The zenith of the Bakalanga state of Butua (Part III)

Staff Writer
In last week's edition, I concluded my discussion by emphasising the importance of regional centres in the political organisation of Butua state.

I mentioned that the remains of regional centres such as Old Tati near the confluence of the Tati and Shashe rivers, Thune Ruin near Selebi-Phikwe and indeed at the otherwise famous site of Domboshaba became targets of early archaeological research in Botswana.  The first archaeological excavations conducted in Botswana were undertaken by a group of German explorers known as the Frobenius Expedition. They excavated at Domboshaba Ruins and nearby Vukwi Ruins as early as 1929 and discovered fragments of Chinese celadon porcelain which were obviously special gifts given to the ruler living here some time in the past. Their excavations also helped shed light on the spatial organisation of Domboshaba centre.

We now know for example, that the ruler at Domboshaba lived on a hill surrounded by stonewalls arranged into a series of court yards that were abutting or adjoining four houses made out of fired floors. The main entrance to the ruler's residence was on the northern parts of the hill top ruin and was guarded by a councillor or some kind of court clerk whose house is found on a lower terrace. Near this house was an open area, which served as the court or assembly point where daily issues of the province were discussed by the ruler and his assistants.  It is highly unlikely that the court or assembly point was located in front of the lower ruin as some people usually suggest.  In fact, the lower ruins are a large enclosure in which the ruler's wives resided.  It is here that the Chinese porcelain was found.

Excavations carried out here indicate that one of the houses was much larger than others and had a feature that archaeologists interpret as an elaborate bench with some holes for poles.  It is generally believed that this house was built around AD 1350 and served as an equivalent of the Great Enclosure at Great Zimbabwe, either as an initiation school or a house of spirit mediums or diviners of the ruler.

The interpretation of spatial organisation at Domboshaba highlights that during the days of Butua, elite men spent considerable amounts of time in special meeting areas, which usually adjoined their homesteads discussing the daily affairs of their state or resolving conflicts.  Women on the other side lived in slightly magnificent homes, which were situated close to their male counter-parts.  What is consistently clear at elaborate ruins found in Butua is that women always stayed in

enclosures below that of male dominated rulers.  Sites such as Domboshaba, Old Tati, Majojo near Serule, Sampowane north of Selebi-Phikwe and Majande to the north of Tobane show this consistency.

Apart from the well-famed regional centres built in Butua, Bakalanga people also developed many small commoner villages around these chiefly centres.  Archaeological research in most parts of the areas that formed part of Butua recognises these villages through stone granary platforms or matula in Ikalanga language. 

Commoner villages were usually built out following a Central Kraal Pattern where a cattle enclosure is built in the centres of the village with houses and the living area surrounding it.

This pattern emphasised that cattle played a pivotal role in the life of the Bakalanga as is the case with many other Bantu-speaking people found at that time in Southern Africa.

Catrien Van Waarden excavated such a village in the 1980s at a place called Vumba near Francistown and discovered a large central cattle kraal bordered with a small kraal used for keeping calves or sheep to the east.

This large kraal was surrounded by what she describes as a double arc of houses, which were also surrounded by a double arc of granary bin foundations or matula. These matula were used for storing surplus grains such as sorghum, millet and other food sources.  During the days of Butua, Bakalanga granaries, just like their houses were circular and made out of clay and poles and a thatched roof.  They probably had several compartments used for separating and storing different grains.  Today, many Bakalanga granaries are made in the same fashion but have adopted a square shape copied from architectural style brought in by foreigners who arrived in the Bukalanga region at around AD 1750.

Commoner villages of the Bakalanga similar in layout were discovered around Letsibogo Dam by a survey conducted by Alec Campbell and his colleagues.  Most of these sites were dated to the period when the State of Butua was its apex.  In one village in the Letsibogo area over 300 granary platforms discovered suggest that there was plenty of grain during the rule of Chibundule Mambos. 

Traded glass beads, soapstone pipes, iron implements and large cattle kraals with vitrified dung suggests that even ordinary Bakalanga people afforded to live in splendor during the rule of Mambo Chibundule.  As long as Mambo Chibundule ruled, prosperity, peace and stability remained a defining factor of Butua, the forgotten Bakalanga state.

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