Botswana People

Bakalanga Tribe of Botswana

The Bakalanga is the second largest population group in the country and have also fallen victim to the artificial colonial boundaries. The boundary between Zimbabwe and Botswana split the Bakalanga into two groups, with most of the country’s Bakalanga living in the Francistown region. Although they own cattle and goats, they are primarily agriculturalists to whom the tilling of the land plays an important role in their customs and religion.

Cattle ownership among Bakalanga does not afford the individual the same prestige as it does the Batswana; usually only the chief kept cattle for the common good of the tribe. As a result of historical turmoil, groups of Bakalanga are to be found as far afield as Maun, Palapye, Serowe, Mahalapye and Mochudi.

Bakhalagari Tribe of Botswana

Possibly the earliest of the black people to settle in Botswana who are still living there. They moved west from South Africa and had almost encircled the Kalahari by 1700. Harsh living conditions and encroachment on their land by stronger tribes reduced their numbers by about 80 000, mostly in the Kalahari region, and today many have been assimilated by the other, more dominant groups.

Basubiya Tribe of Botswana

The people who live in the Chobe enclave settled there in the early 18th centory before building a powerful empire that included the Bayei and the Hambukushu. They are agriculturalists who, unlike the Bayei of the floodplains, plough the dry lands. They plant their crops in late winter, after the flood has receded, to take advantage of the moist soil.

Batawana Tribe of Botswana

Botswana means ‘land of the Batswana,’ the tribal people who inhabited the area of land now known as Botswana and parts of South Africa. The ancestry of the Batswana can be traced back to the mid-14th century, when the son of a Kwena chief, Malope, left present-day Pretoria to settle around what is now the Zeerust area of the western Transvaal. After three centuries, eight identifiably coherent groups emerged. The other Batswana groups are the Batawana, the Bakgatla, the Barolong, the Balete and the Batlokwa. Three quarters of the Batswana now live in South Africa. The remaining Batswana in Botswana constitute about half of the population. Historically, the leadership structure of a tribe, or morafe, consisted of a kgosi, who was the chief and a member of the royal family, his family members and their servants. The kgosi was the ultimate authority, who devoted all his time to the tribe and was constantly on hand to help people with their problems. He was responsible for law and justice, defence, the health of the tribe, controlling the wealth and bringing rain. He maintained control of his armies by placing close members of his family at the head of every regiment. Although many of the kgosi’s powers have now been assumed by the state, he still plays a central role in the community life.

The Batswana are predominantly a pastoral society. Traditionally, wealth lies in the ownership of cattle, and many laws and traditions revolve around cattle ownership and the transfer of these animals between families. The kgosi had the power to repossess cattle for a family’s misdemeanours and to redistribute the confiscated beasts. A bridegroom’s family was required to transfer a bogadi (dowry) of cattle to his bride’s family for marriage. A man would therefore marry his cousins knowing that when his children in turn married their cousins, the cattle given for his wives would come back to him.

The Batswana had a traditional social security system by means of the extended family. All members of a family had rights to and duties of support, meaning that a working person could be responsible for the support of over ten other people. Due to the influence of Western society, the extended family system is breaking down.

Individual ownership of tribal land was not recognised and a person was only granted use of the land. Once the person had left the land, another was able to apply for its use. Nowadays a person can be granted user rights which can either function as a security against loans or sold to someone else, with the profit going to the user.

Urbanisation has had a major effect on the social and cultural life of the Batswana. The influence of the tribal system is diminishing, and negative effects include an increased crime rate and other social problems inherent to Western urban living.

The language spoken by the Batswana is Setswana, which is also the national language. There is a dialectal difference between regions, but people don’t have any difficulty communicating to those from other regions.

Bayei Tribe of Botswana

Bayei men will be your polers if you undertake a traditional mokoro safari in the Okavango Delta. These friendly, peaceful people found refuge in the Okavango while moving away from the Mababe area to avoid both the slave-hunters from Angola and the Balozi people of the upper Zambezi floodplains, who were expanding their territorial authority. They have accopied the periphery of the Okavango Delta since the end of the 18th century. Those who lived in the tsetse-fly infected areas of the Okavango Delta subsisted on fish, while the cattle herds were kept on the non-infested fringes.

Hambukushu Tribe of Botswana

The Hambukushu shared many of the hardships of the Bayei and were driven westwards from southern Zambia to the main Okavango River where they tilled the land along its banks. The last major influx of Hambukushu arrived from southern Angola as refugees during the Angolan civil war of the 1970s. They settled in the Etsha region along the western fringe of the Okavango and are regarded as master basket weavers.

Khoi Tribe of Botswana

The Khoi are of the same racial and linguistic group as the San, the Khoi (commonly known as Hottentos) are distinguished from their cousins by a generally more settled lifestyle, by their greater preoccupation with ownership of cattle – and by the precepts and social structures these elements have helped create. Their cattle-owning ancestors were probably living in northern Botswana just over two millenia ago. Later Khoi groups – the Nama – filtered in from Namibia in the west, most notably during the German’s colonial wars of the early 1900s, many of them to settle around Bokspits in the extreme south-west, and in Matsheng in the northern Kgalagadi district.

Ovaherero Tribe of Botswana

The Ovaherero nation is split into three main groups: the Herero who live mostly in Namibia, the Mbanderu who mainly live in Botswana and the Ovahimba who live in northern Namibia and Angola. Although the majority of these people are in fact Mbanderu, the name ‘Herero’ is far more widely known.

Many Ovaherero are realitive newcomers who fled from a war of extermination perpetrated against them by the Germans in 1904/1905. They settled in the area to the west of the Okavango and in the south, particularly in the Lake Ngami region. They had lost all their possessions and had to work as servants for the Batawana. Being proud, determined and pastorial people, they rebuilt their herds and are now major cattle owners. Among these people, a man who does not own his own beasts has no standing in society and is even expected to become a servant of a cattle owner.

Traditionally, they worshipped their ancestors. Records of ancestors and their burial grounds were passed on orally from generation to generation. Although not as important as the tribal ancestors, they also believed in a higher being. Today the old religion is hardly ever practised and has generally been replaced by Christianity.

Some Ovaherero object to having their photograhs taken on religious grounds.

San Bushmen

Unfortunately, the San have often been regarded as second-class citizens in Namibia as well as neighbouring Botswana and during the course of history, Bantu-speaking people from north-east Africa and Europeans forced the San into the Kalahari, where most of them still live nowadays.

The 45.000 San, one of the most intriguing people in this world, are the region’s earliest inhabitants (it is estimated that they have been living here for the last 30,000 years)and are still settled in many parts of southern Africa where game and veld food used to be plentiful more than three centuries ago.

The San live in isolated groups in the widespread semi-desert regions of the Kalahari and traditionally used to be hunters and gatherers who migrated in small family bands. The San groups can be divided into six sub-groups being the !Xu, the Naró, the Kxow or Mbarakwengo, the Hei-||om the |Auni and |Nû||en. In the past these groups had little to no contact with one another, this is changing though as San interests are being promoted across the boarders in Botswana and Namibia and slowly resulting in some kind of group solidarity.

Recently a delegation of Namibia’s Hei||om petitioned to the Ministry of Lands, Resettlement and Rehabilitation claiming their ancestral lands back. Without this land they argue, they would soon loose their cultural identity, being scattered all over Namibia and forced to look for jobs.

The San population have a relative lack of a leadership institution, they therefore have no chiefs or system of leadership and individual decision making is part of their culture. As a completely mobile society, the San followed the water , game and food and had no animals, crops or possessions. Traditionally women tend to look after the children as well as collecting edible plants whereas the men are involved in hunting.