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Stamps, an embodiment of Botswana’s culture and history

BotswanaPost Philatelic manager, Elisa Lajini
While growing up, most of us used to think that postal stamps are just an artwork designed to decorate envelopes but they reveal more than just the history and culture of a nation. Mmegi Staffer MOMPATI TLHANKANE recently took a philatelic trip to BotswanaPost’ Philatelic Museum in Gaborone to learn about the Botswana’s culture and history engraved in the decades old stamps

According to Wikipedia, a postage stamp is a small piece of paper that is purchased and displayed on an item of mail as evidence of payment of postage. Before postage stamps were used, letters were hand-stamped with ink to confirm the payment of postage.

Postage stamps have facilitated the delivery of mail since the 1840s.

The world’s first postage stamp was entitled, ‘The Penny Black,” and was issued in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on May 1840 as a part of postal reforms promoted by Sir Rowland Hill. The Penny Black triggered the start of stamp collecting and philately. ‘Philately’ is the proper term for the studying of stamps and stamp collecting. Georges Herpin, who very well may have been the first stamp collector, from the Ancient Greek, coined the word philately in 1865.

Botswana was colonised by the British therefore it did not take long before the first stamps were introduced in 1886 in the then British Bechuanaland. Two years later in 1888 the first stamps emerged in the Bechuanaland Protectorate.

The first postage stamp in the independent Botswana was issued in September 1966 to celebrate Botswana’s independence from the British Protectorate. The four stamps showed designs of the National Assembly Building, Lobatse Abattoir, national airways Dakota and State House Gaberones. The name of the capital on the stamp referred to as Gaberones was later changed by recommendation of the Place Names Commission to Gaborone. 

The stamps of Botswana have depicted the country’s history, culture and fauna from the very beginning. Right after independence in January 1967, Botswana Postal Services now BotswanaPost introduced a definitive set which showcased the birds of Botswana including African Hoopoe, Blue Waxbill and Golden Oriole among others.

The National Museum and Art Gallery was established in 1967 via an Act of Parliament and it officially opened to the public in 1968. The stamps were issued to celebrate this milestone and the art designs depicted Tsodilo Rock paintings, ceremonial beadworks, Baobab Trees by Thomas Baines as well as the museum itself. Botswana was developing and information was also depicted through the stamps themed developing Botswana in 1970. Among the designs was an artwork showing the diamond treatment plant in Orapa and the stamp cost three cents at the time.

The stamps were not just made without a purpose and that is when in September 1973 the stamps commemorating the death centenary of David Livingstone were issued. The artwork showed Livingstone and the river scene as well as Livingstone meeting Stanley.

Stamps are ambassadors of a country outside; therefore anniversaries are vital part of information dissemination. In March 1975, stamps were made to celebrate the 10th year anniversary of Botswana’s self governance and the artwork was a photo of the founding father of the Republic Sir Seretse Khama.

The new national currency of Botswana was launched in 1976 bearing the portrait of the first President of Botswana.

The designs showed the then P1 note, P2 note, P5 notes and P10 note. In 1980, the stamps showcased folktales of Botswana for the very first time to appreciate the tales of Chiwele and the giant, clever hare, kgori is not deceived and Nyambi’s wife and

crocodile. In October that year, Botswana issued one stamp to coincide with the date of the World Tourism Conference in Manila, which tackled issues such as improving tourism so that the country, the tourist and the environment will benefit.

In continuation of marketing Botswana culture to the world, the first stamps showing traditional medicine in Botswana was first shown in March 1987.

The designs showed divining, lightning prevention, rainmaking and bloodletting. In 1990, the Botswana traditional dress first appeared on the stamps to appreciate Botswana’s rich attire.

The four stamps and miniature sheet provided a picture of the dress worn in Botswana about 150 years ago. A year later in June 1991, the stamps of the major 1991 major census were issued.

Stamps also highlighted worthy events in Botswana’s timeline and that is when a stamp of Mpule Kwelagobe was made after she won the Miss Universe pageant in 1999. In September 2000, a series of stamps were made to highlight the chiefs and Presidents of Botswana, which included Sebele I of Bakwena, Bathoen I of Bangwaketse, Khama III of Bangwato, Sir Seretse Khama, Sir Ketumile Masire and Festus Mogae.

Lately commemorative stamps issues like abstract art in Botswana, Okavango Delta, Traditional dance in Botswana, elephants in Botswana, velvet monkey in Botswana and favourite stamps of five decades have been issued to further reflect on the country that celebrated 50 years this year.

In an interview with Arts and Culture this week, BotswanaPost Philatelic manager, Elisa Lajini said from the beginning they have always issued stamps that inform about Botswana. She said when they release stamps they try to raise awareness and encourage people to learn more about their country. She said with stamps like the ones themed save water, they want to show anyone outside the country to know the situation.

“Through the stamps, people from outside can retrieve information about Botswana,” she said. Lajini said stamp collectors also help distribute information about important aspects like tourism. She said they try by all means to research about every aspect before issuing them as stamps. 

“We have learnt that most of the youth don’t understand our traditional dances therefore through the stamps we are able to avail such information,” she said,

She added they also spread information to deter auspicious acts like the killing of endangered species like vultures (manong). “Mostly our history is depicted to teach the younger generation about their past,” she said. Lajini said people from outside have learnt that phane is edible through the stamp. She said the animals, insects and plants in the stamps are specifically found in Botswana and BotswanaPost never shows anything from outside the country.

Lajini said they also collaborate with other African countries to produce and share a certain stamp that promote the countries as a collective.

Lajini said from the beginning, they have engaged Botswana visual artists to help come up with the stamps. She said they mostly conduct workshops to show artists the kind of stamps they want. S

he said in the end they choose the best and relevant stamps. As for the Philately Museum in Gaborone, Lajini said it is open to the public and stamp collectors.




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