University of Botswana History Department
"El Negro of Banyoles"

Some questions and answers on 19th C. Batlhaping

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By Neil Parsons, email nparsons@mopipi... [Click here for full email address]


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Some questions and answers on Batlhaping living near the Vaal-Orange confluence in 1830

The Batlhaping were the most southerly of the many groups or states of Batswana people.

QUESTION: What languages did these people speak?
ANSWER: Setswana, maybe also a Khoesan language (as they lived among San, Kora and other Khoe neighbours, under Griqua overrule), and almost certainly an Afrikaans form of Dutch. Setswana is a Bantu (BaNtu) language like most of the languages of Africa south of Cameroun-Uganda. Griqua, Kora, San, Khoe etc are Khoesan (or Khoisan) languages, where the rules are very different. ( -qua or -na is a suffix for the plural). Afrikaans-Dutch was the lingua franca of the frontier. The Griqua used it and helped to develop it as a language. Thus when the LMS missionaries like Moffat moved further north to the independent Tlhaping kingdoms, they at first preached in Dutch which was then interpreted into Setswana.

QUESTION: Is a Motlhaping the individual for the Batlhaping people?
ANSWER: Motlhaping=one Tlhaping person; Batlhaping:=Tlhaping people; Setlhaping=Tlhaping language/culture.

QUESTION: Batswana or Bechuana?
ANSWER: Motswana=one Tswana person; Batswana ("Bechuana" is from old southern dialect)=Tswana people; Setswana=Tswana language/culture; Botswana=Tswana land.

The word Tswana probably means "from the same" or "together", so the word probably originates from southern Tswana telling foreigners that some people (but not others) in the north were the same (or of similar origins) as themselves. The confusion today is (a) that only part of the old Bechuanaland/Botswana falls within the Republic of Botswana; the rest now lies within the Republic of South Africa; and (b) that the Republic of Botswana uses "Batswana" to refer to all citizens inside the country, whatever their ethnic origin. (Imagine that Portugal was called the Republic of Iberia, and all its citizens including Brazilians and Mocambiquans and Goans and Macaons etc were called "Iberians". That could cause some confusion for the the rest of the world about Spain and the Spanish.)

QUESTION: Did the Batlhaping have a dynamic/advanced society? I mean, due their situation in the middle of main roads, thus the fact that they were used to deal with travelers, can we assume that theirs was not a closed society, but one with a certain cultural level?
ANSWER: Kgatlane village on the Vaal seems to have been one of a number of villages in the area inhabited by various ethnic groups including Griqua, Korana, and San, Batlhaping and maybe AmaXhosa and BaSotho. The headman and dominant ethnic group in Kgatlane would have been Batlhaping, but there would have been people of other ethnic groups married and otherwise living among them. The Griqua Republic, not a very strong state, would have ruled over these villages at least nominally.

No doubt the Batlhaping would have spoken Setswana/Tswana in their homes (that's how their ethnicity can be defined, as well as by claimed descent from named ancestors), but the common language of the Griqua and others in that area at that time was Dutch (ie Afrikaans-Dutch dialect). They would all have been familiar with horses and guns, and imported commodities such as blankets and coffee and hats and candles and trousers and shirts, but probably only the richest had complete sets of these. There were Christian mission stations at Campbell and Griquatown and Kuruman , where the mainly Scots missionaries of the London Missionary Society (notably Robert Moffat) were powerful political advisers too. Few people were literate but many people would have been familiar with singing hymns and with listening to preaching from the Bible in Dutch (by Khoe as well as Scots preachers from the south). You can bet your bottom dollar that many of them knew all about hunting with guns.

QUESTION: How might El Negro have been dressed, and how was he buried?
ANSWER: Traditional dress consisted of a kaross (tailored animal fur cloak also used as blanket), with leather loincloth as underwear. It was absolautely essential wear on cold nights in winter. If El Negro was a person of any consequence he would have had trousers, hat and coat, and horse and gun, and maybe a wagon of his own -- but people tend to revert to traditions at burial.

If he was not buried, as a big chief would have been, inside the skin of a newly slaughtered black ox, then his kaross blanket/cloak would have been wrapped around his body. His body should have been lain in a crouching (foetal) position, buried on its side facing the sunset under the cattle corral.

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Tswana burial customs

Notes from Gabriel Setiloane, The Image of God among the Sotho-Tswana (Rotterdam: A.A. Balkema, 1976)

[ p. 68 ]

When a person dies his/her arms and legs are folded in a squatting position, in preparation for burial.

The person is buried with a few seeds and/or ears of corn or sugar-cane "as an entreaty and prayer so that he continues to sow and grow food in the land of the dead." Antheap soil is also added to the grave as "symbolic prayer for the continuity of community life - that the remaining offspring may continue to live in community".

Adult men, especially the rramotse (village head), are buried in the cattle kraal; mothers and old women on the edge of the lolwapa in the homestead. Very old women and very young children, who are nearest to spirit world, buried inside the lolwapa.

The dead sit in their graves, facing the sun-rise (ntswana-tswatsi) "where man had his origins".

At dawn on the day of burial, an ox (here called mogoga) is slaughtered. Its chyme is held in one hand and thrown into the grave by the mourning relatives, with the incantation "O re robale" (sleep for us). The meat is cooked and all eaten WITHOUT SALT after the funeral. The lack of salt implies no joy will be had from the eating.

[Archaeologists have noted variations on which side the crouching body is placed, and which direction it faces. Adults were often buried in their karosses, i.e. tailored fur cloaks. Tradition tells of great men being buried in the fresh wet skin of a black ox: only a black animal sacrifice could bring good rain.]

[ p. 69 ]

Mourners among close kin wear grass necklaces and shave their heads during the mourning period. The maternal uncle (malome) of the deceased will perform a purification ceremony at the end of the mourning period, usually towards the end of winter (i.e. less than 12 months after the death). The malome or his representative should provide meat, drink, and even new clothes for the mourners, after they have been purified by the smearing of cleansing herbs etc.

[ p. 70 ]

All deceased adults are then considered badimo (ancestor-spirits), who look after the fortunes of the living. Among them is Modimo, the High or Only God, source of a things, who can only be approached indirectly though the hierarchy of badimo.

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Copyright © 2000 Neil Parsons
(Quotations from The Image of God among the Sotho-Tswana © Gabriel Setiloane)
Last updated 5 October 2000