The Orphan and the Ants Part 9 - The Batawana Breakaway

We left off last week in Shoshong Hills c. 1790, with the Bangwato morafe becoming divided as the result of growing tensions between two of the Kgosi Mathiba’s sons – Tawana and Kgama.

The final split between the two factions was touched off when Tawana travelled with a group of supporters to Sokwane to consult with the by then aging, but nonetheless active, Bakwena Kgosi Motswasele I.

While surviving traditions are at some variance as to the chronology of what happened next, the basic narrative is consistent. Determined to make a bid for power, but aware that his brother’s succession to the throne continued to enjoy the strong backing of leading dikgosana, Tawana was preparing a fall back plan.

 If he could not become the Kgosi of all the Bangwato he could at least stake out on his own, secure that he would have a following. But, this would require a place to settle and the possible good will of others. For his part, Motswasele was apparently unwilling to directly intervene in Tawana’s favour against his brother. But, he was prepared to support a secession bid. At the time the Kwena claimed ownership over the Boteti region, where he had established a small settlement at Rakops. But his hold over the distant Bakwena outpost was tenuous at best.

From the time of the first Motswasele through to the reign of his great-great grandson Sechele I, successive Bakwena monarchs eyed Boteti as a strategic gateway to the rich hunting grounds of northern Botswana and trading nexus to the wealth of Zimbabwe.

Motswasele, who was praised as “Tsamai aKwena” for his youthful long distance travels, had a particular interest in the exotic goods of the Makgoa (Mapotokisi), which were then being traded in the lands of the Banyayi Mambo.

It is in this context that the old crocodile appears to have spied opportunity in Mathiba’s floundering paternal authority. A divided Bangwato would certainly constitute less of a potential threat to his northern and north eastern trade routes, while a friendly smaller elephant in the north could expand his own effective sphere of influence. It is thus said that while he was at Sokwane, Tawana was advised by Motswasele to settle in the Kwebe Hills, which indeed became his ultimate destination. Tawana sent out scouts to the region who reported favourably on it.

 Thereafter the followers of Tawana finally broke away from the remaining supporters of Kgama at a place near modern Shoshong, which has ever since been known as Motseodule (the village has left). Prior to the final split Mathiba had attempted to proclaim Tawana as his successor, but the majority of Bangwato stayed loyal to Kgama.

 After a season at Lophepe under the eye of the Bakwena, Tawana’s followers, who included his father, moved northwards, settling at Kedia on the Boteti.

But, there they were pursued by Kgama, though accounts differ as to his ultimate intent and actions. Some say a large battle ensued, while others say that Kgama insisted on the return of a number of unwilling participants in the migration, including Tawana’s younger brother Monageng.

Still others suggest that after an initial skirmish, Motswasele intervened to mediate the conflict, ending the hostilities.
That there had been at least some bloodshed would appear to be confirmed by interpretations of a praise poem of Kgama, as originally recorded by Edirilwe Seretse in 1935 and subsequently published in 1965 by Isaac Schapera. In its opening passage, the poem describes Kgama as the hammerer who transformed his opponents into girls and staffs:

 “Mmamathula wa gaka, mfetola-batho, ofetotse boMonabya basetsana, obetla boMatsunyane dirokana; Mmamathula yo omagagarapa, okopo dibotswalele.”

According to Schapera, boMonabya refers to the Menyatso ward of Monabya Ntshosa, while boMatsunyane refers to the unfortunate fate that befell two of Tawana’s followers who were captured by Kgama at Kedia – Matsunyane aSeetso aMokgadi along with his cousin Modisenyane aMorongwa aMokgadi. In this respect, it is said that Kgama killed the pair by cutting off their arms and legs, thus carving them into sticks (“obetla boMatsunyane dirokana”).

In the end Kgama returned to Motseodule with Monageng and perhaps others, leaving Tawana and most of his followers thereafter in peace.

Once free of the threat of his brother, Tawana ruled in his own right no longer respecting his father’s authority. Frustrated, and possibly also debilitated by malaria, Mathiba decided to set out with a handful of followers for Sokwane. But, upon their arrival they found that Motswasele was unwilling to permanently accommodate them.

Mathiba then sent a message to ask for forgiveness and refuge from Kgama, saying that he was tired of wandering and needed a place to die.
But, Kgama too refused to take him in, instead sending his father seven head of cattle. This final blow so depressed Mathiba that he committed suicide. Motswasele died shortly thereafter of old age.     
Kgosi Kgama I ruled over the Bangwato for about a quarter of a century, until c. 1815, without further serious incident, his long reign bringing relative peace and prosperity to the morafe.

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