The Orphan And The Ants Part 15 – “Keseriri-Tau”

We left off in our “Orphan and the Ants” series with Morukgomo having gained the the upper hand over Segokotlo in the power struggle over Bogosi jwa Bakwena that followed the execution of Kgosi Motswasele II.

Following his defeat at Masipiana, Segokotlo fled northward with his remaining followers to the protection of the Bangwato of Kgosi Kgari. In addition to a number of prominent royal headmen Segokotlo was joined by the wives and children of Motswasele II, notably including his son and heir Sechele who was about 12 years old at the time (born in about 1810 the exact birth date being unknown).

Kgosi Kgari is credited with having acted as a true guardian of the exiled royal siblings. In the case of Sechele and his older brother Kgosidintsi the Phuti’s patronage included ensuring that they were trained alongside his own son Sekgoma in traditional Setswana arts of leadership.

Before the missionaries introduced book-learning, education among Batswana took many forms. There where the initiation schools, bogwera and bojale, as well as continuous education within one’s family.

Some specialists, such as bathudi (iron workers) and dingaka, trained as apprentices.  The senior sons of dikgosi were given special lessons. Thus it was that Sechele, Kgosidintsi, and Sekgoma, were tutored in medicine, magic and indigenous cosmology by a traditional ngaka/moruti named Moitsheki aMosemme aMayadibodu aTshimole. During his long career Moitsheki, who is recorded as having died in 1886 as a very old man, is also known to have mentored the Batlhaping Princes Mothibi, Gasebone, Jankie and Luka.

Royal tutoring was apparently a tradition among the Tshimole line, who are said to have originally been associated with the tribe or clan known as the Babididi.

In this respect Moitsheki was the father of Lekalake (died 1893), another prominent 19th century ngaka/moruti, who is said to have doctored and instructed royals among the Barolong, Bangwaketse, and Bakgatla bagaKgafela, as well as the Bakwena and Batlhaping.

 Lekalake was also renowned for his protracted debates about Setswana beliefs with the missionary David Livingstone. Other members of the lineage are known to have mentored additional princes of various Sotho-Tswana merafe, including the first Basotho ruler Moshoeshoe. 

As rulers both Sechele and Sekgoma were called “keseriri-tau” (‘the lion-maned one”). Although this praise became commonly associated with their lion-like bravery, it is said to have originated in their rainmaking practice. In accordance with the lessons they had received from Moitsheki, the two would not cut their hair during the rainy season. Sekgoma’s leboko thus recalls:

“He the lion-maned one of Mmakgama, the sturdy youth of MmaMokgokong; his hair is never shorn, but merely trimmed, because he is said to be a rainmaker, he is said to be a maker of rain.”

Setswana: “Keseriri-tau sabo Mmakgama, sakolwane jooMmamokgokong; gaseke sebeolwa, seasekolwa, gatwe gorewa gobo ele moroka, gorewa ka ele moroka wapula.” Sechele too seems to have learned his lessons well. One of his earliest praise names, in addition to Keseriri-tau, was “Masametse”, the “water pourer”.

Upon graduating Moitsheki’s students were each given a special charm, which could inspire much fear in others. Indeed, Sekgoma and Sechele are said to have avoided prolonged contact with one another in their later years as a result of the powers they learned from Ralekalake.

Thus it was that, when he was exiled from 1875 to 1882 in Kweneng, Sekgoma, who steadfastly refused to abandon his traditional beliefs for Christianity, chose to live among the Bahurutshe at Mmakgodi, rather than in Sechele’s town, Molepolole.

The period of relative peace that the Bakwena exiles enjoyed in Gammangwato was broken in the winter of 1827 when Kgari assembled under his leadership a formidable coalition to invade the lands of the Bakalanga. In addition to the Bangwato and Segokotlo’s Bakwena, Kgari’s invasion force included within its ranks Babirwa of Kgosi Malema, Bakaa of Kgosi Lebelwane, Baseleka of Kgosi Kobe, Batalaote of Kgosi Matsoga and Batlokwa of Kgosi Leshage.  The BaKalanga, themselves, were then united under the apparently declining authority of the Banyayi bakaNichasike Mambo or Emperor, whose warriors had long been renowned as the “Rozwi” or “Destroyers”.

The invasion ended in absolute defeat for the “Barwa” of Kgari, as they were known to the Bakalanga. At the Matopos, the Phuti along with half of his men, fell before the forces of the Banyayi general Tombale.

The young Sechele was impressed by the fact that an elite unit within the Banayayi army was equipped with muskets and four cannon. Bakalanga praise poems recall these fearsome gunners of Ninjigwe:

“Refuse to go blunt, Gun of Ninjigwe! crash the rocks, Gun of Ninjigwe! The rock is unharmed by the blunt hoe. So what will the axe be looking for? It has sounded, the thunder that produces smoke, Gun of Ninjigwe!”

Ikalanga: “Chilamboguzwa, Pfuti yaNinjigwe! Wamulamabwe Pfuti yaNinjigwe! Dombo lakon’wa chin’wango. Tumulo chichaxakani? Chalila chiduma-wudzi, Pfuti yaNinjigwe!”

The surviving Batswana, now led by the Bangwato Regent Sedimo, retreated south to the Khutse hills. There Sechele and his Bakwena age mates were initiated as part of the Malomakgomo regiment of the Bangwato heir Khama II.

Editor's Comment
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