oral history.

Bakaa are associated with the Rolong by origin which are identified as of Batlhaping cluster which consisted of various Barolong chiefdoms and "...they appear to have been, without doubt, earlier than those chiefdoms claiming descent from Masilo..." Ngcongco (2003:31)

In particular Bakaa of Shoshong are described by Ngcongco (2003:32-33) as follows:

"Another off-shoot from the Rolong kingdom was that of the people later called Bakaa. Their secession was led by Tseme, a grandson of Maleka under whom friction with the main group started. After migrating to several places in what is now southern Botswana the Bakaa eventually settled near Shoshong hills, where they overthrew the Khurutshe state they found there. The Kaa state was ultimately destroyed by the Ngwato. Fragments of the Kaa joined the Kwena..." Ngcongco (2003:32-33)"

However, like Baphaleng, they have been at times erroneously identified as of Bakgaladi origin due to their placement around Molepolole area:

 "Among the Bakgalagadi tribes of the Northern Protectorate, the Bakaa and the Bapedi occupy the foremost position. The Bakaa were once lords of the Shoshong Hills, but were conquered by the Bamangwato. They venerated the elephant, but they say that they are of Barolong origin and that their ancestors venerated the hammer..." ( Willoughby 1905: 300).

Parsons (1973:94-95) indicate that, " The Kaa were an early offshoot of the central Rolong clan. When the Kwena entered the Kweneng District of Botswana the Kaa were already in residence and cooperated in expelling the Kgwatlheng-Kgalagadi. From there...and the main body went less far north to the Shoshong hills - where they joined 'Kgalagadi'", whom may have been Baphaleng, as indicated in earlier section.

After several years, "The Kaa then rose up and subdued the remaining Khurutshe in the Shoshong hills" (Parsons 1973: 95), an event that may have sparked the fight against Bakaa by Bangwato in Shoshong later on as per Willoughby (1905) above and as told by Khama III during his interview with missionary Willoughby (Parsons 1970) as having led to the naming of Khama III's regiment of Mafolosa. Khama relates as follows:

"...word came that Sekhome wanted all the young men to come home for a great gathering of the people. Three days later others came saying that they were called to fight with the Bakaa...Then we heard later that Sechele had sent word that the Bakaa had sought permission to come and live with him; and Sekhome allowed them to go." (Parsons 1972: 143)

Khama III continued in his interview that:

 "After this, it was that the circumcision ceremony (go rupa) was held, about April, while the corn was still white...They stayed in the veld for three months...Then we were told what our name was to be as regiment, it was Mafolosa. We had this name because our people had just fought the Bakaa and had driven them down from their fastness, and so were said to be the Mafolosa a Bakaa" (Parsons 1972: 144)

Missionary Moffat (1854: 87) relates this incident after being annoyed by Sekgoma's unreceptive behaviour towards him when he passed through Shoshong in June 21st 1849 as follows:

"It being hopeless at the present time to get either Sekhomi or his people to listen to instruction, we left in the afternoon, and, after travelling nearly 9m. through gardens, we halted at the end of the mountains where the Bakaa tribe formerly lived, and where, though the owners of the country, they were terribly harassed by the Bamanguato. After these, who were more numerous [i.e. Banguato], came from the north and took possession, Sekhomi did everything in his power to annoy the Bakaas, who were always reported to be a peaceable people. They at last abandoned their native hills, and, encouraged by Sechele, fled to the Bakuanas, where they now live in comparative peace." (Moffat 1854: 87).

In 1879, Patterson the trader described the presence of Bakaa in Shoshong as follows:

"The open country is sparsely inhabited by "Veld" people of two classes, the Bakala and Masarwa. The former enjoy the right to posess cattle and gardens; the latter neither. They are slaves, living on game and roots. Under the present chief, Khame, their condition is much improved; he does not permit them to be sold. They are obtaining guns, indeed, and becoming somewhat troublesome to their masters" (Patterson 1879: 241)



The chiefdoms that claim descent from a common ancestor, Masilo are... the Bahurutshe chiefdoms...the Bakwena chiefdoms...the Baphalane and Bakwena cluster of Botswana which comprise the

Bakwena of Molepolole, the Bamangwato, the Bangwakets and the Batawana." (Ngcongco 2003:33)

In his study of BaNgwato as a political hegemony rather than a polity, Parsons (1973:92) asserts that the founding father of the Kwena lineage cluster was Masilo (c.1440-1560) and further relates their origin in Limpopo region (Crocodile river) as follows:

"The Ngwato chiefdom originated from the Kwena cluster.  A man called Ngwato is credited with having founded the clan in about the 16th century, and it remained a section of the Kgabo- Kwena (Kwena of Sechele) chiefdom, itself a fissure from another Kwena chiefdom, until the late 18th century. Legassick points out that under the ward-system prevailing in the post- Difaqane states of the western Tswana, the Ngwato would not have been royals but a very junior ward (as descended from so ancient a Kwena chief) among the Kwena.  But it seems that the Ngwato were an ancient section (tlhase rather than kgotla) of the Kwena with an ascribed territorial 'direction' (the north-west) '". If this is true, it may explain their tight relations with the Baphaleng who are said to have been of Kwenane (smaller kwena) lineage. Ngcongco (2003:37) reinforces this when he points out that "The Kwena-Kgabo went to occupy Dithejwane hills in the present Kweneng district. There they intermingled with groups such as Bakgwatleng, Banakedi, Baphaleng and others now commonly referred to as Bakgalagadi.

Under Sekgoma, Khama relates the history of Bangwato in and around Shoshong area as follows (Parsons 1970:141)

"When Sekhome section of Bangwato returned from Victoria Falls, "...then it was that Sedinwe  joined them. Then they built at the Shua River, from which place they moved to Moshu. Sedinwe was killed by a lion about the time when the Matebele attacked the Bamangwato at Shoshong before Livingstone went to Lake Nghabe, but after he had been to Shoshong. Well, they did not live at Shoshong when Livingstone came but at Pitsana, which is about 15 miles to the west of Shoshong. After that attack by the Matebele they moved up to the hilltop. From the hilltop they moved to the Shosho."  Khama III continued: "When water failed at Pitsana, and the people had to leave there, they built then at Mokaten. Mokata is the hill a little to the right as one looks at the mission house at Shoshong with the old town at one's back. They drank water of the Shosho while living at Mokata, having to fetch the water six or seven miles...They ploughed twice while living there, and then they thought it wiser to descend from their fastness and build nearer the water at Shosho" - Willoughby as summarised by Parsons (1973: 143) When Robert Moffat, the missionary passed through Shoshong in June 20th 1854 on his way to meet Mzilikazi, he described his encounter with Sekgoma and Bangwato in Shoshong in a non-impressed manner after the former annoyed him by not giving him a reception proper of a white missionary at the time.

June 19th 1854 - "I sent to convey my respects to his most uninviting majesty Sekhomi,...From all I have heard of Sekhomi, he has not only a forbidding appearance, but is the very personification of greediness, selfishness, impudence, tyranny, and deceit. Of course I shall treat him with all due respect" (Moffat 1856: 86)

June 20th 1854 - "Shoshong (Sekhomi's Town)...Soon after a number of men presented themselves before my wagon, and a rather insignificant person saluted me, to which I answered by remarking that I am going to see the chief. He laughed, and added, "I am Sekhomi!... The subject of Christian instruction was introduced, and its importance enlarged upon, but it proved most unwelcome" (Moffat 1856: 86)

June 20th 1854 "...Two only among the many thousands of the Bamanguato know the alphabet. They are, indeed, dark and ignorant; nor can it be wondered at that they are so rude and rought in their manners, when it is remembered that they have, during the present generation, been continually driven to and fro, scattered and peeled." (Moffat 1856:87). The scattered refers to the account recited by Khama III above of having moved from Moshu to Nata to Serowe to Shoshong due to the Matebele wars.

However, during Khama III's rule of Bangwato in Shoshong, more favourable descriptions are evident. In one of his travels across central Africa, Holub (1880:170) describes his encounter with Khama III as follows:

"I crossed the Notuany, and after having crossed the Sirorume and Humboldt's Spruits, I entered the great territory of the fifth Bechuana kingdom, that of the Shoshong or Eastern Bamangwatos, so called by me to distinguish them from their neighbours, the Western or Lake Ngami Bamangwatos. I passed the great salt-pan called Khame's Pan, and entered King Khame's residence, Shoshong, on the 19th of May...Most of the Bamangwatos live in the southern central part of their country among the Bamangwato Mountains, but a number are also dispersed over the country...the Eastern or Shoshong Bamangwatos are the best in character amongst all the Bechuana tribes, and their chief Khame is a true native gentleman. He tries to abolish the heathen customs (differing thus from Sechele, though the latter has become a Christian since Dr. Livingstone's visit), and has abolished not only the liquor trade but also the importation of liquors. In short, I could, if desired, bring proof of his great ability, his sincerity in doing good, and his exemplary management of the affairs of his kingdom.


*Dr Susan O. Keitumetse is a cultural Heritage Specialist at University of Botswana's Okavango Research Institute, Maun. As a researcher in Cultural Heritage Tourism, she is engaged in both archaeological and historical heritage research projects at ORI. She writes in her professional capacity. She can be contacted at

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