We left off in the late 17th century with the Banyayi ruler Chilisamhulu Nichasike Dombolakonachingwango, otherwise known to the Portuguese as Changamire Dombo, having at least temporarily imposed his suzerainty over the Mutapa, Manyika, and Maungwe kingdoms in north-eastern Zimbabwe and the Venda lands of northern South Africa, as north-eastern Botswana as far as Mahalapye.
Within Botswana, the Mambo’s authority was reinforced through the migration of Banyayi groups such as the Bamen’we, Badalaunde (Batalaote), Basenete, Banambia and Batshangate.
Throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries much of north-eastern Botswana was under the local authority of the Men’we dynasty, whose residence in more modern times has been at Maitengwe. The Men’we rulers are descended from Nhale who was the son (or possibly grandson) by a junior house of Chilisamhulu Nichasike. Nhale is known to have had at least two sons – Thali and Tshongogwe.
The eldest, Thali, is said to have been the progenitor of the Dalaunde or Ntalaote lineage, which under Dalaunde’s son Langane and grandson Sankoloba settled at a place called Manyalala on the southern borders of the kingdom.
It is Tshongogwe who also became known as Men’we. The latter name is said to be derived from the Ikalanga expression “Meno eshango”, meaning “the teeth of the countryside.” This is said to refer to Tshongogwe’s position as the King’s representative or “teeth” over the region that became known as “Bulilima gwaMen’we”, i.e. the “Balilima lands of Men’we.”
The 18th century boundaries Bulilima gwaMen’we stretched as far west as the Ntwetwe Pan and the Nata River, south to the Motloutse River and east to the Khami River in Zimbabwe. Tshongogwe-Men’we stayed at a place called Semena. His known direct descendents are: Lesamgwe, who begat Mahawa Mapini or Musinye, who begat Tibone, who begat Matikiti and Diba.
Tshongogwe’s mandate included overseeing the followers of three “sons of Chibundule” - Misola, Makulukusa and Mpengo – who had migrated or fled into the region. The senior son, Misola, settled at Ramokgwebana, where he begat Mosojane. They later moved to Maswingwa, where they were joined by Mpengo’s followers until the early 20th century when their land came under the control of the Tati Company.
Makulukusa’s followers initially settled at Mabilila on the Nkange river. In his later years he came into conflict with his son Nkuse, whom he called “Madandume” (“you are greedy”). With Tshongogwe-Men’we’s backing Nkuse subsequently ousted his father. His senior descendants are today based at Tutume, a name that may be derived from “Madandume”.
The Basenete trace their origins to a senior councillor of Nichasike’s known as Nigobombwe who ruled over the territory immediately east of Bulilima gwaMen’we. Nigobombwe was succeeded by his son Tombale, who in turn begat a junior son named Senete, who migrated to the Boteti region. Some of his descendents can still be found at Rakops, which was also a northern outpost of the Bakwena bagaKgabo. From Boteti Basenete are believed to have prospered as gatekeepers to trade routes running westward into Ngamiland and southward through the central Kgalagadi.
Dalaunde or Ntalaote is commonly said to have been a junior son of Nichasike’s first house, although oral traditions are not consistent on this point. While he died in Zimbabwe, under his son, Langane, the Batalaote migrated into Botswana settling at a place called Manyalala.
The southward expansion of Batalaote brought them into contact with the emerging Bakwena kingdom under Kgosi Motshodi. At least one early clash resulted from this proximity when Motshodi’s senior son and heir, Legojane, led his “Mateane” regiment on a cattle raid into Legane’s country. The expedition resulted in Legojane being killed in battle, while those of his followers who survived returned to Motshodi’s kraal empty handed. From Legojane’s praise poem:
“Lenyora, we! Letsatsi, we! Makalaka lo kaka loa re boela; Lo kaka loa re khutlela Maririma. Kea gapa sepe; Ke gapile podi. Ke gapile podinyana ea sekgwakgwa, Podi tlaa! U bolele diokoko. U ko u bue dilo tsa Bokalaka. U tlo u bue dilo tsa kwa ga Kgabo. Re tsamaile ra itiketsa thata; Legwape le ena ra mo itiketsa; Ra ba ra lebana le Leganana [Legane]; Leganana ea re go sena pula, Go tlo go fhela go thiba mouwane, Go fhela go thibathiba lerunyana.”
Translation: “Thirst and heat, Bakalanga you could kill us. I have not captured anything. I only captured a small goat with a scab. Tell this tale of great sadness. Tell us about the Bukalanga incidents. Tell us about the incidents at Kgabo’s. We went there with care and stealth. We hid away from Legwape. But, then we found ourselves face to face with Legane. With Legane there is no rain, only mist clouds in the air. Then a small cloud hangs around.”
During the time of Legane’s son Sankoloba, the Batalaote became allies of the Bangwato. Sankoloba’s, himself, is said to have been killed by the Amandebele. Thereafter, the Batalaote became divided.
Two of Sankoloba’s sons, Matsuga and Motsume, along with many of their relatives ultimately fled to Shoshong; where they lived under the Bangwato Kgosi Sekgoma I, father of Khama III. The Batalaote who remained behind at Manyalela were initially reduced to living as vassals of the Amandebele under the authority of an induna named Manyami, though they later also switched their allegiance to the Bangwato.