SELEBI-PHIKWE: Batswapong history and culture can now be found in a book titled Ditso le Dingwao tsa Batswapong by University of Botswana academic Galesiti Baruti.
The book, published this year has been hailed as a positive step towards promoting and preserving tribal languages, culture and tradition such as the Setswapong.
Ditso le Dingwao tsa Batswapong profiles each village's history and traditional practices.
The 376-page book traces Tswapong history from ancient times of 200 AD when the tribe was non-existent to the time it was later formed from Bantu tribes. Bantu people originated from areas around Cameroon and Congo and migrated down south to the Transvaal. The book indicates that once in Transvaal Bantu scattered and subdivided into groups that later became Basotho-Tswana, Nguni and Bashona.
"Batswapong were born from these diverse scattered tribes. Most people believe that Batswapong are one large tribe but that is not true because they originate from different tribes. Even Setswapong languages are different," says Baruti.
The book also contains Batswapong tribes traditional practices that include praying for rain, traditional healing and witchcraft. Baruti explains that Batswapong refers to those who settled on the eastern side of Mahalapye and Palapye.
Most of the villages in this area are surrounded by hills. The hills are in two sets, the Tshweneng hills stretch from Moshopha and Ramokgonami villages up to Mokobeng village. The other, Tswapong hills, start from Palapye stretching to villages like Lerala, Mosweu, Mokokwana and Lesenepole/Matolwane.
The book also indicates that the name Tswapong is derived from Letswapo, a Sengwato expression of the foot of a hill. The name was relevant in that Batswapong settled at the hills as a defence strategy during the civil war era.
The system of praying for rain by Batswapong according to the book was known as Dikomana. Batswapong believe that their ancestors live in the hills and when there was no rain the communities would converge at the kgotla then head to the hills where there was a cave. Led by the chief as well as the elderly, they would carry seeds and other things meant to appease the ancestors.
Once at the entrance of the cave the entourage would stop and hand over the seeds to the elderly who would enter with utmost respect and dignity murmuring their pleas to the ancestors. Outside the cave the rest of the community would remain silent. Inside the cave would be the dikomana, that refers to two drums that are used as instruments when worshipping badimo.
The elders and kgosi would start beating the drums with their hands singing particular songs. After a lengthy singing session a person who communicates with badimo would stand and plead loudly to badimo. After that they would wait for feedback from badimo. They would be informed whether it would rain or otherwise. If badimo desired something they would indicate this and it would be delivered before it would start raining.
The book states that, Batswapong would sometimes ask for rain by scattering seeds on top of the graves of their grandfathers. If this was unsuccessful they proceeded to take the seeds together with a black goat to Moremi village. Each village was supposed to do the same. Another system of requesting for rain that was commonly used in Rasesa was to take water and traditional brew to the graves of their former traditional leaders.
According to Baruti, a traditional doctor who knew the herbs used to devise rainfall would take with him virgin girls to the graves who would sing traditional songs. Upon arrival back home huge rains must fall. "If it failed to rain that day, traditional doctors were summoned to identify the cause of failed rainfalls. If foul play by witches was identified the culprits were severely punished."
Sometimes these rain doctors would climb to the peak of the hill and identify a big rock, smear it with a traditional concoction before rolling it down to the village. By the time it reached the base of the hill strong rains would fall.
Baruti further indicates that unlike in modern times where the use of expensive and sophisticated cosmetics is the order of the day Batswapong women would use letsoku as facial makeup and sebilo for a hairdo. These are products of particular stones that were crushed into powder. Letsoku and sebilo were dug in the hills surrounding their villages.
Letsoku was also used to decorate clay-pots that were also made from the soils harvested from the hills.
He indicates that Batswapong had knowledge of traditional herbs and medicines that were used to heal different ailments. Some were used as ointments to smear the whole body of a patient or administered orally. If all these were unsuccessful in curing the disease the patient was referred to a traditional doctor, who would examine and recommend treatment through the use of ditaola. Sometimes the treatment recommended would be phaso, a traditional occasion in which relatives of the patients used traditional brew to request the ancestors to have mercy on the patient.
"Originally, Batswapong did not bury their dead as is presently done. They used to throw the body of the deceased in the bushes for wild animals to devour. This eventually drew wild animals close to the villages, eagerly waiting to feast on dead bodies. The discarding of the body was done to completely forget about the person," he says.
Baruti indicates that Batswapong used to relocate whenever one of them died. He states that as years passed by the tribes changed this system and buried the dead in an anthill. The anthill was dug and the body put inside so that termites could eat it up. "The body was placed in a sitting posture before the hole was filled up. It was believed that in that way they would be able to listen to what the living communicates with them. The body would face westward." These systems changed through the years to one where men were buried in their own kraals covered with a cow skin. However men who did not have cattle continued to be buried in the anthills, according to the book. Women were buried in the yard while young children were buried inside the house. "My grandfather was buried inside the kraal while my grandmother was buried in the backyard of her aunt's home."
Baruti, who is a member of the tribe indicates that conducting researches and compiling the book was not an easy task to undertake. He started working on it in 1984 when he was assigned by the late professor Michael Crowder to enquire from the Tswapong elders about the rule of Bangwato leaders Kgosi Tshekedi Khama and Seretse Khama. He then undertook the research for the book alongside the assignment.
Being born in a family that took a keen interest in the history of their tribe was a major motivating factor in that he already had a foundation of the history before he started working on the book. His grandmother and grandfather used to narrate their history to him even before he started schooling. However he had to shelve the book for a while as he pursued his studies only to continue in 1987.
"At some point I could not carry out the research because of lack of resources as I was not working. It was only after I got employed that I was able to continue with the research alongside my work. Whenever I had time I traveled to all Tswapong villages and this was met with appreciation by elders who feared dying leaving no trace of history for their descendants," he said.
He indicates that at some point he lost hope until the likes of Dr Jeff Ramsey, late Professor Thomas Tlou and late Professor Ncgoncgo taught him the techniques of unearthing the history of tribes that have never been written down.
"You do not just visit the library and expect to read the history you dig it up from the roots. This book is the first of its kind so it is possible that some crucial information may be left out. I encourage anyone who has identified some information of value to the history of Batswapong to bring it forward."
The challenges that he discovered in his journey on the origins of Batswapong included conflicting views and opinions by those who presented reports that had no written down evidence to support them. "At some point I was told that Kgosi Tshekedi once ruled Mapulane, the first descendant of Batswapong.
This is not true because Tshekedi reigned around 1925 while Mapulane was a leader around 1870. Therefore I was unable to use the verbal reports I received because they were not evidence based," he said.
Elderly people like Modipe Motidi of Goo-Mosweu village, Shaw Moroka of Lerala, Sematlho Pipedi, Leoketsa Lehutlie of Mokokwana village and Rasegogwane Mabiletsa from Rasesa among others contributed to this book.
The book is available at the University of Botswana library.