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The Lost Kingdom (Part 9)

Previously we have observed that many of Bakalanga communities in Botswana identify themselves as belonging to either the Balilima or Banyayi sub-groups.

Collectively these two groupings have sometimes been referred to as the “Bakalanga Dumbu” or “original Bakalanga”, to differentiate them from supposedly migrant communities.

It would perhaps be more accurate, however, to understand the dumbu communities in terms of the genealogy of their ruling lineages. As we have seen, such historical figures as Mosojane, Makulukusa Wumbe, Dalaunde (Ntalaote), Men’we and Wange are remembered through oral traditions as junior members of either the Chibundule (Balilima) or Nichasike (Banyayi) dynasties.

Wider patterns of patrilineal or paternal, as well as matrilineal or maternal, descent within various modern Bakalanga [and indeed other local ethno-linguistic communities] are undoubtedly much more complex. The longstanding reality of migration, intermarriage and assimilation in the region ultimately renders any rigid notions of ethnic purity implausible. 

There are in fact many Ikalanga speakers whose patrilineal descent is of non-Bakalanga, often of either Bapedi or Batswana, origin.

Although communities traditionally led by such lineages have often been labelled by ethnologists as “assimilated groups”, their members generally consider themselves to be true Bakalanga based on their mother language and cultural practice if not bloodlines.

Some prominent examples of such groupings include the BakaMathangwane, Nswazwi, Selolwane and Tshizwina (Sebina) lineages. Assimilation across ethno-linguistic boundaries is not an exclusive phenomenon. Many Batswana can trace patrilineal descent to what were once non-Setswana communities.

The fluid nature of ethnic identity in the past as well as our fast moving present underscores the absurdity of those who incite inter-ethnic paranoia through the ethnic and/or geographic labelling of individuals.

In this respect, it might have been both more accurate and progressive if our original Long Term Vision document had put forward as a collective ideal the notion of “Unity in dynamic diversity.”

With respect to what many would negatively refer to as tribalism, which may be defined as the perversion of ethnic pride to diminish others at the expense of national unity, accountability, and equity, one is reminded of the Setswana proverb: Lomao lo lo ntlha pedi lo tlhaba kobo le moroki. Bigotry is always a two-edged blade. 

Perhaps the most prominent example of a historically Ikalanga group that has to a great extent been integrated into Setswana society are the Batalaote of the Central District, who as we have previously seen, are of royal Banyayi origin.

Another example is said to be the Senape (Chenaba) ward of Serowe, who according to a monumental survey published

in 1952 by Isaac Schapera, are also said to have originally been Banyayi. The lineage’s founder, Nthele, is believed to have settled at Domboshaba after Mambo Nichasike took exception to his desire to marry a certain princess. It was Nthele’s great-grandson, Mari the son of the ward’s namesake Chenaba, who subsequently fled to the Bangwato. This was during the mid-19th century as a result of Amandebele raids.

One can also find amongst the traditional wards (dikgotla) of Serowe descendants of such legendary Bakalanga as Wange and Sosoma. The latter figure is said to have been a powerful Banabiya traditional doctor.

Of course, exploring such origins can become quite sensitive. One of the larger wards in Molepolole has claimed descent from Bakwena royalty in modern times (certainly justified in matrilineal terms), notwithstanding its 19th century founder’s identification in a number of sources as a Mokalanga.

The Bakalanga baka Nswazwi community, best known for their defiance of Tshekedi Khama’s overrule during the reign of their leader She John Madawo Nswazwi VIII (ruled 1912-60), are a prominent example of an originally Bapedi community that has become integrated into Ikalanga culture.

An exception to the above is a branch of the BakaNswazwi who settled in Mochudi during the reign of Kgosi Linchwe I (ruled 1876-1924). This group had apparently found refuge in Kgatleng after their headman, Ramotswetla, remained loyal to the Bangwato Kgosi Matsheng. In 1872 Khama III ousted Matsheng in a battle at Shoshong with armed Bakwena support.

Such historical complexities make any estimation of the percentage of the population who belong to this or that ethnic group problematic, notwithstanding the listing of people in colonial era censuses according to their supposed tribal affiliation.

The 1946 Bechuanaland Protectorate census, for example, gave total population of Bamangwato Tribal Reserve as 100,987 of whom 22, 777 were listed as “Kalaka” and 17, 850 as “Ngwato”.

A closer examination of the data, however, reveals that the “Kalaka” count excludes some Ikalanga speaking communities. The Baka Nswazwi, recorded as numbering 1, 014, are listed under “Pedi”, while other groups such as the Baseleka of Bukalanga, 1, 184, and Banabiya, 844, etc. (in other words many non-dumbu communities) are also separately listed.

By the same token, it’s not unlikely that the “Kalaka” count may have included a few folks who did not at the time have Ikalanga as their mother tongue.

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