The Bakgatla branch of Batswana are generally divided into five subgroups. Among these the principle dikgosi and greater numbers of the Bakgatla-ba-Mmakau, Bakgatla-ba-Mosetlha and Bakgatla-ba-Motsha are to be found in South Africa, while the Bakgatla bagaKgafela are well known for having a significant presence in both Botswana and South Africa.
The fifth branch who will be the focus of this series, the Bakgatla bagaMmanaana, reside almost exclusively inside Botswana. They are nonetheless sub-divided in a number of locations, notably including the villages of Moshupa (Mosopa) and Thamaga and the Gamafikana section of Kanye village. The dikgosi presiding over each of these motse all trace their descent from great nineteenth century leader, Kgosi Mosielele I.
All five Bakgatla branches are said to claim "kgabo ya molelo le phologolo", that is both fire and the monkey, as their totem. According to BagaMmanaana traditions, past Bakgatla warriors were praised as the "flames" because they consumed their enemies like wild fire. The monkey was then adopted as a totemic homograph for flame.
Various accounts exist as to how the different branches of the Bakgatla became divided. With regard to the BagaMmanaana we can be certain that they had split with the Bakgatla bagaKgafela by the mid-seventeenth century. According to some traditions this secession was precipitated by the refusal of three dikgotla led by Kgatle, Kalaota and Sua, to accept a female regent following the death of the BagaKgafela Kgosi Mokopu aTshukudu.
Led by Kgatle, the faction secretly left at night, taking many cattle with them. In order to avoid detection, they are said to have tied a red-white (naana) calf to a tree, which bellowed throughout the night reassuring the remaining Bakgatla that the cattle were safe. It is from various versions of this story that the name BagaMmanaana is said to originate.
For decades the BagaMmanaana lived in different places in what is north-western South Africa as well as Botswana, with Kgabodukwe and Maanwane (near Dinokana) having been sites of repeated settlement.
The BagaMmanaana royal line runs from Kgosi Kgatle, who was succeeded by Mosiga, who begot Mphele, who begot Kowe, who begot Kontle, who begot Kalaota, who begot Mphele II, who begot Kalaota II.
Under Kgosi Kalaota II, the BagaMmanaana lived in what is now the Lehurutshe region as independent allies of the dikgosi at Kaditshwene. But, during the first decade of the nineteenth century, they were defeated by, and became vassals of, the expansionist Bangwaketse Kgosi Makaba II.
While the exact sequence of events is uncertain it appears that the BagaMmanaana separated from the Bahurutshe, after both groups had been defeated by Makaba II. For a period, the BagaMmanaana lived peacefully as junior allies of the Bangwaketse. But this arrangement broke down when Kalaota II was persuaded to resist Makaba’s
With his people facing starvation a humiliated Kalaota made peace with Makaba, accepting his subservient status while agreeing to settle near the Bangwaketse at Mogopyana.
Kalaota II was succeeded, c. 1820, by his son Kontle II, who settled at Gamafikana and married Makaba's daughter Berekonyane, the mother of Mosielele. Kontle had earlier taken as his Mogumagadi a woman named Mogatsauaka, daughter of Diale aKgogo aSau, who had begot a son and heir named Pheko.
The BagaMmanaana fought alongside the Bangwaketse and Bakwena against Sebetwane's Makololo at the battle of Losabanyana in 1825, which ended in defeat and Makaba's death. A few months later Kontle joined Makaba's son Sebego in his successful August 28, 1826 attack on the Makololo stronghold at Dithubaruba, which resulted in the latter group’s expulsion from southern Botswana. Thereafter the BagaMmanaana returned to Maanwane, where, c. 1835, Pheko succeeded Kontle.
When in 1842 Pheko died without issue, dikgosana were sent to Gangwaketse to bring back Mosielele, who had remained with his maternal in-laws. In accordance with the custom of seantlo, Mosielele, as regent, entered the house of Pheko's widow, Kganyane aMongala aDiale, to raise sons on behalf of his late half-brother. Thus Pilane (1843-89) and Gobuamang I (1845-1940), along with four daughters, were born. Mosielele also begot male heirs from his sixth wife Ikalafeng, the daughter of the Balete Kgosi Mokgosi I.
Under Mosielele's able leadership, the BagaMmanaana prospered throughout the 1840s. Originally favoured for its proximity to iron deposits that had been worked by generations of Bakgatla, Maanwane also became a major stopping point for hunters and traders following the 1842 establishment there of an L.M.S. mission.
Early visitors described Mosielele as a dignified man of regal bearing. Before transitioning to European apparel, he would be commonly seen wearing a leopard skin karosses, his head adorned in ostrich feathers followed by a retainer who carried his prized gun.
The LMS mission, which was the first in the region, was located at the adjacent Mabotsa hill. Its members were the Rev. Robert Edwards, his assistant the Rev. Dr. David Livingstone and a Motswana evangelist named Thomas Mebalwe. In 1846 Livingstone, followed by Mebalwe, took up residence among the Bakwena of Kgosi Sechele.
Mosielele supported the mission, notably ordering both boys and girls to attend school lessons. This resulted in an early growth of literacy among members of the merafe.