How Batswana respected botsetsi

Staff Writer
Various African societies have unique ways of celebrating the birth of a baby, but in Botswana, although there might be some slight variations, depending on ethnicity, most Batswana tribes have a similar way of welcoming a new life into the family.

After a baby is born traditionally the mother and her baby go into semi-compulsory confinement for a certain period of time - ranging from one month to six months.This process commonly called botsetsi used to be respected by both the young and old until modernity was either used as an excuse or the dawn of the new era made change inevitable.

The traditional botsetsi would have its strict rules and regulations and batsetsi would not dare disrespect them.For instance, it was taboo for the father of the new born to see the baby before a certain period after birth and when the time arrived for dad to make contact with his spouse, certain rituals had to performed before he could be allowed any closer to the motsetsi.

As for the newborn, the father had to wait for the duration of the confinement before he could lay eyes on his son or daughter.Although it would seem as if Batswana have ditched this traditional practice, there are still those who firmly believe in it. However, most people admit that modern challenges have made it impossible to keep it as pure as it used be.

An elderly Nnyana Motsumi of Bokaa in the Kgatleng district says although she grew up in an era when the practice was well respected she also felt that it was neccessary to compromise it, given the challenges facing young parents."I grew up when botsetsi was respected. A father was allowed nowhere near the newborn. In fact if a woman was kept in confinement for six months or more, the boyfriend or husband was allowed nowhere near the house. But in modern days it is impossible to separate them because at times they (couple) would not have parents to take care of the woman and the baby; so the man has to assume full responsibility," she told Arts & Culture.

In the past, a log, about a metre long, would be put in front of the confinement house to indicate to visitors that there was motsetsi inside that house."That was meant to warn especially pregnant or bereaved woman (moswagadi) because their condition would trigger unexplained illnesses for the child. Because of the black clothes and the fact that she would still be mourning it was believed that a dark cloud (senyama) was hovering over a bereaved woman and it could

be passed on to the baby," Motsumi explained.

In essence Motsumi's assertions demonstrate how protective of the baby the family would be.She also explained that there was a "strict" period just after birth when only the person looking after Motsetsi would have access to the confinement house.Apparently this was the time when khubu (umbilical cord) would still be hanging and the very time when the baby would be vulnerable, according to Motsumi.

"Besides it is not really a pleasant sight to see the child with a cord hanging from its tummy and the original hair.No one was supposed to see this except the old woman and the mother," she said.A week after the birth or at the time when the cord would have dried up and fallen away, the child would be shaved and the hair together with the cord would be secretly hidden in a hole which would be well covered to avoid inquisition.

After this period anyone who would want to go inside the house would have to take some cow dung and make a cross at the back wall of the confinement house.Unlike nowadays when motsetsi can sit in the lounge, dine with the rest of the family while watching television, in the past it was unheard of.Only that member of the family chosen to take care of motsetsi was also allowed to cook and share the food with her.

"There would be a special pot and basin selected to be used by only motsetsi. If a pregnant woman was to share food with motsetsi it could result in the child's slow and retarded growth or even sickness,"Such a state would be referred to as go tlolela diphate and although many people still talk much about this only few understand its implications.The period of confinement would be determined by several factors among them whether the child is a firstborn.

One other important point of consideration would be the general well-being of the baby and its mother.After a successful period of confinement a celebratory ritual called mantso would be organised where an animal would be slaughtered and traditional beer brewed for the social gathering."It gave us much pride because it signified that we had succeeded at raising a healthy baby. It would be even more fulfilling if the baby and mother both emerged fat and fresh," Motsumi said.



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