© 2018 Dr. M. Sheppard

Botswana Kanye Households People Lands Cattle-post Crafts

Traditionally as the crops started to ripen no one was supposed to eat anything from their fields until after the Ceremony of the First Fruits. Schapera describes this custom in "A Handbook of Tswana Law and Custom".

Although the custom is no longer strictly followed with the first tasting by the Chief's family, I did observe that it is probably quite widespread in a number of families. Once the new agricultural season has started and people have begun ploughing, members of families who keep the remnants of this custom do not eat any of the types of foods that are grown in their fields for example, maize cobs, sweet reed, melons pumpkins, beans etc., until they have first tasted them in their families. It is particularly a custom that is observed by women with small children and also by mothers whose sons are working in the mines. It is believed that if they were to eat these new crops before their children they will cause their death; for example, a small child will sicken and die or a miner will be caused to have an accident in the mines. The fact that the mother had broken a taboo, so causing the death of her child, would be discovered by the traditional doctor. who would, according to custom, be called to "see" the cause of death.

The Setswana name for this custom is Molomo (from Go loma - to taste.) Ideally the family gather together and an early pumpkin or melon is taken and cut up, then, starting with the youngest first, boys before girls, and lastly parents and old people, each person in turn bites off a little piece, chews it and spits it on to the ground. They then take a second piece, chew and swallow it in the normal way. Then the next person does the same and so on through the family. If a family's crops are later than most and they want to be able to start eating the new crops, for example, gifts from friends and neighbours etc., They will 'taste the first fruits" with pumpkin or melon leaves in the same way as described above.

After they have tasted in their family, individual members. are free to eat new crops at other people's houses. The crop that was tasted represents all of the new year's crops, it is not necessary to "taste" each one. Apparently this "tasting" is considered so important by some traditional families that if people give their children any crops to eat for example, pumpkin, even if it has been bought at the shops, that person could be reported and fined at the Chief's kgotla.

Although I would agree when Schapera writes that: "Today the public eating of the first fruits has long been abandoned, " I would not necessarily agree with the rest of his sentence: "... and the succeeding domestic rite is also no longer observed except by a few magicians and other conservative people..” I certainly found that a number of my acquaintances on being offered certain foods for example  honey dew melons from the local fruit shop would refuse, and on further enquiry would reveal that they had not yet "tasted" within their families. (This type of melon is not grown in Botswana but imported from South Africa and available from January which is before Lands grown early crops have ripened.)

Tasting the first fruits - Molomo

Melons are one of the first Lands crops to ripen. The ripe melon is cut up and then shared out first to the youngest child and then to the other children before being shared with the adults. After this “tasting” the family are then free to sample other new season crops as they ripen, both their own and those shared with them by neighbours.