At the beginning of last century (c. 1910) two indigenous accounts of the Bakwena Royal lineage were produced, an unpublished manuscript by a Molepolole kgosana named Kgabo Tebele and a short narrative by Kgosi Sebele I that was posthumously incorporated into the 1913 publication Dico tsa Secwana (edited by the Rev. A.J. Wookey).
In his more detailed work, Kgabo Tebele observed that notwithstanding the tales he had been taught about such ancient and legendary figures as Matsieng and his sons Masilo and Masiloyana, the earliest Bakwena Kgosi whose lineage could be traced was called Kwena, who was followed by Monageng, Kwena II, Masilo, Mogale, Mfheta, Kolobe and Raadira. The Bakwena royals were then said to have split between the descendents of Raadira’s sons Magope (Mogopa) and his brother Mamagana. The Bakwena at Molepolole are descendents of Mamagana’s lineage.
According to Sebele, and consistent with Kgabo Tebele, Mamagana was followed by Motone who was followed by Phokotsea, who was followed by Masilwe the father of Kwena III. The latter figure begat Phokotsea II the father of Malope II, who also is also said to have been the father of Mohurutshe, Ngwatwe, Ngwaketse and Khutwe. From Malope II the line passed to Kgabo I, and then to Tebele, who was the father of Mogope II and a junior brother named Kgabo. It was the latter who founded the Bakwena baga Kgabo morafe in Botswana.
At the time of Mogope II and Kgabo, the Bakwena were living together in the Mabyanamatshwana Hills located in South Africa. More recent archaeology has linked the same region to longstanding settlement by communities associated with the “Kgatla-Kwena” complex. During the second half of the 17th century severe drought leading to the spectre of famine is said to have gripped the hillside homeland of the Bakwena under Kgosi Mogope II, causing various sections of the community to spread out in search of food. Mogope II moved his own headquarters north-westward eventually resettling at Rathateng, which is located near the junction of the Madikwe and Limpopo or Kwena rivers, along the modern Botswana-South Africa border. During this period his brother Kgabo is said to have enjoyed success in leading regiments westward into modern Botswana, where they replenished themselves by hunting and raiding the livestock of the Bakgwatheng. After several years, with the drought finally lifted, the second Mogope decided to return to Mabyanamatshwana. Kgabo, who was then leading another hunting expedition, sent word that he would follow his Kgosi later; but he never did. Instead he cast a covetous eye towards the Dithajane Hills, then the home territory of the Bakgwatheng (Bakgwatlheng) of Kgosi Magane, who had broken away some time earlier from the Barolong. The relatively well-watered and easily fortified hills of the Bakgwatheng would provide a comfortable haven from which Kgabo could continue to access the rich hunting grounds of the Kgalagadi interior.
They were also strategically located at the nexus of the major trans-Kgalagadi trade routes running north-east to the Banyayi Kingdom of the Nichasike Mambo, north to the natural wealth of the Okavango-Chobe-Zambezi region and west and south-west to the Nama-Khoe. At the time much of the lucrative trade along these routes was controlled by the Barolong alongside the Bakgwatheng. As a further enticement, the area on the eastern side of Molepolole hill was also a significant centre of iron working, which was then controlled by a branch of the Bakgwatheng known as the Banakedi, after their founder Kgosi Nakedi aPitshane.
Given the ancient prominence of Lowe’s Cave, the lands of south-eastern Botswana would not have otherwise been unknown to the followers of Kgabo-a-Tebele, who in Sekwena traditions included the Bangwaketse and Bangwato. Early Bangwaketse traditions, however, suggest that the original Ngwaketse-a-Malope II may have previously settled at Magarapa Hill, adjacent to Molepolole and Dithejwane. This would place the Bangwaketse presence in the region three generations before Ngwaketse’s great-grandson Khutwane joined forces with Kgabo in subjugating the Bakgwatheng. Ngwaketse was succeeded by his son Seepapitso I, who established his settlement at Khale. There he repulsed a Bakwena ba gaMagopa attempt to force their return. Following this incident, the Bangwaketse re-settled a short distance further south and west along the Kolobeng River at Ntsotswane Hill. Seepapitso was succeeded by his son Leema, during which time they moved further south to Potsane.
Leema’s was in turn survived by two sons - Khutwe and his younger brother Khutwane, who ultimately assumed leadership due to his elder brother’s alleged incapacity. The historic Kanye wards of Modutlwa, Taukobong, Logaba, Sebonego, Puduma and Ruele all trace their origin to the elder Khutwe. In addition to Khutwane’s Bangwaketse, and the accompanying Bangwato, Kgabo aTebele found an additional ally in the Bakaa of Kgosi Magogwe, who were by then settled at Mmopane. It was with this coalition that Kgabo was able to forcibly seize the Dithejwane hills from Magane’s Bakgwatheng. In the aftermath of the conquest, the unity of the Bakgwatheng was permanently shattered. Some became subjects of the Bakwena, while others fled either westward into the sandveld or northward to the Shoshong Hills. Still others led by a son of Magane named Tau found refuge with the Bangwaketse. A dynastic alliance was then forged with Tau’s sister becoming the great wife of Khutwane’s heir Makgaba.