Tracing the origins of Barolong boo Ratshidi

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On Monday morning as Botswana commemorated Culture Day, all eyes were on Barolong appropriately so as the event took place at tribal capital Goodhope.

Many, both at the main kgotla and those that heard or read of the event in the media had hoped to hear more on the origins of Barolong boo Tshidi and perhaps even when and how they settled in Goodhope in the first place and who led the tribe to the place.

However, Batho Molema, the former Radio Botswana (RB) announcer and an elderly Morolong, shed "little" light after he was listed as the man to give the history of the tribe. There are contradicting accounts on the origins of Barolong.

According to oral history, the group, which derives its name from the "founding father" Morolong, are believed to have migrated from the Great Lakes Region (GLR).  After four generations they are believed to have reached the Molopo area and settled at present day Mafikeng.


Some accounts claim, perhaps based on more recent occurrences, Barolong originated from the Molopo area and later settled around the Mafikeng area in the North West province of South Africa. But some indicate that they moved from Mafikeng to Molopo.

According to records at the Mafikeng museum website the tribe's first chief Morolong, is believed to have lived some 700 years ago. Perhaps the most respected of their ancient rulers was Tau. After building them into a powerful and wealthy nation Tau's death at Taung in 1769 spelt doom for the group. Barolong were left fragmented as his sons wrestled for the leadership of the group. Their population had increased after they forcefully incorporated others who had already occupied the territory before them like Batlhaping and Batlharo. However, Basarwa and Korana had refused to acknowledge this kind of supremacy.

As feuds between Ratlou, Tshidi, Seleka and Rapulana escalated, resulting in the formation of four clans, other groups which were forced into incorporation took advantage and broke away.

The four clans each adopting its leader's name settled at Khunwana and remained there until around 1830 when they were raided by Baphuting and Hlakwana and later by Mzilikazi and his Ndelebe warriors.   Montshiwa is a descendant of Tshidi, hence his group was named Barolong boo Ratshidi, the current group in Botswana.

Tshidi died young while in battle with Dihoja tribe before he could bear any sons. It is reported that to perpetuate this line of chieftainship a levirate was arranged by the morafe and Tshidi's brother Makgetla fathered a son called Thutlwa with Tshidi's widow Maetswane and the child was to be known as Tshidi's son.  Makgetla had taken over the leadership of Barolong boo Ratshidi (as regent for young Thutlwa) after the death of Tshidi.  He then stood in for Thutlwa's son Tawana until he was killed in a battle with Bahurutshe boo Manyana in 1790.  Leshomo then acted for Tawana who was reported to be 15 years at the time of his father's death.

Though some deny it, there are accounts that conflict erupted between Tawana and Leshomo when the former refused to hand over power to the heir apparent when he was already 30 years. Tawana was then forced into exile first to Leporung beyond Phitshane Molopo, then across Molopo River to Tsoaneng and then Moshaneng near Kanye.  In 1815 Tawana's wife Sebodio gave birth to a son who was named Montshiwa (one who is forced from home or into exile).  Shortly after the birth of Montshiwa, Tawana returned south to establish his capital at Phitshane where a new attack on Leshomo was orchestrated with the help of Makaba of Bangwaketse who offered men to fight on the side of Tawana.

The raid on Leshomo was successful as he was forced eastwards into the Bahurutshe territory where he was killed in 1818 and his followers returned to join Tawana in Phitshane. Fearing an attack from Batlokwa, Tawana led his subjects to join Ratlou clan at Khunwana in 1823. But nine years later, Khunwana was destroyed by Mzilikazi's Ndebele warriors who killed some of its inhabitants.  After surviving the onslaught, Tawana led Montshiwa and the remaining remnants to Thaba Nchu but later moved to Lotlhakane.

Tawana died in Lotlhakane in 1849 and Montshiwa, then aged 34, took over the leadership of the tribe. Montshiwa gave birth to Kebalepile who took over the reins after his father's death in 1903. He died in 1971. Kgosi Besele Montshiwa II, who took over the reins, died in 2001 and was succeeded by Lotlamoreeng Montshiwa II who was enthroned in 2003.  The University of North West law graduate is the current leader of Barolong boo Tshidi.

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