Rabojalwa’s shoes too big to fill

Rabojalwa with his proteges at Dithubaruba Festival PIC. THALEFANG CHARLES
Rabojalwa with his proteges at Dithubaruba Festival PIC. THALEFANG CHARLES

Legendary Bakwena royal praise poet, Rabojalwa Keetile Galenamong was laid to rest on Wednesday this week at his home village in Molepolole. Galenamong died on July 15 aged 96.

He leaves behind a huge legacy and shoes too big to fill. Born on New Year’s Day in 1925 at Mokgalo ward in Molepolole, Rabojalwa as he was popularly known was one of the greatest Setswana language poets in Botswana having praised Presidents like the late Sir Ketumile Masire and Chiefs in public events.He had immortalised Setswana praise poetry and was even broadcast by radio stations and various broadcasters. Delivering his spoken word poetry during weddings and Patlo ceremony was also some of his speciality.

He leaves behind six children, 25 grandchildren and 26 great grandchildren. He was a staunch servant of poetry and was also credited for taking Sekwena poetry to greater heights. He was also a member of a poetry quartet called Basimane ba Mokwena led by poetry great Moroka Moreri, Dipako Sesienyana, Rabojalwa Keetile, and Kaone Mahuma. Together they went on a mission to revive the art of traditional praise poetry in the country and they indeed made an excellent job. Rabojalwa was also a regular at Dithubaruba Cultural Festival in Molepolole where he would introduce Bakwena Chief, Kgosi Kgari Sechele III. Rabojalwa was a renowned poet who possessed unmatched oratory skills of yester year poets.

His eloquence in Setswana language and specifically Sekwena poetry put him up there with the best. Rabojalwa has done it all in poetry and as an elderly poet; he was regarded as an embodiment of rich Setswana language and culture. In an interview with Arts & Culture, a man who worked closely with him for years and a fellow poet, Moroka Moreri said Rabojalwa was Botswana’s own Shakespeare when it comes to poetry and a cultured historian of Sekwena tribe.

“He was a good scholar and was one of the few people who knew the history of Sekwena from 1925 to now. He was a language genius who mastered chronology in his poems. He is the kind of poet you would love to quote in your PhD thesis,” Moreri added. He said one of the many things he loved about Rabojalwa was his body posture when he recited his poems. “One a boka a eme, a thetha ka mmele.” Moreri recalls that he met Rabojalwa when he (Moreri) was still young. He said his first encounter with Rabojalwa gave him the impression that the latter was just a talker. “Then I saw him praise and perform for Dikgosi during a kgotla meeting and I was awed by the way he recited poetry”. Moreri said after the huge impression Rabojalwa left on him, he decided to mimic him during a wedding ceremony and people couldn’t stop talking about him. “I literally ran away afterwards because I thought people were laughing at me.

Rabojalwa a boka Kgosikgolo Kgari II								        Rabojalwa PICS: THALEFANG CHARLES
Rabojalwa a boka Kgosikgolo Kgari II Rabojalwa PICS: THALEFANG CHARLES

Following that incident I got the chance to share a stage with him during Independence Day celebrations. He was also impressed and told me to hold on,” he further revealed. Moreri also said they were then regulars during events and at some stage they shared a stage with Sesienyana and that was when the idea of Basimane Ba Mokwena was born. “Mahuma joined later but we were favorites among Bakwena so sometimes they would regard our performances as a competition. We just shrugged it off because we had then become friends,” he said. Moreri said the reason behind the name Basimane Ba Bakwena was because Kgosi Kgari III also loved their poetry and in the end they took a decision to praise him in every event that required their presence. He said Rabojalwa was not widely recorded but he has been recorded in various events and SABC once recorded him and asked to work with him in the future.


“Rabojalwa refused to travel to SA because he believed his late wife didn’t want him to. He had refused other offers to perform outside the country,”Moreri further revealed. Moreri added that as a person whose Setswana roots come from an academic background he respected Rabojalwa because he was not one but his vocabulary and oratory skills were unmatched. He said Rabojalwa was up there with Motswakgala Sealetsa Ponatshego Makane and Sekokotla Kaboyamodimo when it comes to poetry. He said he wishes the government could erect a Poetry Park where these legends could be honoured because they were are part of a rich Setswana culture. He said even as they bury these legends, it is not enough therefore the government should do more and give them the honour they deserve like in other countries. For his part, a young and talented poet who is often regarded as too good for his own generation Edwin Moroka said he knew the old man very well having shared the stage with him alongside Moroka Moreri.

“He was a poet I learnt a lot from because I once heard him praise the late Masire. He was rich when we talk about Setswanalanguage and he was a great custodian of Setswana culture. He was a great orator and he would arrange his words perfectly. I put him in the same category as late poetry greats such as Ponatshego Mokane and Sekokotla Kaboyamodimo,”he highlighted. Moroka added that Rabojalwa left a huge legacy and more so that he was a yester year poet and elder. “Rabojalwa was distinctive because he was born a poet and he wasn’t a poet who learnt poetry through school.

He possessed that feature we all wish we had. He didn’t write down any of his poems nor rehearsed but he just looked at the setting or atmosphere and recited his poems,” he added. Moroka also admitted that youthful poets cannot fill Rabojalwa’s shoes because they are just too big to fill. “They are still far because todays poetry is about competition so the likes of Rabojalwa were not in it for the competition but rather it was love and passion,” he further indicated. The young poet said legendary poets such as Rabojalwa should have been honored while they were still alive adding that he believes that Moroka Moreri will take over from where Rabojalwa left off.

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