Blending traditions for political purposes

The Commandant of the Kilted Tribe- Serowe Bechuanaland
The Commandant of the Kilted Tribe- Serowe Bechuanaland

BDF Day, which was celebrated last week, provides the perfect excuse for touching on matters in the past pertaining to the military, or perhaps to the quasi-military.

In 1925, the young Prince of Wales, later King Edward VIII, toured large parts of  Africa, including a number of countries of Southern Africa.

In preparation for his visit to Serowe, Sekgoma evidently went to enormous lengths and expense to provide  appropriate dress for some of the mephato,or age groups, and their leaders. Maybe the Serowe Museum can provide us with information as to how he contrived to find a supplier capable of providing everything that he required. 

And how much that supplier charged? We really do need that information because whilst he, Sekgoma, was able to pay for everything to do with Khama III’s grave, he did need the assistance of the Protectorate authorities to identify von Wouw as the most suitable person to make the statuette of the duiker and those able to provide the design for the graveyard precincts and to carry out its construction.

The invaluable Historical Dictionary of Botswana states that, Sekgoma “made excessive demands on his people to hold a great pageant to welcome the Prince of Wales but to his great disappointment the Prince made only a fleeting visit to Serowe”. 

The visit, in fact, must have been a one-day affair which included a very large and spectacular gathering of the tribe at which Sekgoma formally welcomed the Prince and the ‘unveiling’ by the Prince of ’Khama III’s grave (see Our Heritage of 1.4.15). 

It would be of great interest to see the programme for the day which the Serowe Museum must surely possess. The one other occasion which was organised for the Prince’s visit to the Protectorate took place in Gaborone. Again, I am yet to see this programme but the photos provide a spectacular contrast between forms of displayed tradition -  Sekgoma locking into British military tradition, on the one hand, and, on the other,  Isang, the Regent in Mochudi combining elements of past and present to organise a display of largely invented local tradition.

A photo of this particular display will need to be featured in another week’s issue. The Prince’s visit provided both leaders with an opportunity to make major political statements with both deploying their mephato and implicitly therefore emphasising their own military past.

Sekgoma opted for spectacular mass display designed to demonstrate to the Prince the tribe’s unity, and strength and its loyalty to the British monarchy. The Bakgatla sought to achieve similar objectives but without the military uniforms.

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