© 2018 Dr. M. Sheppard

Botswana Kanye Households People Lands Cattle-post Crafts

Kanye and the Bangwaketse

Kanye is the capital of the Bangwaketse District and the surrounding land, Southern District is under the Chief.

The tribal boundaries were defined soon after Botswana became a Protectorate in 1885. The sub-villages are administered by Headmen who act on behalf of the Chief. The district also includes lands for ploughing, and separate areas where livestock are kept - the cattle-posts. Traditionally it also included the tribal hunting areas, but in modern times hunting has been severely restricted.

Kanye is located in South-eastern   Botswana. In 1976 the population of Southern District numbered about 96,400  (5.6% increase from 1971 census (Source Nat. Dev. Plan 1976-81) of whom about 40,000 have homes in Kanye. The rest are located in sub-villages in the Ngwaketse area. Today this local area is called Southern District. Kanye is the highest settlement in Botswana and the old part of the village, including the Chief's kgotla, is located on top of a flat-topped hill. To the Northern side of this hill is Phareng Gorge where there is a permanent spring, which is believed to be the reason why this particular location was chosen by the ancestors.

The Bangwaketse are one of the three senior tribes of Botswana. They themselves are supposed to be an off-shoot of the senior tribe of Botswana, the Bakwena. According to tradition Bangwaketse are descended from Ngwaketse who, together with another younger brother of Kwena (the ancestor of the Bakwena) called Ngwato (the founder of the Bangwato), seceded from the Bakwena and started their own tribes - the Bangwaketse and the Bangwato. This was probably sometime in the early part of the eighteenth century. (Exact and accurate dating is impossible due to lack of written records.) Bakwena and Bangwaketse traditions also disagree as to whether the Bangwaketse were actually then an independent tribe under Ngwaketse, or merely a ward subject to the Bakwena.

About eight chiefs later, under the reign of Mongala "traditions become more uniform and abundant" (1. Schapera"A Short History of the Bangwaketse" African Studies I, 1942), so Mongala is usually regarded as the founder of the modern tribe.

During Mongala's reign the Bangwaketse were still not based in Kanye. It was not until the reign of Makaba 11 in the early part of the nineteenth century that they moved here. But due to inter-tribal wars, intra-tribal wars, wars with the Boers, and the Matebele (Mzilikazi, a rebel general of Chaka Zulu, passed through this area on his way to settle finally at Bulawayo), Bangwaketse were scattered and fragmented many times. So they did not finally settle in Kanye until about the middle of the nineteenth century. The royal family settled on top of the hill for defensive purposes and most of the commoners made their dikgotla either around the Chief's kgotla or downhill.

The first missionaries to come to the Bangwaketse were from the London Missionary Society. They were invited by the Chief. The first missionary was a black missionary who started evangelising around 1848. He was called Sebubi. In 1871 the first white missionary, the Rev. J. Good arrived. The Chief had long requested the L.M.S. to send a white missionary. The Chief himself, Gaseitsiwe, was never converted but allowed some Christian principles to be introduced, and was taught to read by the missionaries. His son Bathoen 1 was converted, and during his reign he abolished certain traditional practices that conflicted with Christian belief, such as initiation ceremonies, the inheritance of widows by the dead man's brothers, and the importation of liquor.

The L.M.S. was the only Christian Church allowed for some time. In 1921, the Seventh Day Adventists started a hospital in Kanye, together with a mission, and in the early 1970's the Roman Catholics *and Lutherans developed permanent missions. Independent Church members were at first greatly opposed and members were even exiled to remote areas of the Bangwaketse Reserve. Independent Churches are those Churches started, led and run by black people (See sections on the Zion Christian Churches)

During the period of the inter and intra-tribal wars, groups from other tribes were incorporated into the Bangwaketse nation. These were either refugees, captives, or those who had been defeated. Sometimes these "foreigners" were mixed up in the different Bangwaketse dikgotla. or were settled as a separate kgotla of their own. For example some captives or refugees from the Matebele were settled in their own kgotla outside the village on the Lobatse side. Some Bahurutshe built their kgotla towards the Northern side of Kgwakwe Hill. Neither settlement was allowed to face towards the Chief's kgotla.

However, today the descendants of all these different peoples are regarded as Bangwaketse, but their origins can still be traced from their individual totems. Those people descended from Ngwaketse have the crocodile as their totem, i.e. the original Bangwaketse (this is also the totem for the royal families of the Bakwena and Bangwato, showing their common origins). Schapera compiled an analysis of the various peoples and their totems and the numbers of the tax payers (heads of households) of each. Although this is now out of date (1941) it still shows the various origins, if not the accurate numbers.

Ethnic Composition of the Tribe

Tribal Stock                      Totem                                          Taxpayers

Bangwaketse                     kwena (crocodile)                        2,855

Basebako                          kgomo (ox)                                  439

Bakgalagadi                       miscellaneous                                107

Bakgwatlheng                    tlou (elephant)                              129

Batsopye                            "            "                                     517

Batloung                            "            "                                      106

Baphaleng                         phala (roebuck)                              408
Bakwena                           kwena (crocodile)                          347
Bahurutshe                        tshwene (baboon)                          551

Bakhurutshe                      phofu (eland)                                 15
Batlharo                           tshwene (baboon)                           83

Bakgatla                           kgabo (ape)                                   911

Bangwato                         phuti (duiker)                                312

Batawana                          "         "                                        46

Barolong                          tshipi (iron)                                   38

Batlhaping                       thola (kudu)                                   170

Baphiring                        phiri (hyena)                                  74   

Bagalaka                         phuti (duiker)                                 14

Bataung                          tau (lion)                                        10

                                                                                 Total = 7132

However it should be noted that members of a kgotla do not necessarily share the totem of their Headman, as in the past refugees or captives were often put under a Headman of the royal or other important family. Totems are patrilineal. For example in the kgotla where I lived many of the people had nare (buffalo) as their totem. According to tradition they were captured by the Bangwaketse from the Matebele (this is a Matebele totem). The Headman on the other hand, had kwena (crocodile) as his totem as he is descended from the royal family. In a  neighbouring sub-kgotla tlou (elephant) was the totem, showing Bakgalagadi origins). However Schapera’s table does give a useful guide as to origin.

Besides these various totemic groupings of peoples there is a kgotla of coloureds (people of mixed race) who have been given refuge from South Africa. They mostly live in a section of Ga-Sebako and speak Afrikaans as their first language. Another separate grouping is the Masesuru, who originate from Zimbabwe. Therefore the present-day Bangwaketse include many different peoples. Apart from the coloureds and the Masesuru, who have their own customs and traditions, the others, although having different totems, share a common way of life.

Ruins on an early Bangwaketse settlement

Part of Kanye looking down from Uphill late 1970s

(“Modern” white buildings are a Primary School.)

Sketch map of Southern District showing sub-villages, roads and neighbouring tribal groupings

Before and After the Rains. Go-Lobeko, Kgotla, Kanye