A ngaka is not a doctor

November 21, 2014

In our haste to translate a word from one language to another, we make translation blunders that usually stay with us for a rather long time until they are disputed or challenged. Today I consider how we have over time translated the word “ngaka” into English and how we have translated the English word “doctor” into Setswana as “ngaka”. It is important to observe that words gain meaning from specific cultural contexts. Outside such contexts such words lose their meanings and become empty shells. There is nothing like “meaning without context”. Meaning is always contextual – contexts are either assumed or clearly stated. Meaning is therefore a cultural construct. Let’s consider the two words that are a subject of our discussion. The word “doctor” in English has fairly two main meanings: First: someone whose job is to treat people who are ill or injured and second, someone who has the highest degree given by a university. It is the first meaning of “doctor” that will concern us in this column though the second meaning has been poorly translated into Setswana as “ngaka” as well. We must however admit that the term doctor is a general term that is used to identify different types of medical practitioners. There is a specific type of doctor for almost every major system located in the human body. For instance we can use the term doctor for any of the following: audiologist, allergist, anesthesiologist, cardiologist, dentist, dermatologist, oncologist, gynecologist, immunologist, neurologist, obstetrician, pediatrician and many others. The listed doctors specialize in medicine that deals with the different parts of the body. The key matter here is that “doctors” deal with “the human body”. Let’s pause here and look at what the word “ngaka” in Setswana means.

For us to understand what a “ngaka” is, we need to understand the Tswana belief in witchcraft. In Tswana traditional culture, illness, death and misfortune generally have a grim source. They are believed to be a consequence of witchcraft. Witches (for indeed the evildoers were believed to be old women and not male) were said to be behind all evil acts that befell individuals and families. The old witch was said to walk bent by day looking sickly, and to surprisingly gain extraordinary agility by night. She walked the night covered in ashes and the blood of the dead. Her mode of transport was an open basket or a wild animal such as a hyena. The Tswana believed that witchcraft was a consequence of malice, jealousy, envy and a heart full of debauchery. The witch could attack any part of human life. The “ngaka” was therefore needed to neutralize the evil works of witchcraft.

The Batswana have for a long time depended on the services of a “ngaka” in the various elements of their lives. A “ngaka” is central to the following: the coronation of a “kgosi”, a wedding celebration, funeral and burial, confinement, farms, livestock, the establishment of a new homestead and in the treatment of physical and spiritual illness. Traditionally “dingaka” are specialists. There were “dingaka” that treated sexual infections, children’s diseases, established a homestead and those who strengthened a new marriage.

There are two types of “dingaka: dingaka tse di dinaka” and “dingaka tse di tšhotšwa”. “Dingaka tse di dinaka” are those that use divination bones to determine the source of a problem. These “dingaka” include the “dingaka” of the royal house, the “dingaka” of the whole “morafe” as well as “baroka”, who are rainmakers. “Dingaka tse di tšhotšwa” don’t use divination bones. They are de facto traditional pharmacists. They have a deep knowledge of medicines and diseases. Usually they are not as famous as “dingaka tse di dinaka”. They can treat a disease successfully without using divination bones. Usually, they are trained by “dingaka tse di dinaka” and would have been under their instruction for some time.

One of the major roles of a “ngaka” like a “doctor” is to treat an individual’s body. A “ngaka” usually gives a patient medicine made from roots, bark of a tree or animal fat or snake. These were smeared on the body or someone had to bath in a concoction of traditional medicine: “a tlhapisiwe! A itewe ka seditse – seditse ke lofeelo”. To a poisoned individual, a “ngaka” gave medication that caused one to vomit ingested poison. The “ngaka” also ensured that an individual was protected at the most critical stages of life: at birth, “bogwera/bojale” and wedding. The “ngaka” that doctors a wedding is called “setimamolelo” (one who quenches fire). The “ngaka” protects the wedding and strengthens the marriage so that it doesn’t encounter misfortune. “Setimamolelo” is usually brought by the groom and not by the bride’s family. He would doctor the marrying couple, the kitchen, the pots and the beast that killed for the festivities. “O duelwa ka letsogo la kgomo!”

In general, the “ngaka” used strong medicine to protect individuals. He did this by cutting a patient’s joints such as at the knees and elbows and smearing charms on the cuts to put medicine directly into the bloodstream, which protected one against the works of witchcraft. Charms were also used on men before they departed for battle. These charms made them strong in battle and protected them against death. Women were also occasionally given charms to help them with fertility.

The second major role of a “ngaka” was to protect the livestock. The livestock was doctored so that it increased in number, was safe from theft and from being mauled by wild animals. When the kraal was doctored, all male sons were supposed to be doctored together with the livestock. If this wasn’t done, it was believed that they would lose their minds.

Traditionally a new homestead could not be established without the aid of a “ngaka”. All the corners and the centre of a homestead were doctored. This was done at night. A “ngaka” was paid by a cow after securing the homestead.

The “ngaka” was also used in the protection of farmlands from jealous individuals who would bewitch the farm so that it bore no crops. The “ngaka” also doctored the farm against excessive pests.

Batswana also had “baroka” or rainmakers who were responsible for making rain for the morafe. The “baroka” however have always been rare amongst the Tswana.

I have tried to demonstrate that the word “ngaka” in traditional Tswana society has a wide application than doctor. It is not as restricted as the word “doctor”. Only a very narrow sense of the word “ngaka” is synonymous with that of the English word “doctor”. “Ngaka” doesn’t just heal the body as a “doctor” does, he uses his charms to protect men going into battle, he protects a newly wedded couple, he multiplies one’s livestock and protects it from wild animals. With his charms he sets a king on the throne and protects his kingdom from challenge. Certainly a “ngaka” is more than just a “doctor”; he is much more than that. I am therefore left with only one conclusion to make: there is no English word which is a direct translation of the Setswana word “ngaka”.

Coke, why isn’t my name on your can?

November 11, 2014

As one of its campaigns for individuals to have an emotional attachment to their drink, Coke has introduced a promotional strategy that involves personal names printed on a Coca-Cola can. This strategy seems to be working with a certain quarter of the society who feel a sense of pride with having their personal names on a Coca-Cola can. However, there have been some who have felt that KBL wasn’t fair in their determination of the choice of name to include on a Coke can. Some of those individuals whose names have been left out feel aggrieved and want this injustice to be rectified as soon as possible. They are in particular aggrieved that some undeserving names have made it to the Coke can while the deserving ones have been left out. As one who isn’t interested in their name appearing I thought I should volunteer my services to provide an answer to the top 100 names which should appear on the Coke can. My selection is based on some statistical work on names that I have done in the past.

For this study a database of names was compiled. The names were collected from diverse sources amongst these being: graduation name lists, school class lists, examination result lists for both primary and secondary (junior and secondary school) downloaded from the Botswana Ministry of Education and others scanned and transcribed from the Botswana’s Examination Unit. The database has 955,219 names. By names we are making no distinction between first names, middle names and surnames. All of these are counted as names. In our qualitative analysis of Setswana names there appears to be no compelling argument to treat first names differently from surnames since surnames are actually someone’s first name. Nevertheless, distinguishing the function of names could yield different results. The processing of data is conducted using Wordsmith Tools software which is an integrated suite of three main programs: Word list, Concord and Keywords. The Word list, tool can be used to produce word lists or word-cluster lists from a text and render the results alphabetically or by frequency order. It can also calculate word spread across a variety of texts, that is, render results on the basis of their spread in different texts. In this column we use the frequency analysis of the entire database. Our analysis borrows analytical techniques from corpus linguistics and analyses the names through frequency counts. Frequency counts record the number of times each name occurs in a text. Frequency analysis – performed intensively over the past 90 years – has been popularised by studies in corpus and lexicographic studies. A crucial point about a name is how frequent it is. Frequent names a) typify the naming practices of a community. b) unearth whether communities still use large numbers of colonial names or whether they have heeled away from such names. c) reveal if names with a certain semantic bend are favoured by a community of speakers. d) in a diachronic study reveal changing name practices within a community. e) frequency analysis of names offer a more reliable measure of spelling variation of the same name (For instance, Tshepo and Tshepho; Lorato and Lerato). Frequency lists are therefore interesting tools of studying names since they reveal which names are commonly used. We start this analysis by giving a panoramic overview of the data. The data has 955,219 tokens (individual counts of names including repetitions) and 49,385 types (unique counts of each name). We start this analysis by giving discussing the most frequent 100 Botswana names & only list the most frequent 25. The most frequent 25 names extracted on the basis of frequency in the entire corpus are:

(1) Thato: 1,735 (2) Mpho: 1,716 (3) Tebogo: 1,678 (4) Kabelo: 1,392 (5) Lesego: 1,369 (6) Kagiso: 1,257 (7) Neo: 1,232 (8) Gaone: 1,221 (9) Kelebogile: 1,188 (10) Boitumelo: 1,182 (11) Lebogang: 1,166 (12) Kabo: 1,141 (13) Kefilwe: 1,116 (14) Malebogo: 1,085 (15) Onalenna: 1,017 (16) Tshepo: 1,009 (17) Masego: 1,008 (18) Gofaone: 999 (19) Tshepiso: 929 (20) Lorato: 909 (21) Goitseone: 874 (22) Thapelo: 868 (23) Keneilwe: 849 (24) Tumelo: 834 (25) Kealeboga: 817

The top 100 names reveal some intriguing naming patterns amongst the Batswana. First, the names suggest that Batswana consider children as gifts. The following names together with their ranks reveal this phenomenon: Mpho (a gift), Kabelo (that which has been given me), Neo (what is given) Kabo (that which is given), Kefilwe (I have been given), Gofaone (It is him (God) who gives), Keneilwe (I have been given), Omphile (He (God) has given me), Tshegofatso (a blessing), Refilwe (We have been given), Keabetswe (I have been given), Kamogelo (receiving), Dineo (gifts), 62. Onkabetse (He (God) has given to me), Onneile (He (God) has given me), Goabaone (It is him (God) who gives), Keamogetse (I have received). Second, many names express gratitude for the child who has been born. Amongst these names are Tebogo (gratitude), Kelebogile (I am thankful), Lebogang (give thanks), Malebogo (thanks), Kealeboga (I am thankful), Keitumetse (I am thankful/I am happy), Olebogeng (thank him (God)). There is also a cluster of names of virtuous qualities espoused by the community, either because of its religion or culture. Amongst these are: Kagiso (peace), Boitumelo (happiness), Tshepo/Tshepho (trust), Lorato (love), Tumelo (faith), Kgomotso (comfort), Thabo (joy), Tsholofelo (hope), Katlego (success), Tshiamo(righteousness), Khumo (wealth), Bonolo (gentleness), Kitso (knowledge/wisdom), and Phenyo (victory). Other names celebrate the coming of a new born. Amongst these are Keitumetse (I am thankful/I am happy), Itumeleng (rejoice/celebrate), Obakeng (praise him (God)), Thabang (be glad), Maipelo (one’s source of pride and joy), Pako (a song of praise), and Bakang (praise). Other names are clearly religious, revealing the Batswana’s belief in the supernatural that children are a gift from God. Amongst these are; Gaone (his (God)), Onalenna (he (God) is with me), Gofaone (it is him (God) who gives), Goitseone (it is him (God) who knows), Thapelo (prayer), Tumelo (faith), Thatayaone (his (God) will), Oarabile (He (God) has answered), Mmoloki (a saviour), Goitsemodimo (God knows), Goabaone (it is him (God) who gives), Onalethata (he (God) has strength), Othusitse (he (God) has helped) and Olebile (he (God) is watching). What the analysis above illustrates is that on the basis of frequency some of the critical typical names amongst the Batswana can be unearthed and they can be clustered thematically as attempted here. Batswana can now complain to KBL based on the results discussed here!

The day Kgosi Tawana Moremi was insulted

October 27, 2014

Forget about McD. Peloetletse, he is a cuddly puppy compared to the BDP man whose speech is characterized by a sudden gush of fury and vitriol. The ANC had its attack pit-bull in the pernicious Malema. The BCP has the vicious Phagenyana Phage. The BDP has the 32-year-old Alec Seametso – a Mongwaketse man from Ntsweng who is its national campaign manager. He came into prominence lately when his pictures taken on a BDF plane during a trip to a BDP politically rally in Ghanzi flooded social media. His most unflattering image showed him with his right hand on his bulging belly and in the words of one Wynter Mmolotsi “e ka re o a sellega”. Below I transcribe the speech delivered by Seametso. The speech has been discussed extensively both on private radio stations and on social media. It would be too limiting to see it as a speech that attacks Tawana Moremi, the politician. The speech attacks and lampoons, Kgosi Tawana Moremi of the Batawana. Not only is Kgosi Tawana attacked, Hon. Rammidi is dismissed contemptuously as sekadikadi and mosuntubaki, Duma Boko is called mothwana while Kgosi Bathoen II of the Bangwaketse is accused of go latlhega and go gogela batho mo lefifing. This is the all time low to which the country has descended before the October elections. Here is the speech:

“Bagaetsho, bogosi ga se jone; gore motho ke kgosi; mme e le kgosi e e senyegileng e e sa kgalemelweng; e le kgosi e e senang botho; e le kgosi e e lonyatso. Rona ka Setswana re itse gore kgosi ke kgosi ka batho; mme e bile gape e anyang e leletse e ruta e le mo maleng (sic). Tawana fa e ne e le kgosi o ko a tlotla Kgosi Khama, a sa tsamaye a mo roga ka fa tlase ga ditlhare; le rona re ne re se na go tla go mo roga. O ko a tlotla Kgosi Khama; a sa tsamaye a rwele bo Duma Boko; ba bathwana fela ba Modimo; a ba lere mono gore batle go roga Kgosikgolo ya Bangwato. Jaanong le ene, se monate se ingwaelwa, ke tlile go mo ngwaa gompieno. Ba tsamaya mo; motho o roga batho, fa ba ya go ikuela; nyena lo rwala mabogo mo tlhogong: “Mapodisi itshwareleng kgosi”. O diga ngwana mo loring: fa ngwana a ya go ikuela; nyena lo rwala mabogo mo tlhogong: “Mapodisi, kgalemelang kgosi.” O tsaya CEDA, o ya go nwa majalwa ka madi a teng a tlhagela mo stadium, a sa duele rente gore le rona re e tsenye. Fa go tsewa diteraka ga twe lwa re “Itshwareleng kgosi.” Re tlaa itshwarela kgosi go ya go fitlhelela leng? Tlogelang go senya kgosi e ya nyena e. Kgosi e ya nyena ga e a senyega e bolosokane, o senyegetse matlakaleng ka ntata ya nyena; lo a go bodiwa dipotso kwa legodimong, gore nyena tlhogo ya ngwana yo, rraetsho kgosikgolo a robale ka kagiso, o a go lo bona ka leitlho le le maswe Matawana. Lo mo senyeditse ngwana; lo paletswe ke go kgalemela ngwana. Ngwana o tebelegane; jaanong e bile gompieno o senyegela matlakaleng. Go itse go na le nyena; mme lo ka ikopa maitshwarelo mo nakong e. Le ene kgosikgolo Letsholathebe o ka lo sokololela dirope, a se ka a lo sokela dirope fa lo ka tima Tawana tlhopho gore a ikgakologelwe; sedidi le letimona la sepolotiki le le mo go ene, di ele a simolole kwa VDC, re tlaa mo dira Headman of Arbitration ka gore Boatile o ya go tsaya setilo. Kgosikgolo ya Batawana MC e bidiwa go twe Boatile; O atile morafe wa Batawana. Mmaagwe ke ole o fale ole. Ga a fale ka phoso. O fale ka gore o a itlotla. O tlotla serite sa gagwe. O tlotla serite sa Batawana. Ga a ka ke a re motho a senyegile, a tsewa ke letimona; a gorogetse mo Tomokoraga; mo phathing e e nang le…a bo a tlho a tabogile, a lelekile mogatla wa lesie, e le molwetse wa letimona. Tsholetsa Domkrag! O a bona gore ke itse ditso monna! Jaanong, lo tshwanetse lona madomkrag lwa tlogela go tshosediwa. Ke fa ke le sekao. Ke tshotswe kwa Kgosing kwa Ntsweng. Mme e rile go goleng ga me ka tsaya tshwetso ya gore kgosi o latlhegile o re gogela mo lefifing ka Puo Phaa. Kgosi ya rona e ne e re fa go tla ditlhopho a bo a tsaya mmu jaana, Kgosi Bathoen, a bo a o tsholetsa jaana a bo a re botsa gore “Bangwaketse mmu o ke wa ga mang?” E be go twe ke wa ga Kgosi Bathoen. A be a re le itse gore le a go tlhopha jang kwa ditlhophong. Re ne ra mmakisa ra tsenya Rammidi, ene yo wa mosuntubaki, le ene ka na ke tshaba le go mo umakwa o tshwana le Tawana, ke sekadikadi fela le ene jaana.”

Obviously the story of Bathoen is either a product of Seametso’s fertile imagination or perhaps it is a tale he heard from his elders in Kanye because when Bathoen II died in October 1990, Seametso was only 8 years of age. Additionally, Bathoen II retired from politics in 1985 when Seametso was only 3 years of age. Bathoen then served as President of the Customary court until his death in 1990. Second, Seametso falsely suggests that Kentse Rammidi took over from Kgosi Bathoen II. This is inaccurate since Rammidi beat BNF’s Calvin Batsile at the elections. It is important to observe that Seametso is a loquacious specially elected councilor, who came into council at the recommendation of Nchi Rammidi, the very one he insults and calls sekadikadi and mosuntubaki. There is a Setswana proverb which captures this: ka tlhagolela lookana, ya re lo gola lwa ntlhaba. My only problem with the speech is that dikgosi are attacked and not politicians. I believe dikgosi who become politicians, should be attacked in their political capacities and not as dikgosi. The problem is that when you attack a kgosi you are indirectly attacking the morafe that he leads. It is therefore no wonder that the Batawana are angry with not only Alec Seametso, but with the BDP.

Kgosi e ya nyena ga e a senyega e bolosokane!

October 27, 2014

Today we take lessons in semantics and then apply them to a political speech shared on this column last week. We shall keep matters light and make complex concepts accessible to the reader. I use the term semantics in a linguistics sense to mean a linguistics study of meaning. I don’t use it to mean, meaning dependent on the speaker, as when lay people say: It is a matter of semantics. We start here: You can refer to many entities: people and things, using a single term in the singular form without contradiction and impropriety. For instance you can use the word student to refer to any one person who qualifies to be identified as a student. If for instance I say: “If you are a student please stand up”. It won’t be surprising if fifty students stood up, though I had requested for a student to stand up. This is the case since each one of the fifty students that stood up identifies himself/herself as a student. We shall pursue this matter no further here, save to emphasis that a single referring expression can be used to identify multiple objects.
Let us explore a different route. It is possible to refer to a single entity: a person or a thing, using different terms/referring expressions without any contradiction or problem. For instance, a man may be a father, a son, a husband, a manager, a bishop all at the same time. Example number two: I here use the name and the identity of my good friend Tebogo Sebego. I abuse his friendship and kind heart to make a semantics problem clearer to the reader. Tebogo Sebego is (1) my friend (2) a University of Botswana alumni (3) a lawyer (4) the President of the BFA (5) the husband to Tebogo Lebotse-Sebego and (6) a father to his kids. Now all the six (6), we shall call them characteristics, identify one physical person. This single physical person called Tebogo Sebego attracts different labels: my friend, a University of Botswana alumni, a lawyer, the President of the BFA, the husband to Tebogo Lebotse-Sebego and a father to his kids. Let’s confuse things a bit. Just because Tebogo Sebego is my friend, it doesn’t mean that my friend is Tebogo Sebego. It could be, but it doesn’t have to be. What I mean by this is just because you have found my friend it doesn’t mean you have found Tebogo Sebego, you may have found one of my friends who isn’t Tebogo Sebego. Importantly, this means that my friend and Tebogo Sebego may refer to one person, but they do not mean the same thing. Just because the name Tebogo Sebego and the expression the BFA President refer to the same individual, it doesn’t mean that they mean the same thing. Tebogo Sebego is a father to his kids as himself and not as the BFA President. Does that make sense? When Tebogo Sebego appears in court, he can appear as a lawyer on behalf of his client or he can appear as the BFA president to give evidence on behalf of the Association he leads. He can attract praise or reproach solely as the BFA president, separate from him as a husband or him as a dad. This distinction is important for the kind of commentary I proceed to make on the speech by one Alec Seametso (the BDP campaign manager) that attacks Kgosi Tawana II.
Following on the logic above, there is a distinction between Kgosi Tawana II and the UDC politician Tawana Moremi. The two identities refer to one individual but they are different and must be kept separate. As Kgosi Tawana II of the Batawana, he is an embodiment of the culture of his morafe. An attack on him is an attack on the morafe that he leads. An attack on Tawana Moremi, the UDC politician, is legitimate if he is attacked politically by his political opponents. It would obviously offend the UDC politicians and supporters, but that is understandable. Let us move to Alec Seametso’s attack. Was it an attack on Tawana the kgosi or the politician? Let us inspect what he says: “gore motho ke kgosi; mme e le kgosi e e senyegileng e e sa kgalemelweng; e le kgosi e e senang botho; e le kgosi e e lonyatso. Rona ka Setswana re itse gore kgosi ke kgosi ka batho… Tawana fa e ne e le kgosi o ko a tlotla Kgosi Khama, a sa tsamaye a mo roga ka fa tlase ga ditlhare; le rona re ne re se na go tla go mo roga.” There is sufficient evidence from this quotation that Seametso is attacking Tawana in his capacity as a kgosi, not just as a politician. This we see in his repetitive reference to Tawana as kgosi. Not only that, Seametso is very well aware that he, together with other speakers, is insulting Kgosi Tawana. He actually confesses to it in a veiled justification: “le rona re ne re se na go tla go mo roga.” We also know that Seametso was not mainly directing his words at the BDP faithful, but to the Batawana as a morafe. He says: “Kgosi e ya nyena ga e a senyega e bolosokane, o senyegetse matlakaleng ka ntata ya nyena… lo paletswe ke go kgalemela ngwana. Ngwana o tebelegane; jaanong e bile gompieno o senyegela matlakaleng.” We know Kgosi Tawana II is kgosi of the Batawana and that it is most appropriate in Sengwaketse dialect to refer to his subjects as “Kgosi e ya nyena…” He uses the term bolosokane, a term synonymous with sugakane, to characterize Kgosi Tawana II. Not only that, he sees Tawana as ngwana yo o tebeleganeng. The word tebelegana means to rent apart as in a cloth. It is a Sengwaketse expression reserved for a disrespectful child with a rotten character. The final insult that Seametso delivers to the Batawana is to call them Matawana, worse to their faces. He says: “…lo a go bodiwa dipotso kwa legodimong … rraetsho kgosikgolo a robale ka kagiso, o a go lo bona ka leitlho le le maswe Matawana.” Alec Seametso is a Mongwaketse man from Kgosing in Ntsweng. Since he identified himself as from Kgosing many have mistaken this to mean that he is from the Kanye royal house when in fact Kgosing in Kanye is understood to mean a plethora of makgotla in the vicinity of the main Bangwaketse royal kgotla. The obvious danger here is that one might think that a man from the Ngwaketse royal house has insulted the Batawana kgosi. A more appropriate approach to deal with this matter is the one proposed by the Bangwaketse themselves. They ought to reprimand their child and send the message to all in active politics to show respect to all dikgosi. A distinction must be sustained between individuals as dikgosi and their functional capacities as politicians. Dikgosi must be given the respect that is due their traditional status and office.

The Tswana’s method of killing is stabbing

September 21, 2014

The basic style of warfare, well, let’s say fighting, amongst the Batswana is stabbing. In traditional battles this was done through a spear and probably through the use of other sharp objects. The verb for such an act in the language is tlhaba. The verb is used also to mean to puncture a hole as well as to slaughter (as in “to slaughter a cow” go tlhaba kgomo). We also use the word to mean “to inject” or to pierce with a needle go tlhaba ka lomao. This meaning is related to that of stabbing. The meaning of slaughtering a cow is easy to understand since for a long time the Batswana have slaughtered their animals (chicken, sheep, goats and cattle) by “stabbing” and cutting a vein in the neck, bleeding an animal to death. So strictly speaking go tlhaba kgomo is to slaughter it with a sharp object. Go tlhabega is to feel uncomfortable; to be pricked in your hurt. We know that the Batswana’s method of choice for killing is stabbing because of the linguistic remnants of tlhaba that litter the Setswana linguistic terrain. The very act of fighting or battling in Setswana between individuals we call it go tlhabana (which literally means to reciprocally stab each other). The linguistic evidence therefore suggests that historically to battle involved stabbing as an integral part of battle. Now the element of stabbing is no longer central to Setswana battles, as battles or fights take a variety of styles. Nevertheless, even with no stabbing involved, to fight is still called go tlhabana. The verb has gone through some semantic extension to include all varieties of competitions between individuals and groups. For instance dikhwaere di a tlhabana captures a competition between choirs. From the verb tlhaba we get a noun form referring to a battle. A fight or a battle is tlhabano (a reciprocal stabbing). To fight someone is also known as go tlhabantsha which is also used mean to meet or to cut through. The word for a battle ground in Setswana is also derived from the verb tlhaba. It is known as matlhabanelo; lefelo le go tlhabanelwang teng. Even now in Kanye there is still a place called Matlhabanelo, where previously heated battles had ensued. While the word has changed meaning, tlhaba still means to stab. One way of showing this is to consider what Batswana use to stab or what can stab somebody. As it is common practice amongst corpus linguists, the best and unbiased way to do this is to study a corpus (a language database) which comprises a representative collection of Setswana texts which show how language is used in context by its speakers. So what is used to stab? The answers include: di/segai (spears), ma/lerumo (spear), lonaka (a horn), mhinyana wa lerumo (spear handle), mitlwa (thorns), sengwe se se bogale (a sharp object), terata, (a piece of wire), and thipa (knife). The word tlhaba is used in a variety of fighting/battling situations which involve hitting or violent attacks for instance: go tlhaba ka setlhako (to kick somebody), go tlhaba ka tlelapa/mpama (to slap somebody). However more than the physical reference to fighting, the word is used in an idiomatic sense with other terms to show an array of meanings. The word appears in the following idiomatic expressions: go tlhabiwa ke ditlhong (to be embarrassed/humiliated/ashamed), go tlhaba kgobe ka mutlwa (to relax/to be at ease). When the sun rises we say letsatsi le a tlhaba (the sun stabs). The expression comes from the sharp sun rays which cut through the sky. This is very similar in meaning to the stabbing of a sharp leading voice in a choir or a musical rendition. In Setswana someone who leads a song we say o a tlhabeletsa, the verb tlhabeletsa has been derived from the verb tlhaba. This use is related to the idiomatic expression go tlhaba mokgosi (to scream/to shout out for help or attention). Go tlhaba motho ka dipotso (hit someone with questions), tlhaba ka dipuo/mafoko (stab someone with words), tlhaba ka lengole (kneel down), tlhaba ka leitlho/matlho (too look at somebody, especially intensely), tlhaba ka samotlhana (fall on your back), tlhaba ka sejabana/sekgono (to rest your elbow on something), tlhaba ka setlankana (to give someone a certificate), tlhaba ka tladimolomo (to kiss), tlhabiwa ke phefo (to have fresh air), go tlhabela pele (to leave/to go/to move on), tlhabiwa ke setlhabi (to have a sharp pain). The very noun setlhabi (a sharp pain) is derived from the verb tlhaba. It literally means the thing that stabs. There are numerous words which are related to the verb tlhaba in the Setswana language. Amongst these is tlhabolola which means to develop. Tlhabolola has a similar meaning as lemolola to till the soil. Tlhabolola literally means to stab the soil with a sharp object and turn the it upside down in preparation for ploughing. From this verb we get the noun ditlhabololo “developments” as well as tlhabologo “a state of being developed/civilised” which all have their roots in the verb tlhaba. Go tlhabela lekatane on the other hand, means to slice a melon into several thin slices. The historical study of certain Setswana fighting practices and patterns reveals that principally Batswana used stabbing as a way of fighting. This practice has since become reflected in the linguistic patterns of the Batswana. Fighting patterns have changed significantly over the last 200 years, resulting with significant semantic shift in the language with the word tlhaba and its collocates taking on a more idiomatic slant.

The day the crocodiles came to play, Dithubaruba wee!

September 12, 2014


The voice of a young man reverberates across the Bakwena southern hills. Dithubaruba wee! There is a response from the massive crowds that have come to this hallowed spot of the Bakwena. Today the crocodiles have come out of the water to play. Their call is clear and solid. The historians inform us that Dithubaruba is the Bakwena moshate! It was a capital of the Bakwena between 1853 and 1863, before they moved to Molepolole. What remains of this capital is the well-preserved stone ruins that can be reached by climbing the southern side of a hill, a short drive from the main kgotla of Molepolole. As a Mongwaketse man I lay claim to this piece of land too since gallant Bangwaketse have been here before – many many years ago. It all started in 1824 with an offensive from the Bakololo under the leadership of one sinful Sebetoane who attacked the Bakwena of Moruakgomo. The Bakwena fled their moshate, Dithubaruba, into the Kgalagadi desert. Having defiled this hallowed ground, the Bakololo made it their own village – a post from which other neighbouring Tswana kingdoms were raided repeatedly and cattle, women as well as small stock were plundered. However, the tables turned in 1826 when the marauding group of my people, the militant Bangwaketse arrived to restore dignity to this violated terrain. Under motswarelela bogosi, Kgosi Sebego, the Bangwaketse “with cowhide shields, spears and battle-axes surrounded the village,” and at dawn, their battle cries disturbed the peace of these still hills as they charged into the village with resulting chaos. So as a Mongwaketse man as I sit here in the company of the Bakwena ba ga Sechele I feel at home knowing that my ancestors, those fearless warriors, have at some historical point delivered this space from the blood stained hands of the Bakololo back into the hands of the Bakwena whom in the words of Ramsay like all Sotho-Tswana groups are “ultimately the people of this ground, the children of Modimo once protected by the very son of the earth – Tintibane.” I must be careful not to give too much credit to the Bangwaketse since Dithubaruba has been defended against the Boers incursion before by Sechele (Ramokonopi) at that epic battle of Dimawe after which he brought together the various merafe at Dithubaruba, amongst them being the Balete, Bakgatla, Bahurutshe, Bakaa and many others.

Today however we gathered to remember that lefatshe le a lwelwa, le sirelediwa ke beng. I am in the company of politicians: Patrick Masimolole, Vincent Seretse, Leach Tlhomelang, Gaotlhaetse Matlhabaphiri, Boometswe Mokgothu, Shima Monageng and others. What brings us together is a celebration of Sekwena culture. The old Mokwena poet Rabojalwa Keetile is here. I have heard him before together with Moroka Moreri. I am delighted because I am confident that today there is going to be a festival of poetry. I get more than I bargained for – more old poets come to the podium and set the stage alight as they deliver dikgafela to Kgosi Kgari and Mohumagadi MmaTumagole. Rabojwala doesn’t disappoint. His poetry is long and historical, laced with cutting humour. “Ke bona ba bangwe ba ntse ba edimola phetelela; a le fa e le metsi a tee le one ga ba a ba siela.” Young poets take to the stage one after another and demonstrate that Sekwena poetry is in safe hands. Truth be told: Kweneng has the greatest concentration of absolutely outstanding poets. Kgosi Kgari Sechele can afford to smile; his poets are amongst the finest in all Botswana. And the poetry is not just by men; women too deliver some electrifying verses. Arguably, the best poem of the day was delivered by a woman, Gaadirelwe Boipuso Leatso, who brought tears to my eyes. As I watch and absorb the Sekwena culture, they feed me kabu which I am in no doubt that many believe it is indigenous to the Batswana, not knowing that it came to the Tswana through the Portuguese traders while the word kabu is itself of Afrikaans etymology having been adapted from the Afrikaans word: kaboemielies. I was later to be blown away by Dipela tsa ga Kobokwe – they are arguable Botswana’s finest traditional dance troupe. They are many. They take to the stage like a band of Sechele’s fearless warriors. Their dance is authentic and speaks to the Setswana soul. If there is an image that one can conjure of Sechele’s warriors, the closest picture is that of Dipela tsa ga Kobokwe. I have never seen a group that is as forceful and as precise in its performance as this one. Their performance belongs to the ages and the world. They should be performing the stages of Germany, USA and England bringing glory to this country. To keep them within the Botswana borders is to steal fresh air from God’s universe.

So I left the Dithubaruba celebrations a proud Motswana. The last few years have seen a resurgence of cultural resuscitation initiatives. Examples of these are bogwera and bojale of the Bakgatla ba ga Kgafela, the Domboshaba celebrations of the Bakalanga, as well as the Bathoen II celebrations of the Bangwaketse. There has also been an increased interest in Setswana cuisine, Tswana names and indigenous music. All of these collectively in a small way contribute to our self-discovery as a people. So until next year when we gather at the meeting of the warriors, where Kgosi Sechele once ruled supreme, I will have in my mind the battle cry of a Mokwena young man: Dithubaruba wee!

Kgama III

September 9, 2014

king-khama III

Kgama III (1837?-1923), the husband of the famous Mmabesi a Kgama who died in what is now known as Old Palapye on the verge of the village of Malaka just east of modern Palapye.


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