ETHNONYMS: Batswana, Bechuana (colonial appellation)
Identification. Batswana are divided into a number of subgroups or "tribes": Bahurutshe, Bakaa, Bakgatla, Bakwena, Bamalete, Bangwaketse, Bangwato, Barolong (Seleka and Tshidi), Batawana, Batlhaping, Batlharo, and Batlokwa. There are approximately twenty-five totems (sing. seanô or serêtô ), which crosscut "tribal" boundaries.
Location. The Batswana region extends from approximately the Okavango River in the northwest, running southeast to the upper reaches of the Limpopo and southwest to the Kuruman area, northeast of the Orange River. In South Africa the majority of Batswana are in the north, in the region that was British Bechuanaland in colonial times, subsequently included the disconnected blocks that constituted nominally independent Bophuthatswana under the apartheid regime, and is now in the Northwest District. Although many Batswana were forced into the overcrowded homeland of Bophuthatswana after 1960, many others remained throughout South Africa, particularly in the urban areas around Johannesburg, in what is now the province of Guateng. There are also Batswana in Namibia and Zimbabwe. Batswana live in all parts of Botswana but are concentrated most heavily in the eastern part of the country, along a strip running east and west of the rail line that extends from South Africa north into Zimbabwe. This is also the region of Botswana that receives the greatest amount of rainfall and has the best agricultural potential. West of this region is the Kalahari (Kgalagadi) Desert (which is not considered a true desert but has sandy soils and is characterized by a lack of permanent surface water), where Batswana reside along with other ethnic groups, predominantly Bakgalagadi and Basarwa (Bushmen). Agriculture is practiced in the Kalahari but is extremely risky. Livestock (particularly cattle) raising has become widespread in the Kalahari since the 1960s, when numerous boreholes were drilled, and this, along with drought and overhunting, has led to the diminution of game (most of the large mammals of Africa are found in Botswana) in the region. The Central Kalahari and Chobe Game reserves are protected from livestock grazing and are still rich in game. The climate is semiarid subtropical; average daily maximum temperature reaches 33° C in summer and 22° C in winter. Average rainfall ranges from 65 centimeters in the northeast to 25 centimeters in the southwest.
Demography. The population of Botswana is approximately 1.4 million. Ethnic affiliation has not been recorded in the census since 1946; whether ethnic Batswana ("Batswana" can also refer to all citizens of Botswana, regardless of ethnic affiliation) make up the majority in the country remains a contentious issue. Most Batswana live in rural areas, but Botswana has the highest urbanization rate in Africa. There are over 2 million Batswana in South Africa. In Botswana, the population growth rate is 3.5 percent.
Linguistic Affiliation. Setswana is a Bantu language of the western Sotho group. (The prefix "Sef " refers to "language/culture of," "Bof " refers to "land of," and "Baf " refers to "people," whereas "Mof " is the singular.) There are a number of dialects within Setswana, all of which are mutually intelligible. Sekgalagadi (which is spoken by the Bakgalagadi) and the languages of many other neighboring groups are sufficiently similar to Setswana to be classified by some scholars as dialects, although this is debated by others. Setswana and English are official languages of Botswana and Setswana is one of eleven official languages in South Africa. Many Batswana also speak English, Afrikaans, or other Southern African Bantu languages; many adult men speak Fanagalo, the language of the mines.
History and Cultural Relations
New archaeological evidence continues to push the arrival of Bantu speakers into the Batswana area further back in time; it is now assumed that they arrived in southeastern Botswana around a.d. 600 or 700, displacing, absorbing, and/or living among Khoisan foragers and pastoralists. Ancestors of Sotho speakers are believed to have been in the area by about a.d. 1200, and by 1500 the major Batswana tribes/chiefdoms/nations began to form, through a process of fission and amalgamation of agnatic groupings, as they spread northward and westward from the Transvaal, in search of better watered pastureland.
A period of warfare, political disruption, and migration commonly termed the difiqane (Zulu: mfecane ) characterized the first quarter of the nineteenth century. These wars have conventionally been attributed to the rise of the Zulu state and to the innovative forms of political and military organization of its leader, Shaka. The causes of the difiqane have become a subject of late twentieth-century debate; it is now argued that European trade and slaving initially precipitated the period of warfare. The difiqane engendered a period of chaos, during which Batswana polities experienced varying degrees of suffering, impoverishment, political disintegration, death, and forced movement. At the same time, however, some groups, particularly the western Batswana chiefdoms, eventually prospered and strengthened to the extent that they incorporated refugees and livestock. Batswana polities are noted for their capacity to absorb foreign peoples, to turn strangers into tribespeople, and to do so without compromising the integrity of their own institutions. Socioeconomic mechanisms such as mafisa (which provided for the lending of cattle) and the ward system of tribal administration (see "Political Organization") facilitated the integration of foreigners. Not all peoples were welcomed into the Tswana fold; some remained foreigners, and some became subjects. The latter category includes peoples of the desert (Bakgalagadi and Bushmen) who are accorded a servile status termed "Batlhanka" or "Boiata."
European traders and missionaries (of the British nonconformist sects) began to arrive in the Batswana region in the first two decades of the nineteenth century. Trade (ivory, furs, and feathers being the most valued items) escalated after this period, and control over this trade dramatically empowered some Batswana chiefs, who were able to consolidate their control over extensive areas. By the mid-nineteenth century, Afrikaners, newly settled in the Transvaal, posed a threat to Batswana; Batswana chiefdoms acquired firearms to protect themselves, and many Batsana moved westward, into the area that is now Botswana. Christian missions were established throughout the region in the nineteenth century; today most Batswana profess to be Christian.
The discovery of diamonds and gold in the 1860s and 1870s in southern Africa led to the industrialization of South Africa and the introduction of the migrant-labor system, which continues to draw thousands of Batswana men to the mines (although recruitment from Botswana has been restricted since 1979). In 1885 the Bechuanaland Protectorate was established in the north of the region, and, in the south, British Bechuanaland was established as a Crown colony; ten years later it was annexed to the Cape. In 1966 Botswana achieved independence. In 1910 British Bechuanaland was incorporated into the Union of South Africa; in 1977, under the apartheid regime, the Tswana ethnic "homeland" of Bophutatswana was granted nominal independence by South Africa, but no other nation recognized it; in 1994, in conjunction with the first all-race elections in South Africa and the dismantling of apartheid, Bophutatswana was reincorporated into South Africa.
Batswana are noted for their large, nucleated villages, which can comprise as many as 30,000 people. Large compact villages or towns are associated with the aridity of the areas and the necessity of settling near reliable water sources and under chiefly power. In the past, chiefs were able to control the movements of people, the allocation of land, and the timing of agricultural activity through their centrality in rituals performed to ensure agricultural fertility. Town or village residence is the norm, but Batswana disperse their economic activities and typically have temporary residences at their agricultural fields (as far as 40 kilometers from the village) and near their grazing lands. Grazing lands are less demarcated than agricultural lands and can be hundreds of kilometers from the village. This settlement pattern can be envisioned as a series of concentric circles, with the main village residence in the center, agricultural fields surrounding the inner circle, grazing lands comprising the outer circle, and the bush beyond. There is a social dimension to this model, in that (with the exception of the temporary residences) those of highest rank tend to reside in the center, whereas those of lowest rank, especially members of servile groups such as Bushmen, reside on the periphery. Most Batswana continue to maintain a rural residence, even as urbanization increases. With the decline of chiefly power, more Batswana have established their primary residence at smaller centers, often near their agricultural fields.
Villages are organized into wards, each with its own headman, who is ideally closely related to the chief—or appointed by him—and is responsible to him. Wards are based on the patrilineal model, but many have absorbed nonagnates or nonrelatives. Within wards, compounds, which tend to be close to one another, are surrounded by perimeter bush or stone fences. Internal low mud walls separate living from cooking and other spaces. Each married couple has a house (traditionally, a round mud hut with a thatch roof, although rectangular concrete block houses with tin roofs are becoming popular) in which they and some younger children may sleep; there are additional huts for sleeping and storage. Raised granaries are less common now than in the past. Kitchen areas are usually inside the perimeter fence and enclosed by a bushfence firebreak.
Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Batswana have been called a peasant-proletariat to reflect the fact that they have been migrating to the mines, and to a lesser extent, to the White commercial farms of South Africa, for over a century and that wages constitute their single largest source of revenue. Mine contacts were temporary, often enabling the migrant to return home for the plowing season; until the late twentieth century, migrants were prevented by South African law from establishing permanent residence at their place of employment. New forms of employment have been emerging, especially in Botswana, where diamond mining has led to dramatic economic growth. State-sponsored welfare is important in both countries.
Local economic activities center on agro-pastoralism. Batswana rely on ox-drawn iron plows (but tractors are becoming increasingly common); the principal crop is sorghum. They also grow maize, beans, sweet-cane, and some millet. Some farmers engage in commercial agriculture. Batswana husband goats, sheep, and most importantly, cattle. Cattle are valuable for local exchange, for ritual purposes, for their milk, and less so for their meat; their sale provides an important source of revenue for rural peoples. Most households also keep chickens, and, in the east, some keep pigs. Hunting is far less important than it was in the past, when game was plentiful.
Industrial Arts. Batswana have long been tied to the South African industrial economy and have purchased items that formerly were made locally; these include most metal goods. In the past, men worked in metal, bone, and wood; women made pots, and both sexes did basketwork. These skills were often passed from parents to children. Some men still specialize in skin preparation and sewing, usually for trade, and men still make some wooden items, such as yokes for livestock. In northern Botswana, women make baskets, many of which are exported. Women build "traditional" Tswana huts, whereas men specialize in European-style thatch and "modern"-style houses. The latter are highly specialized skills. As in much of Africa, children fashion toys out of fence wire, tin cans, old tires, and almost anything they can acquire.
Trade. Archaeological evidence points to the great antiquity of local and long-distance trade. Marketplaces were not common in the region; most trade occurred among neighbors or with itinerant peddlers; in the early nineteenth century Griqua traders from the south traveled into the region; they were followed by Europeans. Trade increased with the arrival of missionaries during the nineteenth century, many of whom encouraged such commerce as a means of bringing "civilization" to the area. Europeans and, later, Asians established shops over the course of the colonial period. Virtually all villages now have trading stores, and many individuals—especially women—are "hawkers" who engage in trade from their compounds. Botswana is part of the South African Customs Union, and virtually every commodity is available in both countries.
Division of Labor. In pre-European times, men tended livestock, hunted, prepared fields, engaged in warfare, and participated in the formai public political arena. Women tended fields, gathered wild foods, and were responsible for the domestic arena, including looking after domestic fowl. With the introduction of the ox-drawn plow in the nineteenth century, men assumed the task of plowing, but women continued to perform most other agricultural work. The division of labor became less strict as more men migrated for wage labor and women increasingly engaged in livestock activities, especially plowing and milking. Boys worked extensively with livestock and spent long periods away from home at cattle posts. All children helped in the fields, and girls helped their mothers, especially with looking after younger siblings. Although wage labor has been available for men for over a century, until about the 1970s, women had little opportunity for wage employment; those jobs available were largely as domestics and on White-owned farms. In the late twentieth century greater opportunity exists for both men and women, but men still have an advantage over women.
Land Tenure. Traditionally, the right to use (but not to sell) agricultural land was inherited patrilineally by sons; women received access to agricultural lands as wives. Closely related agnatic kin tended to have fields in the same general area, which facilitated cooperation. Pastureland was in theory communal, but often areas were associated with particular groups. Since the advent of boreholes, the land surrounding them has become increasingly associated with (but not formally owned by) the borehole owners.
In Botswana, the majority of people live in the districts (former tribal reserves), where most land is held in common. Some areas, as provided under the Tribal Grazing Land Policy established in 1975, have been demarcated as commercial ranch land, and wealthy Batswana who are willing to invest in infrastructure (fences, boreholes, etc.) may take out long-term leases. Other land has been reserved as wildlife-management areas. Permission to use land in the communal areas is obtained from land boards. The land cannot be sold. Unlike in Botswana, where very little land was given over to Europeans, in South Africa Blacks were given only 13 percent of the land after 1913.
Kin Groups and Descent. Agnation is emphasized in Batswana kinship: along with primogeniture, it traditionally had the greatest influence on inheritance of property and succession to office. Individuals were identified with and came under the jural authority of their agnatic group (kgoda, or the diminutive kgotlana ); however, the formation of discrete agnatic units was and continues to be inhibited by the marriage system, which permits cousin marriages of all kinds. Patrilineal parallel-cousin marriages of near kin, although practiced mainly by the elite but permitted to all, serve to complicate the principle of unilineality and create ambiguous and overlapping links. Thus, there is a cognatic element to the system, which places emphasis upon kindreds (sing. losika ) and gives greater license to individuals to "construct" their social networks than is found in many patrilineal societies.
Kinship Terminology. With the exceptions of the term for cross cousin (ntsala ) and the term for sibling of the opposite sex (kgaitsadi ), virtually all Batswana kinship terms imply relative seniority and thus, relative authority. It is a classificatory system that distinguishes cross from parallel cousins (parallel cousin terms are the same as sibling terms), siblings of the same sex (these are distinguished by seniority) from those of the opposite sex, father's sister (rrakgadi ) from mother's sister (mmangwane ["small mother"]), and mother's brother (malome ) from father's brother (rrangwane ["small father"]). Parents' older siblings are referred to by grandparental terms (rremogolo ["great-father"], mmemogolo [great-mother]). There is considerable variation in the use of affinal terms.
Marriage. Traditionally, Batswana marriage was a process marked by a number of rituals and exchanges between the two families. No single ritual or exchange was definitive in confirming the existence of a marriage. Bride-wealth (bogadi —typically eight head of cattle) exchange was the most elaborate materially and ritually but it often occurred several years after the couple had been cohabitating, after children had been born, and occasionally after the death of the wife. Church and civil marriage have begun to replace traditional marriage, which has removed some of the ambiguity in marital status, but many people who observe "modern" marriage procedures still conduct traditional rituals and pay bride-wealth. Some tribes have prohibited bride-Wealth.
Polygyny, although not absent, is no longer common; serial monogamy and "concubinage" have, in some instances, replaced polygyny. Arranged marriages have largely ceased; however, despite the fact that spouses now choose each other, family approval is usually still sought and not always granted. Decisions are based less on the identity of the new spouse than on his or her family, the assumption being that families, not just spouses, are being joined together and that the right family will produce the right spouse. Family members (and sometimes even the chief) intervene if there are marital problems. The consequences of conjugal separation vary with the type of marriage and the stage of the marriage process. Civil marriages require formai divorce if the parties wish to remarry in the same way. If a "traditional" marriage dissolves, the wife usually returns to her natal home, taking some household property if she is the aggrieved party. Bride-wealth is almost never returned, attesting to the fact that its primary function is to affiliate children. The affiliation of children born before marriage or after divorce or widowhood is ambiguous and a subject of negotiation.
Batswana postmarital residence is ideally patrilocal; in some areas, overcrowding prevents this ideal from being realized. In addition, neolocal residence is common in urban areas, although most urban households maintain a rural residence.
Domestic Unit. A compound (lolwapa ) typically houses a family or multifamily unit, including foster children and, occasionally, nonkin dependents or servants. It is headed by the senior male—or female, if she is single. The eldest (sometimes the youngest) married son often resides with his wife and children in his parents1 compound and eventually assumes headship of it. Younger married sons build their compounds near those of their parents, and co-wives maintain their own compounds adjacent to one another or separated by those of married sons or unmarried daughters. Grandparents may live with their children or occupy a nearby compound. 1f the latter is the case, they usually maintain close links with their children and "eat from the same pot." Over 40 percent of rural households in Botswana are now headed by single mothers.
Inheritance. Primogeniture and agnation are the most critical factors influencing inheritance. A man's eldest son inherits most of his cattle, other property, and political office, although the latter can be contested. Younger sons receive fewer numbers of cattle from their fathers. Daughters are occasionally given livestock, although a daughter's cattle may remain with her brothers upon marriage or be transferred to her husband. Daughters inherit their mother's household utensils. A deceased person's personal effects are inherited by his linked maternal uncle or the uncle's survivor. Boys and, sometimes, girls inherit an ox from their maternal uncle after they have given him a specified gift—usually a bull, first animal hunted, or first paycheck. (See "Land Tenure" for rules of inheritance regarding land.)
Socialization. Both sexes nurture children, but their care and upbringing are largely the responsibility of women and other children, particularly girls. Grandmothers devote much time to child rearing. It is often believed that a young mother is not ready to entirely care for her own children, and elder female kin take on the responsibility—either keeping children with them or regularly intervening and training the young mother. As young women increasingly pursue employment or education, infants and children are sent to live with their grandmothers. The conventional two-year breast-feeding period is being reduced. In the past initiation ceremonies existed for boys (bogwêra ) and girls (bojale ). During the confinement away from the village, the children were subjected to hardships and tutored in adult responsibilities and knowledge. These ceremonies were made illegal by the British and are now undergoing somewhat of a revival, although their functions in terms of education have been largely replaced by formal education.
Social Organization. The Batswana developed powerful chiefdoms in the nineteenth century; members were internally ranked into royals (dikgosana ), commoners (badintlha ), immigrants absorbed into the tribe (bafaladi ), and non-Batswana clients (boiata). High rank brought both privilege and responsibility; for instance the chief (kgosi ) could command stray cattle (matimela ), labor, and first fruits from the harvest, but was also expected to display largesse to his followers. The system of rank, privilege, and responsibility has been much eroded but not eradicated. Now rank, patron-client relations, and class coexist as forms of stratification. Many Batswana own vast amounts of property and have highly remunerative employment, but far greater numbers are welfare recipients.
Political Organization. In the precolonial period the most powerful Batswana chiefs presided over large tributary states. Subchiefs and headmen who presided over wards and villages outside the capital were responsible to the chief. Chiefly power and succession were open to challenge, resulting at times in dynastic contests and tribal secession. Chiefs controlled the timing of initiation ceremonies and, thus, the creation of new regiments; these regiments provided chiefs with a labor and military force. In Botswana, the House of Chiefs was established at independence; the House advises but cannot make law. Chiefs and headmen have been incorporated into the civil service and preside over customary courts in Botswana. Traditional leaders have also played a role in South Africa, and the postapartheid government elected in 1994 is developing a policy toward them.
Social Control. Socialization, positive and negative social sanction, and fear of illness or other misfortune are powerful means of social control; however, when behavior violates custom or law, means of redress exist. Although not systematically codified, customary law (maloa ) and legal protocol are highly developed among the Batswana. Less serious crimes can be dealt with by the families of the parties involved. If a problem cannot be resolved at that level, it is taken to the kgotla. "Kgotla" refers both to a group of people and the place where they meet. Each ward has a kgotla, over which a headman presides. Villages have a central kgotla, and the central kgotla of the tribal capital is presided over by the chief. All men, and, in the late twentieth century, women, may speak at the kgotla and advise the chief. If a case cannot be resolved at a minor kgotla, it moves up the system and may eventually be tried at the chief's kgotla, which, in Botswana, is sanctioned by government. Certain offenses, such as murder, are addressed by the civil court system.
Conflict. In precolonial times Batswana groups fought among themselves and with others over territory, trade routes, and control over subject peoples. They raided for livestock and other property. British control and the demarcation of tribal boundaries in the late nineteenth century significantly diminished intergroup conflict. In the early twentieth century chiefs began to employ lawyers in their disputes with other chiefs. Ethnic tension is minimal but not absent and appears to be on the rise in the 1990s. Many Batswana were involved and some lost their lives in the antiapartheid struggle. Violence accompanied the dismantling of Bophutatswana in 1994, as some leaders were reluctant to relinquish their power.
Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. Although Batswana received Christian missionaries in the early nineteenth century (see "History and Cultural Relations") and most belong to a church today, precolonial beliefs retain strength among many Batswana. Missionaries brought literacy, schools, and Western values, all of which facilitated the transition to migrant wage labor. In precolonial times Batswana believed in a Supreme Being, Modimo, a creator and director, but nonetheless distant and remote. More immediate and having a greater influence in daily affairs were the ancestors, Badimo. Ancestor worship was reflected in the respect given to the elders and their capacity to influence the young; after death, their spirits left their bodies to join others. Badimo were venerated and invoked; appeals were addressed to them, and they were piacated with sacrifices, prayers, and appropriate behavior. Badimo intervened actively in daily life and they could withdraw their support, rendering their descendants vulnerable to disease and misfortune. Most Batswana today belong to African Independent churches that incorporate Christian and non-Christian practices, beliefs, and symbols.
Religious Practitioners. Most people have some knowledge of medicinal plants; dingaka (doctors; sing, ngaka ), however, are specialists in healing and magic. "Dingaka" is a collective term referring to many different types of specialties, which among others include rainmaking, compound protection, avenging sorcery, and women's reproductive health. Formerly, dingaka presided over rituals and aided the chief in protecting and controlling the village and tribe. Dingaka apprentice with others, often paying them a cow. Many divine using a set of bones: the interpretation of how they fall determines the source of a patient's problem. Baloi (sorcerers; sing. moloi ) manipulate substances for malevolent purposes. Baloi are believed to work by day or by night; in the latter case, they meet together, often transform into animals, and may cause their victims to do the same. Much illness and misfortune is attributed to their powers. Practitioners of the African Independent churches (e.g., a baporafota [prophet] or a baruti [minister or teacher]) also engage in healing. Their training is considered less rigorous than that of the dingaka.
Ceremonies. There are many ceremonies to mark lifecycle events: these include birth, the end of the three-month postpartum confinement, several marriage ceremonies, bride-wealth payment, and death. Increasingly, funerals have become the most elaborate life-cycle rituals. Funerals used to be conducted shortly after death but now the use of mortuaries has enabled funerals to be postponed. Thus, the expectations in terms of attendance, quality of coffin, and level of hospitality have escalated, and many more people can be notified and material resources assembled. Funerals have become one of the main venues for the expression of cultural, time, and resource commitment, both on the part of the aggrieved family and those attending, who are expected to work at the funeral and who expect to be fed. In the past initiations into adulthood were elaborate ceremonies lasting a few months, in which girls and boys were taken separately to the bush in the winter. The boys were circumcised. Other ceremonies tied to the agricultural cycle, such as those to initiate planting, to make rain, and first-fruits rituals, are no longer regularly practiced.
Arts. There are few specialized arts. Beadwork is practiced by some, and children are often adorned (sometimes for protection from malevolent forces) with beads and other decorations. Compounds and houses are often beautifully designed and painted. Song (pina ) and dance (pino ) are highly developed forms of artistic expression. Choirs perform and compete with each other on official and ritual occasions. They compose lyrics that offer narratives and critiques of the past and present. (See also "Industrial Arts.)
Medicine. Batswana have an extensive local pharmacopoeia. Medicines (ditlhare ["trees"] or melemò ) are used for treating ailments in humans and animals, for fortification, protection, fertility, injury, making rain, and so on. Batswana seek medical help from a number of sources, including clinics and hospitals, traditional practitioners, and Christian healers. Western medicine is more or less universally acknowledged for its ability to treat symptoms, but other healers are frequently sought in order to address the causes of illness and misfortune. (See "Religious Practitioners.")
Death and Afterlife. Death is usually considered to have both natural and supernatural causes. Traditionally, men were buried in their cattle kraals and women in the compounds. Small children were buried under houses. Many people are still buried in this fashion, although cemeteries are increasingly used. Funerals are highly elaborated, expensive, and can last up to a week (see "Ceremonies"). Livestock are slaughtered during the funeral to feed guests. Priests and, often, traditional healers preside over funerals, administering rites to the bereaved that are directed toward exorcising thoughts of the dead from the living so that they will not "go mad" from their grief. After death, elders become ancestors (Badimo) (see "Religious Beliefs"). People who die with regrets are believed to become ghosts (dipoko ); their souls remain in the grave by day but rise at night to haunt the living.
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JACQUELINE S. SOLWAY