© 2018 Dr. M. Sheppard

Botswana Kanye Households People Lands Cattle-post Crafts


This is an annual traditional ceremony (except after a bad harvest) and is usually held in September. After having been discontinued for several years it was revived around 1970 by the Chief, Seepapitso 1V. It is a harvest offering of tribute after a good harvest, but also it contains elements of rainmaking for the coming season. People are not supposed to leave for their Lands until after this ceremony has been held.  In 1979 this was very inconvenient as Dikgafela was postponed due to the death of the Chief's Rrangwane (father’s younger brother). It was held about 6 weeks late.

The idea of Dikgafela was that Badimo (Ancestors) are pleased because beer is brewed to be shared freely. As Badimo are pleased they will ensure good rain which will wash away the dirt on the ground from the old year, and also allow people to plough (which will give them food) and give the livestock water and grazing.

During the ceremony, every married woman from each kgotla must take a basketful of mabele (sorghum) to the Chief's kgotla then after brewing beer, they take a sample to be drunk at the Chief's Kgotla, returning to drink tue remainder during the following days, in their own dikgotla .

Dikgafela is an important custom, and as many of the songs refer to rain, and the Chief as a rainmaker etc., it can be assumed that there is a certain element of “rainmaking” for the coming agricultural year. The "merry- making" whilst the beer is being drunk creates conditions that please Badimo. Badimo, particularly the Chief's Badimo, are believed to have the power to withhold rain if they are displeased. The use of the moologa branches put onto the top of the baskets of corn is a wish that the last year's corn (mabele) should not run out before the new crop is harvested, and "beating" people with these branches and shouting "pula" is obviously to call the rain.

It should be noted that it is a serious offence not to take part in Dikgafela, to fail to attend or to contribute corn, or not brew the beer. Dikgotla who failed to organize their contributions were fined a bovine beast. After these fines were paid these beasts were immediately slaughtered at the Chief's Kgotla and the meat was eaten by those present.

Traditionally the mabele (sorghum) contributed during Dikgafela was stored in the tribal granaries, and then when families' crops failed they could buy it cheaply to feed their families until their new harvests. So the ceremony is also a functional way of providing against famine.

During my fieldwork three Dikgafela Ceremonies were held in four years. In 1977 it was held and there was a good harvest in 1978. It was held in 1978, but due to the death of the Chief's Rrangwane was postponed until late October. It ended on October 31st, on the last day the first rains came. On November 11th there was heavy rain, but by December it was obviously a year of drought, in fact it was one of the driest years on record. Later in 1979 the government had to organize drought relief. The drought was popularly explained as due to sorcerers and their activities, and also due to widowed people breaking the taboos - see sections on Death.

In 1979 there was therefore no Dikgafela as there had been no harvest in that year. In 1979-80 there were good rains and a good harvest, so Dikgafela was held in September. However there was some discussion in the Chief's Kgotla that it would not be held, for one reason it was the year Sir Seretse Khama had died and it was thought to be disrespectful to his memory to hold such a festival, also people accused the Chief of using the Dikgafela mabele for himself. The Chief in anger wanted to abolish it, but there were many protests and it eventually started on September 24th.

The sub-dikgotla's beer was mainly strained ready for drinking on October 24th, and on that day there was some rain. Where I lived, the beer was brewed from November 1st to November 5th, when its owner came to drink it. It was brewed late due to a family death, and had in the end to be drunk silently due to the death of a neighbour. There were good rains in 1980-1 and the harvest, in June, looked promising. The 1981 Dikgafela was therefore held during the last three weeks of October. People remained during most of November in Kanye as the rain failed to start properly. Finally, on 24th November 1981, at a kgotla meeting at the Chief's Kgotla to which all were told to come, it was announced that people should leave to the Lands and no new marriages would be registered until after ploughing had finished. Generally the 1981-82 saw a poor harvest and in 1982-83 there was a serious drought.

Dikgafela is usually celebrated in September and in a normal year often coincides with the Independence celebrations, which are held on September 30th, to commemorate Botswana's independence on September 30th 1966. This too is made into a tribal occasion. Schools, local groups (e.g. "Lands Choirs") and choirs from the sub-villages do sketches or songs both traditional and choral in front of the Chief at the Chief's Kgotla where people gather for the occasion. Sports events, especially football matches, are held at the various grounds and "feasts" are cooked at primary schools for the primary children, and some richer families may slaughter a beast and hold a feast.

(For full details on Dikgafela, photographs and links to You Tube video see separate section on DIKGAFELA)