© 2018 Dr. M. Sheppard

Botswana Kanye Households People Lands Cattle-post Crafts


The traditional way of planting a field at the Lands is to plant in strips of the different types of crops, the main ones being mabele (sorghum), mmidi (maize), and dinawa (beans of various varieties), pumpkins or water melons.

Nowadays some cash crops have been introduced, for example sunflower, groundnuts and green Indian beans (mung beans) called lotlhodi. These crops all ripen at different times. The earliest will start to ripen around late February or March, and some people may even start to have water melons and pumpkins in late January. Setswana beans (dinawa) are the first of the main crops to ripen, maize that is to be eaten fresh is another early crop, and also sweet reed. Around May and June, groundnuts (ditloo) .and peanuts (matonkomane) and the green Indian bean (lotlhodi) are harvested.

The bulk of the maize crop which is allowed to dry out first is also ready for harvest. Sorghum (the basic) is harvested after the first frosts, usually around late May and June.

Harvesting,threshing and the return to Kanye

There are various taboos (apart from those applying to the tasting of first fruits) attached to different crops. For example, lotlhodi (green Indian beans) may not be eaten until after the beginning of winter, which is signified by the first frost.

Until fairly recently tribal laws forbade the selling of surplus crops to outsiders, today people sell their cash crops and any surplus of the staple ones. In a successful year farmers may make much money from their fields, for example, two rows of sorghum grown according to modern methods of row planting and three weedings will yield one bag (50 kg) of sorghum.

As it takes the average family about 4-6 weeks to eat one sack there will therefore be a large surplus, this can either be sold locally or to the Co-operative in Kanye or the Botswana Agricultural Marketing Board (B.A.M.B.). Therefore ploughing can be a viable way of making money in a good year. For example, in 1980 50 kg sorghum sold for P14, dinawa P20 and lotlhodi P34.

Sweet reed

Harvesting beans - “back-breaking” as it involves bending for long periods

Harvesting sorghum. Ripened seed heads are cut off the stalks and collected temporarily in field before being taken back to the threshing area.

Most harvesting is by hand and obviously requires as much manpower as possible. School holidays coincide with the main harvest season and school children come out to the Lands to help. Also any working member of the family who works near enough will try to come at weekends. Harvesting beans is back-breaking work. The dried pods are collected into sacks and then threshed with threshing sticks on the threshing floor and then winnowed in the wind to separate offthe dried pods. The beans remaining are stored in sacks. Dried cobs are gathered and then allowed to dry out further before threshing off the cobs )in specially constructed structures called serala. Sorghum heads are picked off or cut off with a knife and then dried in another flatter type of serala. When maize and sorghum are dry enough they are threshed. Great care is taken not to mix the different crops or different varieties of, for example, sorghum.

The threshed and winnowed crops are then bagged up and transported back to the village home.

When all the harvesting has been completed, threshing has been finished and the crops are sewn into their sacks, people start to return to Kanye. This will be around late July or August. It is at this time of the year that weddings usually take place, also kgotla meetings, building of new houses etc. So the main social and community life now moves back to the main village. It should be noted however that an increasing number of people are practising winter ploughing as advised by the agricultural demonstrators. (In fact Bathoen 11 encouraged this practice from as early as the 1940s- “Tribal Innovators”,Schapera.)

A certain number of families, and the number is probably increasing,  do tend to spend much of the year at the Lands and even to live there permanently. As agriculture improves, and self-sufficiency in agriculture is increasingly emphasized as a development policy, no doubt an even larger number of people will live permanently at their Lands, thus affecting traditional life, and ceremonies such as Dikgafela that are centred in Kanye.


In between all the other tasks at the Lands, the threshing floor must be prepared. This is typically located inside the housing enclosure. The harvested crops are stored separately on this floor before threshing and winnowing.

Making bricks to repair the low wall around the floor

The floor needs to be re-smeared with first mud and then sealed with cattle dung.

When ready the crops are stored off the ground before they are threshed

Winnowing in the breeze to separate the grains from the chaff.

Lands houses are tidied and shut up until the next ploughing season, any cattle or goats are moved to the family’s cattle post