Setswana is the first indigenous language south of Ethiopia to have a complete Christian Bible - Bibela ee Boitshepo. Robert Moffat gave us, first, the New Testament in 1840 and later on the Old Testament in 1857, according to historian, Neil Parsons.
This is probably why Batswana got to be so peaceful because we have long learnt about Christ in our own language. In 2016 when Botswana was looking back during the celebrations of 50 years of independence, many Batswana never took a chance to reflect beyond September 1966 and search for “What does it really mean to be a Motswana?”
That year, one young man that actually introspected much deeper and beyond 50 years was Andrew Kola with a dance production titled Pula. Kola staged Pula in April 2016 during the Maitisong Festival with Mophato Dance Theatre. A month later that year, in May precisely, when the play returned by popular demand at the Stanbic Bank Piazza, I rightly predicted in Mmegi’s sister paper, The Monitor writing, “Pula is turning out to be one of Botswana’s greatest theatre productions”. After its Broadway debut last week, I am happy to say I have been greatly and deservedly vindicated. I believed Kola picked the best story that identifies our heritage and, to a larger extent, a whole reason why our great forefathers decided to settle on this arid land.
I reiterate once again that Pula is a theatre production that every Motswana must watch if they want to learn about their identity and heritage.
It is a story of a relationship between the people of Botswana, rain and most importantly God.
A story of a people of Botswana who survived the desert by learning how to make it rain, told with incredible dances, exciting poetry and haunting music. Pula tells a story of a moroka (traditional rainmaker) that was killed by Christianity. The country’s most famous rainmaker was Kgosi Sechele I of Bakwena. According to some learned local historians, the greatest Motswana and founder of this country is Sechele
He was the rainmaker that quit rainmaking to appease his good friend and missionary, Dr David Livingstone who assisted Sechele to smuggle guns and stockpile ammunition that later saved his land during the Boer’s attacks.
It is a pity that today we do not even have a single stature of Kgosi Sechele I. Through Kola’s play, we could trace why Batswana were able to tame the desert.
When strong and war-mongering nations fought hard for fertile soils elsewhere in Southern Africa, Batswana settled in the most inhospitable land of the Kalahari Desert.
When I began travelling extensively throughout Botswana, I was always intrigued as to why would people settle here? Why would anyone in their right mind choose to live where there is no water and reliable rains?
So, every time I watch Pula, I get an epiphany. It is because we had the magicians that talked directly with the Gods to make it rain. So we were able to live anywhere we wanted.
At Broadway last week, the Pula narrator said, “the rainmaker is the most respected man in the village” because he was basically the provider of life. Today those once heroes that helped us make this place home are shunned and labelled Satanic. They have been relegated behind the fire churches and ZCC – those are the charlatans that get the call when the clouds stall and seemingly refuse to yield even a few droplets.
We have forgotten that we have been reading Bibela ee Boitshepo since 1840. So, if you still care to know “what does it really mean to be a Motswana?” – Motswana o mang? (a question that drove me to write my book, Botswana’s Top 50 Ultimate Experiences in 2016), get ready to watch Pula when it returns from Broadway.