© 2018 Dr. M. Sheppard

Botswana Kanye Households People Lands Cattle-post Crafts

Those churches  classified here as “Orthodox”, are those originating from foreign, usually white, controlled churches, the ones classified by Martin West  in “Bishops and Prophets in a Black City” (1976) as Mission Churches.

Christianity and Christian missionaries were introduced into Botswana (then Bechuanaland) in the nineteenth century at the request of the Tswana chiefs. Although only two of the five chiefs to request Christian missionaries to set up missions in their tribal areas were subsequently baptized themselves (Sechele of the Bakwena in 1848, and Moremi 11 of the Batawana in 1881) the other three (Sekgoma of the Bangwato, Kgamanyane of the Bakgatla and Gaseitsiwe of the Bangwaketse) had at least some of their children brought up and educated by the Christian missionaries.

All the succeeding chiefs were Christian. There was in Bechuanaland very little persecution by heathen chiefs of Christians and many of them actively helped the missionaries by, for example, tribal taxation and tribal labour to build churches, their missions and schools. In Botswana there were no cases of Christian martyrs.

The L.M.S. Mission introduced Christianity to the Bangwaketse and until fairly recently enjoyed almost a religious monopoly. Robert Moffatt actually visited and preached to the Bangwaketse in 1824. Then while he was visiting the Barolong in 1827 on the Molopo River, Chief Sebego (Ngwakestse Chief 1824-44) sent messengers to invite him to visit the Bangwaketse. When these messengers were unsuccessful in persuading Moffatt to come, Sebego took an unprecedented step by coming to ask Moffatt personally. Moffatt writes of this visit, that the Barolong "... were still more surprised when he (Sebego) told them he had broken an established law of his people, which would not permit the king to leave his own dominions, but that his martial appearance among them was on designs of peace; for his sole object was to induce me to accompany him to his capital.” (Quoted in “A Short History of the Bangwaketse" P7 from Moffatt P.46-9)

When Moffatt insisted that he could not come, Sebego requested him to send another missionary. Moffatt remembers this and the Paris Evangelical Missionaries who arrived in Kuruman in 1830 were destined for Bangwaketse. However the Matebele attacks on the Bangwaketse intervened and the missionaries were sent elsewhere.

The next two decades were very unsettled, the tribe suffering not only from further Matebele attacks, but also internal fissions and the attacks from neighbouring tribes. In 1842 Sebego sent messengers to David Livingstone who during the 1840's lived with the neighbouring 3akwena, requesting Livingstone's help. Of this Livingstone writes:- "Sebego, like many of the other people of the country, had the notion that if he got a single white man to live with him he would be quite secure. ( Quoted in itA short History of the Bangwaketselt P.10 from W.G. Blaikie. “The Personal Life of David Livingstone” and the Edition 1894:40ff.

In 1848 the L.M.S. sent a black missionary called Sebubi to live with the Bangwaketse and start the L.M.S. Mission. However, the Chief, like the other neighbouring Chiefs, probably for the reason given above by Livingstone, particularly wanted a permanent white missionary.(“Tribal Innovators” - the Bangwato had a white missionary in 1862, the Bakwena in 1866 (in the 1840's they had had Livingstone) and the Bakgatla in 1864. (1. Schapera (1970). Following repeated requests, the L.M.S. finally sent the first white missionary, the Rev. J. Good in 1871. This was during the reign of Gaseitsiwe.

Gaseitsiwe himself never became a  Christian  but allowed changes to be made influenced by his missionary. His son, Bathoen, who later became Chief Bathoen I, was educated by the L.M.S. Mlsslonarles, Seepapitso I was educated at a good school in Cape Colony and Bathoen 11 at the L.M.S. Lovedale, also in South Africa.

In 1889 a law was passed enforcing the Sabbath, forbidding all people, Christian and non-Christian, to travel by wagon or work in their fields on Sundays. Bathoen I actually had this law displayed at the entrance to Kanye, informing "My people and all other people, that no wagons, shall enter or leave the town on Sunday"  (Schapera “Tribal Innovators” p 16). In 1894 Bathoen I helped the L.M.S. to build a church in Kanye. He raised the Bangwaketse's contribution of £2000 by taxing Christians and non-Christians alike. Age regiments were called out to mould bricks and work as building labourers.

By the beginning of the 20th century the L.M.S. was the established Bangwaketse tribal Church. Although people were not forced to become Christians, several customs, ritual practices and ceremonies associated with traditional religion, particularly those held at a tribal level, had either been Christianized or abolished. For example traditional rainmaking was abandoned after 1892, instead a Christian service was substituted. This like the traditional ceremony was celebrated at the Chief's Kgotla by all the tribe and led by the Chief and the L.M.S. missionary (the latter in many ways performing a comparable role to one of the types of traditional doctors -dingaka tsa morafe) who acted in a similar role at traditional ain making).

The last traditional initiation ceremony was held in 1896. From 1901 a naming ceremony was held for boys' age sets. This lasted only one day. The girls had no substitute for the traditional ceremony, but it became the custom for the girls of the new age set of boys to call themselves by the same name.

The ceremonies associated with the agricultural year were not disapproved of by the L.M.S. mission and were retained but often modified (i.e. Letsema (the inauguration of the ploughing season), Molemo (First Fruits), and Dikgafela (harvest thanksgiving.)

Chiefs, probably under the influence of their mainly teetotal missionaries, passed laws about beer and kgadi (Kgadi, a potent locally made spirit). For example, in 1892, Bathoen I prohibited the sale of traditional beer and in 1910 banned night time beer parties. Seepapitso I repeatedly warned people in addresses at Kgotla meetings, not to drink beer to excess because they were wasting mabele (sorghum) that should be made into porridge. He also reaffirmed Bathoen's laws in 1911. In the 1930's Bathoen 11 wanted to suppress either the sale of beer or beer drinking itself, but his advisers warned against the latter option and so the 1933 law merely reinforced Bathoen I's 1892 law (Schapera Tribal Innovators P. 211).  In 1904 the Kgadi Law prohibited kgadi altogether. This was a very unpopular law and chiefs continually had to refer to it at Kgotla meetings. For example, in 1929 Bathoen 11 stated at a Kgotla meeting "That enemy called Kgadi is still present in this town, and I warn you it must leave at once." In 1930 Bathoen 11 actually called up an age regiment and sent it to search for kgadi. When the offenders were brought in he said: "Today, I shall pardon the offenders, but if it happens again, I shall make them suffer." (Schapera Tribal Innovators P. 212)

However, some other traditional practices that the missionaries did not like and caused problems in other parts of Africa were left unaltered. For example, bogadi (bridewealth) was not abolished and in fact still is enforced today. Polygamy never seems to have been very widespread among the Tswana, although at times laws were made forbidding it, for example, in 1915 Seepapitso I made a law forbidding men of the two youngest age regiments created in 1901 and 1909 to have more than one wife without his permission. During the regency period of 1916-28 this law was not strictly enforced but was revived by Bathoen 11 in 1931 when polygamy was forbidden for men of all age sets created in or after 1909. In 1935 he made a further decree whereby men taking more than one wife without his permission could be fined two head of cattle, the second wife and her children would be sent away without any possessions, and if they still lived together, her father was liable for a fine of three cattle. By the 1940's only 11% of the Tswana men were polygamists and among the Bangwaketse only 4%. (1946 Census Report.) However it should be noted that the Chief would usually grant permission for a man to take a second wife if his first wife was childless.

With regard to Bogadi (bridewealth), despite missionary pressure, in 1913, Seepapitso I stated it was compulsory for all except church members, at the time of their marriage. Bathoen 11 in 1930 extended this law to include all marriages, including those of Christians if the wife's parents requested it.

As already stated above the L.M.S. had a virtual monopoly on the Bangwaketse area. Applications from other missions were turned down by the Chiefs. For example in 1912 Bathoen I's successor, Seepapitso I, turned down an application from the Anglicans and in 1929 Bathoen 11 refused the Roman Catholics permission to open a mission. As will be seen in the section on Zion Church history , secession had already started from the orthodox Christian churches of Southern Africa by the beginning of the twentieth century. The Kanye L.M.S. Mission also had a secession at this time led by an Evangelist Mothowagae Xotlogelwa who seceded in 1902 after being refused full ordination. He and his followers called their new church the King Edward Bangwaketse Free Church. At first Bathoen I did not object and even allowed them to meet at the Kgotla for their services. But when it became obvious some years later that this church was being used as a political movment by Bathoen l's enemies, he ordered its members to return to the L.M.S. and banished Mothowagae Motlogelwa from Kanye. There were two kgotla court cases about this, in 1910 and 1912.(Schapera 1942. "A Short Historyof the Bangwaketse" pp 20 and 22..: Schapera 1942.)

However, in the 1920's the L.M.S. monopoly was broken. The Seventh Day Adventist mission was first admitted to Kanye by ActingChief Tshosa and later confirmed by Bathoen with the consent of the tribe. The main reason why they were admitted was because unlike the L.M.S., they agreed to open a medical mission. However when in 1939 the S.D.A. mission asked permission to build a church in an outlying village, Bathoen 11 agreed to put their request to the tribe, but the tribe refused because they said that the S.D.A. did not observe Sunday: " concerning which we have a great law; they work on that day, they plough on Sunday and they weed on Sunday, and such deeds violate our commandment…” (Schapera “Tribal Innovators” P. 227. This law referred to is the one made in 1889).

However by the 1940's the majority of Bangwaketse Christians, as in other tribes still belonged to one Christian Church, in the case of the Bangwaketse this was the L.M.S. In the 1946 Census, which was the only one to show this type of information, 40% of the Bangwaketse stated they were Christians. (The same Census showed the Bangwato and Batawana with 20% Christians each, the Bakwena with 40% and the Bakgatla with 65%.)

Probably by stating this they meant they were paid up members, the percentage who held Christian beliefs was probably higher.

Schapera notes that the Christian conception of God had replaced the old idea of Modimo even among heathens. There was also no formal traditional religious system left on a tribal level as the Chief was also a Christian. Since 1938 it has been compulsory for all dead to )e buried in the tribal graveyards. Today it is the common practice to bury all dead in a Christian rather than traditional way, i.e. the body is placed in a supine, not traditional sitting position, usually inside a coffin. Christian prayers and hymns commonly form the major part of at least the public burial services. It is also common for many public functions, for example, Kgotla meetings, feasts, celebrations and large meetings to open or close with Christian prayers. At schools there is a daily Christian assembly.

Today (1980's), however, the L.M.S. no longer enjoys a monopoly. Freedom of worship was granted by the new democratic government at Independence. In any case with the greatly increased mobility around Botswana of all government workers it is no longer feasible to allow only one tribal church. In Kanye today, the L.M.S, still has its large church uphill, built in 1894 with the aid of tribal taxation and labour. It is still the church of the Chief's family and particularly of the older generation. Ex-Chief Bathoen 11, who abdicated in favour of his son Seepapitso IV, (This was so Bathoen 11 could become a B.N.F. M.P. In opposition to the the ruling B.D.P. By the constitution Chiefs are  barred from sitting in the National Assembly.)  regularly plays the organ and preaches at services. For many years Batswana have been ministers and there has been no white missionary.

The S.D.A. Church is probably the main rival, it attracts many members, especially women. The mission has built not only a large church but also a church hall near the S.D.A. hospital on top of the hill. A lighted cross shines out at night. It still has American white missionaries but there are also Batswana ministers.

In the early 1970's the Roman Catholics and Lutherans were both granted land to build missions. These two missions are run by white foreign missionaries. The Lutherans draw a membership from particularly the "coloured" population, but the missionaries also visit Kgalagadi and Southern Districts regularly and new churches have been started in sub-villages. In 1983 a permanent Lutheran mission staffed by an American missionary will be started in Werda in Kgalagadi District. The Lutherans are also negotiating to open a Youth Trade School on the outskirts of Kanye.

The Anglicans still do not have a Church, but the Lobatse church holds occasional services at the home of one of the white traders.

In the mid-1970's, two couples of American Jehovah Witnesses rented a large house from a local rich businessman and started their activities. They collected together a congregation and obtained money from America to build their own mission house and a church, for which the Land Board have granted them land. Some of their members now carry out similar activities to their Western counterparts i.e. visiting people at their homes to warn them of the approaching Day of Judgement and eternal punishment in Hell for non-Jehovah Witnesses, standing outside Kanye's main shop to recruit members and sell their tracts to busy Saturday shoppers.

There is also a Pentecostal Faith Mission. This draws a membership from the "coloured" population, in whose Kgotla its church is located. The Kanye Church has a Motswana minister, holds periodic missions, often involving erecting a marquee, showing films and holding services. These missions are supported by white American and/or white Soutn African missionaries.

All churches hold regular Sunday services (Saturday for the S.D.A.) and often hold smaller services during the week. Thursday afternoon, as in South Africa, is reserved for Women's Church Meetings/Services. It is common for a church to have a special uniform for women members accepted into these groups. The women attend these Thursday afternoon meetings wearing their uniforms with pride, to pray and conduct Bible Study.

Today in Kanye there is a high degree of religious tolerance. Most people, although they may not belong to a church, believe in God and are Christian. Everyone knows some hymns and prayers from all the churches. On public occasions, especially at funerals, hymns and prayers from all the churches will be sung. There is no doubt that all the churches, both orthodox and independent, provide one of the main social opportunities

The Orthodox Christian Churches in Kanye