Mmegi Blogs :: Khama III’s home at Old Palapye in 1893
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Friday 17 November 2017, 19:00 pm.
Khama III’s home at Old Palapye in 1893

In the past we used to go up and down to Old Palapye very often. Each visit was a huge pleasure and a challenge trying to figure out what was what. All we knew about Khama’s lelapa was that it must have been close to the huge kgotla. A local resident told us that a slightly raised area was all that was left of it.
By Sandy Grant Wed 14 Jun 2017, 17:26 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Blogs :: Khama III’s home at Old Palapye in 1893

We had no reason to doubt his word because the lelapa was almost certainly fired when Khama shifted his capital to Serowe in 1902. If it had somehow been overlooked, the passing of a 100 years or so would have ensured that little of any significance would have been left to find.

Khama was unusual amongst Tswana Dikgosi in always preferring to live in traditional housing both at Old Palapye and in Serowe. Others, as we know, made the change very early from round to rectangular housing, from the traditional to the modern.

In 1866 The Kwena Kgosi Sechele had a burnt brick rectangular house built for him at Molepolole (Ntsweng). In Kanye, photos indicate that Gaseitsiwe and Bathoen I followed his earlier example. In 1882 in Mochudi Kgamanyane lived in a small still surviving rectangular house.   And the same pattern occurred in Ramotswa first with Kgosi Ikaneng’s very small rectangular house and then with the very much larger, prestige building of 1917 of Kgosi Baitutle (1904-17).

Reverting however to Khama’s Old Palapye rondavels it has to be noted that unusually the thatched roofing is slightly concave. It is unlikely that this was a one-off, so the presumption must be that many smaller rondavels of this kind were scattered around the old town and taken from there to Serowe.


I am unclear what happened next. Was that preference retained for some years, or was it replaced by the styling that was prevalent elsewhere? What I do know however is that it was replicated at Molepolole, but possibly nowhere else. 

The thatched roofing is also of interest being fastened at the apex by a grass knot and in having roped down thatching in contrast to the more demanding Boer thatching style which was adopted very quickly in Mochudi. Also of some interest is the lelapa wall, which could be about 10 metres long and say two-and-a-half metres high.

A concrete block wall of similar length today would be routinely built with reinforcing every two metres. In contrast, a traditional unsupported wall built of kneaded soil and cow dung could be of exceptional length, albeit not of this height, as I have seen in both Kanye and Molepolole.

I am hugely intrigued to know how, why a traditional earth wall did not need support, but a modern wall does? Is there any reader able to provide the answer? Whilst a number of different photos of this lelapa have survived, it is unfortunate that there appears to be none of any of Khama’s homes in Serowe. A comparison of his various homesteads would have been of great interest.


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