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
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.