Let’s Say No To Stow

“Modimo wa borara, Ke letse ke sa ja, Ke letse le tlala, Ba bangwe be jele, Ba letse ba kgotse, Leha ele montsho, Le sekomenyana, Nka itumela, Ke bitsa Modimo, Borraronamogola.”

There is a tendency in any oral culture for traditions to compress events and personalities over time. What the folk memory does preserve is an enduring appreciation of common roots. In this context, the royal genealogies of many Sotho-Tswana merafe claim common descent from an ancient ruler named Masilo. Beyond common kinship through putative descent from Masilo and such other ancient forbears as Thobega, Malope, Napo, and Tau, many merafe share an even deeper genesis myth about an ancestor named Matsieng. It is Matsieng who is said to have come into this world through Lowe's cave, which is adjacent to Rasesa.

Throughout Southern Africa, Sotho-Tswana traditions generally agree that the first ancestors emerged from the ground through sacred caves. While several reputed "caves of life" exist throughout the region, merafe that trace their descent from Matsieng are consistent in focusing on Lowe’s as their place of origin. The rock formation is named after a one-sided medimo who appeared in the form of a single-legged giant. Legend has it that Matsieng once lived without a care in the underground realm of Tintibane.

This was before Lowe tempted Matsieng to follow a beam of light to the surface world that lies between the earth and sky. Banished from returning to his former underworld comfort, Matsieng initially suffered from hunger.

Tintibane then took pity on him, giving him wild animals to hunt and goats to domesticate. Among the animals was the giraffe, who in another tale is credited with showing Matsieng the location of the place of women. In pre-Christian times, Tintibane was venerated as a demigod protector by the various descendants of Matsieng, who were united by a common origin oath: "Ke a ikana ka Tintibane, a ngwana wa Mafatshe, ka thibe ka lefatshe ka lelemela sefonyana se se kwa go Moseki." ("I swear by Tintibane, the child of the Earth, sealed by the earth, I crept stealthily in a small flight at Moseki.”) The oath refers to the fact that besides being the lord of the lower world, to whom the dead were returned (thus the rite of burial).

Tintibane was known as "Ngwana wa Modimo le Mafatshe" ("the child of the Supreme God and Earth"). The descendants of Matsieng, generally merafe that would in more modern times be labeled Bakgalagari (Bakgalalgadi) and Western Batswana, prayed for Tintibane's intervention through the mediums of Lowe or Thobega-a-Phatswa. The latter, identified in his youthful manifestation as Thibela, became immortal after marrying Tintibane's daughter Mmape. Thereafter, he assumed the status as Lowe's gatekeeper. In paying homage to Tintibane, generations of Batswana and Bakgalagari thus affirmed their status as indigenous occupiers of the ground of Matsieng and Masilo. In this context, Lowe's cave remained a place of pre-Christian pilgrimage.

Coupled with modern archaeological evidence, which shows continuity in southern African settlement patterns across the centuries, the folklore surrounding legendary figures such as Matsieng run counter to the debilitating counter-myth that black Africans, the so-called Bantu, are relatively recent arrivals in the Southern Africa region.

The origins of this colonial-era turned Bantu Education distortion, which survives to this day in crude classroom teaching about the so-called "Bantu Migrations," can be found in the 1905 tome, "A History of The Intrusion of The Hottentots and Bantu Into The Hunting Grounds Of The Bushmen, The Aborigines of The Country" by George William Stow, (as posthumously and extensively edited by the George McCall Theal).

As asserted in its preface, it was Stow’s edited tome that first established the argument that, “the Bushmen alone were the true aborigines of the country [south of the Zambezi] and that all stronger races without exception were mere intruders.” In this respect, Stow took specific aim at missionaries and others who affirmed the simple fact that blacks were indigenous to the region and thus the rightful owners of their land. Stow: “The simple fact that certain tribes were found occupying some given tract of country at the time of the missionary's arrival was of itself, without further question, deemed irrefragable proof that these particular natives must have been its rightful owners from time immemorial... “The white nations were looked upon, and spoken of, as the only intruders into the ancient domains of the "poor natives," and the only race which had trodden underfoot, with a remorselessness and cruelty deserving universal execration, the rights of the ill-treated aborigines.

Each of the men of this school confidently asserted that his own special tribe, or the one he had taken under his own special protection, was the true representative of the original possessors of the soil.” Beyond material evidence of long-term continuity and incremental change over the last two thousand or so years, Stow's notion that the Cape Khoe, as well as the Sotho-Tswana and other Southern Bantu language communities, were recent arrivals is rendered all but absurd by even the most modest appreciation of the depth and diversity local heritage as embedded in language and oral culture.

This includes what knowledge survives of the region's pre-Christian cosmology along with its people's ancient myths and legends.

Editor's Comment
Happy Independence!

We are 56 years old and what do we have to show for it? Looking at where Botswana started and where it is today, there are a lot of developments, but whether the developments match the number of years we have enjoyed as a country is a topic for another day.The fact that cannot be denied is we have seen major developments, but we are still lacking in several pertinent areas.Our beautiful country imports almost everything. We import fuel, food,...

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