Monday, October 24, 2005

The Tswana people


The Tswana people are associated with the country of Botswana, whose name means 'Land of the Tswana.' But most of the people of this language group live in the northeastern part of South Africa. This densely populated area is what was Bophuthatswana, meaning 'The Gathering of the Tswana.' This place is known as the North-West province in modern independent South Africa. There are over 6000 Tswana people in Namibia, making them the countries smallest cultural group. The Namibian Tswana consist of three groups, the largest of which is the Tlharo, the second is the Tlhaping and the third the Kgalagadi who have to some extent mixed with the Kalahari Bushmen.The ancestors of the Sotho people entered the area to the south of the Limpopo River in several separate migrations. In the course of time, they were dispersed over the vast interior plateau between the eastern escarpment and the arid western regions to form four subgroups - the Tswana, North Sotho, South Sotho and East Sotho. Those who settled in the western regions preferred to be called Batswana (Tswana) while those living in the southern regions called themselves Basotho. Today, the Tswana people live in parts of Gauteng Province, the Northwest Province and the eastern parts of Botswana.


Oral tradition traces the ruling lineage of the Tswana states to the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg) area. Historical evidence suggests that the Tswana states developed on the basis of royal control of cattle and on the profits of mining, manufacture and trade. The lineages of all the ruling Tswana families can be traced back to one of the following ancestors; Morolong, Masilo, and Mokgatla. Evidence suggests that the ancestors of the Tswana were living on the Highveld (the western, northern and northeastern Witwatersrand area) from at least the 17th century. Up to the 19th century, junior members of chiefdoms would often break away and form their own chiefdoms, splitting the Tswana nation into numerous small chiefdoms and overlapping ‘city’-states.

Disputes over succession and wars amongst themselves further weakened the unity of the tribe. However, this trend stopped in 1810, with the Mfecane/Difaqane upheavals when the Zulu King, Shaka, created turmoil in the interior of the country, his well-trained Zulu impis annihilating scores of tribes. White settlers, who came to the area in the late 1820s, noticed that wide areas of grassland had been cleared of people - only stonewalled ruins were left where large Tswana ‘cities’ had once stood. Tswana chiefdoms were only able to move back to cultivate their lost lands during 1837. Soon afterwards they allowed some White Voortrekkers (Boer migrants) to settle on the Highveld.

Unfortunately, hostilities eventually broke out between the two groups when the Boers attacked the Kwena of Sechele at Dimawe. This action prompted an alliance of emerging Tswana kingdoms that was eventually to result in a unified Tswana nation including the Kwena, the Ngwaketse, the Rolong of Montshiwa and even the Ngwato of Sekgoma. Sechele, the Kwena king, was the most powerful Tswana leader from the 1850s to the 1870s. However, other northern Tswana states soon began to challenge his influence and his subject chiefdoms began to move away towards semi-independence.

Soon the-all-too familiar game of playing one power off against another started in earnest. These independent groups only turned to each other again to ward off the threat of their Boer neighbours. When the Boer Transvaal Republic was annexed by the British, their fears subsided and they agreed to the establishment of the British Protectorate of Bechuanaland, which became the independent Republic of Botswana in 1966. Seretse Khama, whose ancestor, Khama III, ruled over the Ngwato kingdom until his death in 1923, became the republic’s first executive president and was subsequently knighted by the British. Today, the main Tswana groups live either in South Africa or in Botswana.

Tswana Tribes:

The Tswana tribe is divided into many different locally autonomous chiefdoms and tribes. Each tribe manages its own affairs but there are considerable differences between the tribes in Botswana and those in South Africa. During the apartheid years, South African Tswana tribes lived under the jurisdiction of the South African government in the Bophuthatswana homeland. The Tswana chiefs who were recognised under the previous government still claim their status and the right to rule their people, even though the homeland system has now been abolished.

Social and Cultural Life

Since each Tswana tribe had its own territory and name, it was not at all strange to find Tswana tribes with different customs and languages. Tswana tribes have never been rigid, closed systems and there were various ways in which a person could become a member of a tribe. Members of the tribe could also be expelled by the chief or could leave voluntarily to join another tribe. Today, many Tswana who live in the cities do not associate with a specific tribe but they do acknowledge a totem and the genealogical relationship they share with others of the same totem.


Totemism has long been a feature of the Tswana culture and refers to the veneration of an animal, plant or an object. Each individual associates himself or herself with a specific totem. Many existing Tswana myths and legends explain why certain totems were adopted. Association with a particular totem carried with it certain responsibilities and traditions. Should a member not act according to the rules, that person would have to undergo a purification ceremony to prevent misfortune. The Tswana household was the smallest social unit and consisted of the husband, his wife and their unmarried children.
However, in some cases it also included married sons and daughters and their families. Each homestead consisted of one or more houses with grain storage areas in a courtyard, surrounded by a reed or wooden fence or a mud wall. The houses were used mainly for sleeping; cooking and other social activities being done outdoors in the courtyard area.

Gender roles

The man was the head of the household and was treated with respect, obedience and service by his wives and children. He made all the decisions regarding the distribution of property and he also took care of all legal dealings with outsiders. The head of the household also had the task of performing prayers and sacrifices on behalf of his family. The Tswana treated their elders with great respect and obedience. Old men were called rra or ntate and the older women were called mme. Breaches of the rules of respect were seen as serious offences in Tswana society. Tswana men were always rated higher than women.

A Tswana women was seen as a permanent minor who would always be under men’s authority, whether it be her father, her husband or her husband’s father or brother. Women were also excluded from political or religious meetings and some places were reserved for the use of men only. Men and women ate separately and sat apart at social gatherings. Mothers who gave birth only to daughters were generally despised - the birth of a son was much preferred. Children were grouped according to physical development, birth to two years (masea), 3-8 years (banyanee), 9-13 - boys (basemane) and girls (basetsana) and from 14 until allocated to an age set.
Boys older than 14 used to wear special costumes, perform special dances at their gatherings and were allowed great personal freedom, especially regarding sexual matters. The older boys also spent much time at cattle stations herding their father’s livestock while girls of the same age had domestic duties to do and took care of the younger children.


Allocation into an age-set or a regiment (mophato) marked the beginning of adulthood. A regiment consisted of men and women of roughly the same age who had been initiated at the same time. The chief would create a new regiment every four to seven years, when eligible 16-20 year old boys and girls could be initiated together. The regiment would also include a member of the chief’s family who, from then on, would be the accepted leader of the group. In earlier times, the boys underwent a rigorous initiation process that included circumcision and seclusion in the bush. The initiates were subjected to hardships and taught the laws, traditions and customs of their people. However, this practice disappeared during the 1930’s because European missionaries persuaded the chiefs that it constituted immoral behaviour.
The king would give each regiment a unique name, usually after some event that had taken place during the initiation, such as a thunderstorm. Anyone not belonging to a regiment would not be allowed to marry. The members of the same regiment worked together and, in the case of men, fought together. They were intimate companions and equals and enjoyed a sense of solidarity and regimental pride. Members of a regiment were expected to respect the members of all previously formed regiments and would in turn be respected by their juniors.

The regimental leaders dealt with breaches of discipline in a court situation. Today, initiation is again becoming popular among contemporary youths. Initiation is seen as a mark of African identity and pride. Girls used to be initiated during a ceremony held at home. This included dancing, masquerades and some form of 'marking”, usually on the inner thigh. The girls also underwent severe forms of punishment and received formal instruction in matters regarding agriculture, behaviour towards men and sex.

Belief System

Ancestor worship was an important ritual. The spirits of the ancestors had to be appeased to encourage them to stay in their own spirit world and to ward off misfortune. The help of the ancestors was sought to ward off afflictions such as epilepsy, insomnia and hysteria, to name but a few. The ngaka or witchdoctor played an import part in everyday life and acted as doctor, psychiatrist and medium between the troubled or bereaved and their ancestors. His counterpart, the diviner or bone-thrower, was cheaper to consult and offered interpretations of problems according to the way in which the bones fell. However, many modern-day Tswanas have converted to Christianity and no longer participate in the old religious customs and rituals.

Taken from:

The Tswana

The Tswanas are a tribe who migrated from East Africa to southern Africa during the 14th century. The origin of the name ‘Tswana’ is a mystery, but is applied to a number of groups who all speak the same language, have similar customs, but separate names.

The Tswana migrated into central southern Africa in the 14th century. As hunters, herders and cultivators they found the high plains to their liking. Game animals abounded, the grass was excellent for cattle, there were no serious endemic livestock diseases and the soil was deep and easy to cultivate.

Sorghum, beans, pumpkins, sweet melons and gourds were planted, and the Tswana found that maize, introduced by the Portuguese into the country, was also highly productive.
The origin of the name ‘Tswana’ is a mystery. It is applied to a number of groups who all speak the same language, have similar customs, but separate names. None of them ever knew themselves as the Tswana. As with several other people in South Africa, their name was given by foreigners. The meaning is unknown.

The history of the Tswana people is one of continual dissension and fission where disputes, sometimes over chieftain ascendancy, resulted in a section of the tribe breaking away from the main tribe, under the leadership of a dissatisfied chief's relative, and settling elsewhere. Often the name of the man who led the splinter group was taken as the new tribe's name.
Today there are 59 different groups in South Africa who now accept the overall name of Tswana. About three-fourths of the Tswana people live in South Africa. Only about one-fourth
live in Botswana, the country named after them.

The Tswana are closely related to the Sotho (of Lesotho and South Africa). The Sotho-Tswana are bonded in language and customs. They claim a common ancestor, Mogale. They share an agrarian culture, social structures, political organization, religious and magical beliefs and also a family life.

All the Sotho and Tswana languages are inherently intelligible, but for political and historical reasons, they have generally been considered as three languages. The larger sub-tribes are often considered as separate tribes with their separate languages.

Traditional Tswana society included men, women, children and "badimo" (ancestors, living dead, having metaphysical powers). A Tswana does not think in terms of individual rights, but of responsibilities to his family and tribe. The father is to be obeyed and respected by his wife and children at all times.

The Sotho-Tswana are organized by lineages, which developed as the tribe grew. The lineages are organized in subunits and communities. Every level exhibits the same social organization, such as the Kgotla, the traditional court, with various officials assigned various duties in the social structure at each level. In traditional Tswana religion (tribal animism) "Modimo" is the great God, or "The Great Spirit."

Because of the fact that job availability in Botswana is changing from rural to urban, many Tswanas are leaving the villages and not returning. Thus the Tswana are fast becoming a modern secular society, in Botswana as well as South Africa.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Mutsumi wa Japane

Maloba ke laleditswe dijo tsa maitseboa – leina la lefelo leo ’kitla ke itshwenya ka lone – ya re ntse re ikitsesanye ka go fapaana, ka hakgamadiwa ke go utlwa kgarejwana ya dingwaga tse di ka nnang masome a mabedi a re leina la gagwe ke “Mutsumi” – nnyaa e seng “Motsomi”. Selo se se neng se nkgakgamatsa e ne e le gore kgarejwane e e tswa Japane. Matlho a gagwe ke one a re a itseng a a tsereng popego ya sesarwa kgotsa seChina. Ka gamarega! Ka thubega ka setshego – ka boa ka itshwara. Nnyaa Mutsumi ga e kake ya nna leina la maJapane! Mogopolo wa ntlha wa re dilo tsa lefatshe le, kana gatwe bogotswana bo atile. Gatwe batho ba a tle ba reke dipasa tsa Batswana ba iphe le maina a bone. Ka mo eleka ngwanyana yo mme ka fitlhela a tshwana le konyana. Ka mmotsa gape ka re: “Golo fa le o ne o re ’ina la gago e mang?” A re: “Nna?” Ka re: “Ee, wena motho wa ga Seepapitso!” A re: “Mutsumi” Ka mmotsa gape ka re: “A wa re o bidiwa Motsumi?” A ipoeletsa gape a re: “Ee”. Ka re a ko o le kwale tlhe ke bone gore o le peleta jang. A le kwala: MUTSUMI. A nteba, jaanong ka lemoga gore o ipotsa gore ke eng ke motsatsanka ka dipotso.
Ka mmotsa gore: “Wa re ga eno ke kae?” A re Japane. Ka ja monyenyo. “Mme wa re o bidiwa Mutsumi?” A ipoeletsa gape a re: “Ee”. Ka belaela gore kgarebe e tshetlhana e, e seng gore jaanong e ipotsa gore a mokawana yo wa moAforika a o a bo a sa batle go ipala mabala a kgaka – o tloga a ntira ngwetsi kwa merafeng e ke sa e itseng. Owaii a sa itse gore tsame tse di robang bobedi le mokwele, ke raya lengwaelo, ke di isitse gooSebego, ko bathong booLekoko!
Mme ka mo tlhalosetsa fa leina le la gagwe e le le tumileng kwa gaetsho kwa Botswana, mme e le leina la basimane e seng basetsana, e bile le raya motho yo o tsomang. A gamarega, a thubega ka ditshego – matlho a nyamela, meno a le mantsho! Motsoko tlhe ga o na maitseo!

Moragong ka nna fa fatshe fa pele ga khompiutara ka senka gore a leina MUTSUMI le tumile kwa Japane. Ka fitlhela e le gore Mutsumi ga se leina fela la motho e bile go na le motsana kwa Japane o o bidiwang Mutsumi. O o bona kwa O mo kgaolong ya Abu, e e mo Yamaguchi kwa Japane. Motsana o o na le batho ba ka nna 2500!

Mme Mutsumi yo mongwe yo o tumileng ke mmopi wa dinkgwana tse di nang le ditshwantsho tse dintle thata. Mutsumi ke sefane, ene tota o bidiwa Suzuki. Ke rre yo mogolwane yo o tsetsweng ka 1942 kwa Kyoto gone kwa Japane. Dinkgwana tsa gagwe di rekwa ke mabolokelo a a kwa godimo kwa Japane le kwa Amerika.

Japane gape e na le moopedi yo o itsegeng wa leina la Mutsumi, ene o bidiwa Mutsumi Hatano. Ene ke kgarebe ya dingwa tse di fa godimo ga ga tsa Mutsumi o ke neng ka kopana le ene. Mutsumi yo o ithutile go opela kwa Yunibesithing ya Miyazaki kwa Japane mme a tla go itlatsa mo Lontone Trinity College of Music. Moopedi yo ke wa maemo a a kwa godimo yo o opetseng mo makgetlhong a mantsi mo go itumedisitseng barati ba mmino kwa Japane.
Leina le la Mutsumi le tumile thata kwa Japane mo banang le popae e e bidiwang Mutsumi Otohime! Popae e, ke kgarejwana, e bile e ratwa ke banana ba Japane. Popae e e tumile go gaisa go tuma ga ga Mabijo mo Botswana. Banana ba Japane ba na le ditshwantsho tsa gagwe mo matlong, mo dikwalong tsa bone le tse dingwe. Bangwe ba na le ditshwantsho tsa popae e mo mesokelatsebeng ya lotheka. Ga go akiwe gotwe go tsamaya ke go bona.

Ke ne ka bua ka lobaka le Mutsumi, ka mmotsa ka maina a mangwe a Japane, ke itlhoma ke tlaa utlwa a re “Utlugetswe”! Ka itaya sefololetse. Puisanyo ya rona e ne ya kgaopediwa ke megopo ya dijo re e bewa pele. Fa ke re matlho leba ka fitlhela e le setokana sa tlhapi e e sa butswang se kotangwe ke opinyana ya raese. Ka di leba ke di belaela – moRuele ke sa batle go ijela sereto – banna! Ka utlwa ke eletsa seswaa le masuhu – dijo tsa ditoro!

This text was published on my column in the Mokgosi Newspaper

A language under siege from its own

With its native speakers showing Setswana little regard, the language could well be on its way to extinction, writes TOMELETSO SEREETSI

SELEBI-PHIKWE: “Ntsenyetsa one Pula please,” she places the coin on the table.
She must be in her early twenties. She looks good, something out of the fashion pages of one of these many glossy magazines. Clutching at the leather handbag under her arm, she wipes the public cellular phone receiver with a tissue before she raises it to her embalmed lips.
“Hello, I am Karabo,” she loudly purrs out her name the way a culture shocked African-American would, winning a few amused stares from an army of bored public cellular phone operators lining the space of the mall. “Akere ne rra we meet kgantele ke chaisa? Call me ga o sa kgone,” she continues in that overly nasal vein, relishing as much every word she utters as those she swallows in her passion.
A few seemingly cathartic purrs and nasal-affected syllables later, she leaves a legacy of scorn and amused gossip behind.
“Batho tlhe ba rata sekgoanyana,” chirps in one of the public cellular phone operators, seeing that the young woman is safely disappearing, several shops away.
This linguistic mix or code switching, as linguists would say, is a cultural movement whose growth is undoubtedly evident. A small dose of English here, a slice of African languages such as Zulu, Pedi and Sotho and a generous proportion of Setswana to the boil as well as the adoption of a Euro centric accent to taste, completes the complexion of this new dialect.
It has made an indelible mark on the national psyche. While many stood aside and watched with mixed feelings, many bought into it and went a little distance to milk it of what it’s worth to move one or two products off the shelves. When big communications companies like Mascom use lines such as Kganna ha mnate and Nzamela airtime, there is no prize for guessing that the lingo has definitely transcended the street discourse to the boardrooms, and arguably right back to the streets (now dripping a sense of legitimacy and sassy class). Little wonder then that it has made it to national radio and other public spheres. A fluent Setswana sentence has fallen into the realm of the nostalgic, that which elicits an awed response when heard.
This linguistic movement impresses not everyone. Some see the cultural phenomenon as an ominous bell that points to the extinction of the indigenous Setswana language, together with the cultural identity and knowledge duly encapsulated in the sonic breadth of words. Modirwa Kekwaletswe, author of the recently published critique of local poetry and music entitled, Legalapa-Kanoko ya Poko le Mmino wa Setso, is irked by the increased use of foreign words where there are Setswana words that can be used to adequately capture the same intended sense.
“People who mix up Setswana with English wish that they could be fluent in English. If they had great fluency in English they would only use that language. They do not even borrow appropriate words from South African languages. They are unaware that they are destroying their language. This is a big challenge not only for Setswana but other indigenous languages in the country,” he observes.
What forces are at play here? How can this cultural phenomenon, which seems to be en vogue, be explained?
Mogakolodi Boikanyo, an editor with the Setswana newspaper Mokgosi and author of a Tswana novel, Lo Ojwa Lo Sale Metsi, traces the phenomenon back to elementary school where, he argues, poor performance in English is perceived as a sign of dullness and worthlessness. He argues that it is instances like this that help mould Batswana into a people with no pride in who they are.
“We learn from an early age that English confers more of a sense of self worth and pride than our local languages. English is seen as wealth. Le bagolo tota ba bua sekgoanyana. This is obviously wrong. Indians come here armed with good mathematical skills that are many a time not complemented by a good command of English, and still teach in our schools. I have been perceived a failure because I failed English at school. I think it’s time that jobs were applied for in Setswana. Imagine how it would be if we wrote our curriculum vitae in Setswana,” he contends.
A 23-year-old secretarial studies student at Selebi-Phikwe Technical College, Lesego Tlhabologo, is for this new multi lingual dialect. She does not see the development as problematic at all. She argues that falling for the dialect is inevitable given the fact that this is a changing society whose value system is also undergoing constant change. She sees the cultural phenomenon as a coping mechanism in a world that grows overly Euro-centric with each day.
“You see, English is far much better than Setswana because it is more specific. It does not beat about the bush as Setswana does. It goes straight to the point. For instance, there is only one word in Setswana for the words ‘love’ and ‘like’, ‘rata’. It does not sound good when someone tells you that ‘o apare bontle’, but ‘you are cute’, on the other hand, does it for me. It is even much more unfashionable and distasteful to propose to a girl using Setswana,” she argues.
Maybe she has a point. Kekwaletswe contends that Setswana and other indigenous languages, as Third World languages, are not developed in a way that can accommodate new lexical icons, especially those found in information technology such as ‘mouse’ and ‘cursor’. He argues that this deficiency makes it difficult to market in Setswana. He says that English is a business language and people know that mastery of the language from a young age spells a good future. He further laments that Radio Botswana seems to no longer have personnel that can ably add new words to the Setswana vocabulary as they did with terms such as ‘kgotlha-more-o-itirise’ for ‘machinegun’.
A lecturer in the department of African Languages at the University of Botswana, who would not divulge her name because she “presents a synopsis of various opinions solicited from a number of linguistic and literary persons in the faculty of Humanities”, is adamant that given its own cultural context, Setswana is perfectly adequate to express any concept or knowledge. She identifies the linguistic gumbo as a developmental phenomenon.
“Tswana speakers now tend to code-switch to other languages since they think that they would express themselves better. They tend to value a language such as English, which has been perceived since the colonial era as a developmental tool and a language of prestige or as a sign of knowledge and modernity,” she observes.
The UB linguist further argues that Setswana has the potential to be a language of business and trade. “Isn’t it that business is done with Batswana? Covers and tags for locally produced goods should be in both Setswana and English,” she argues.
She adds that language is made stronger by its users. According to her, it is the speakers who make English superior to Setswana and it is them who can also place it in a positive light by not placing it below other languages. She concurs with Kekwaletswe that there is a need to restore confidence in indigenous languages on the part of government by translating public texts, including laws and policies because they are after all made for Batswana.
“Let us put in place language use structures in our administrations, communications, businesses and schools. Let us write HIV/AIDS messages in Setswana and other indigenous languages of Botswana, where possible. Let us reward good use of Setswana for instance, the best Setswana speaker and user in the media, at work or at school. Let us invite the general public to coin new Setswana expressions for new technologies and equipment,” she advises.

From Mmegi Newspaper, Tuesday 5 April 2005

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Modimo o o nko e metsi

Gantsi ga re lemoge fa tikologo ya rona e ama puo ya rona. Mo Setswaneng go na le dilo tse dintsi tse di amang ka fa re buang ka teng. Dingwe tsa tsone ga re di tseye tsiya, ga re tseye fa di ka nna le seabe sepe se se utlwalang mo go ameng ka fa re dirisang puo ka teng. Mme selo se se fitlhelwa mo puong nngwe le nngwe. Tsaya sekai, morafe wa MaEskimo (bangwe ba ka nna ba tsaya fa ke kgetholola, ba batla gore ke bitse morafe o ke re BaEskimo – ba tlaa nkinela diatla metsing.) go dumelwa fa o na le mafoko a mantsi a a rayang kapoko ka kapoko ke karolo e kgolo ya matshelo a bone. Fela kapoko e le karolo e kgolo ya matshelo a bone, rona jaaka Batswana kgomo ke yone pinagare ya itsholelo ya malwapa ka bontsi. Batswana ka ngwao re ba rua kgomo. E re ntswa dinamanyane di foforwa ke leuba, kgotsa bontsi bo hularela temo, kgomo e santse e le sesupo sa itsholelo e bile monna yo kgomo tsa gagwe di thibang marang a letsatsi o tlotlega setšhabeng. Kgomo e humisitse puo ya rona thata. Re ka akanya ka mafoko a mantsi a a amanang le kgomo. Ga re kitla re kgona go a nankola otlhe mme re tlaa kgotlha fela ka lotlhokwa.

Le rona fela jaaka MaEsekimo re na le kgumo e e boitshegang ya mafoko a a rayang kgomo. A re simolole fela ka gore ngwana wa kgomo o bidiwa namane, mme re bo re tswelela ka go tlhalosa dinamane. Mohungwana ke namane e e fitlhetsweng mo kgomong mmaayo a sena go swa. Lebotlana ke namane e e leng gone e tsalwang. Lesolemotlhabana ke lebotlana le le godileng. Lesole ke namane e e tiileng e e godileng. Moalolelo ke namane e e tlogedisitsweng go anya mmaayo. Kgomo e tonanyana e e sa fagolwang re e bitsa re re poo. Sempoo ke poo e e sa fagolegang sentle. Tshikela ke poo e e fagotsweng e godile.
Mo kgomong tse di namagadi re a tle re re, letsetse ke kgomo e fetsa go tsala. Lephusa lone ke kgomo e dusitse e palangwe ke poo. Kgomo e e gangwang yone re e bitsa leradu. Fa e sa ntshe maši a mantsi re e bitsa re re motete. Fusa ke kgomo, e sena go koba namane gore e sa tlhole e anya – ra re e husitse. Mageri ke mašwi a e leng gone a remang a re a bitsang themisani. Moreba one ke kgomo e e sa tsaleng.

Fa kgomo e sena dinaka ra re e tšhotšwa.

Re na le diane le manatetshapuo a mefuta a a supang fa kgomo e le karolo e e botlhokwa ya matshelo a batswana. Ke tlaa difa fela ka tatelano ke dumela fa mmadi o kile wa kopana natso. Re le Batswana ra re: Nnete ga e jelwe kgomo; kgomo mogobea e wetswa ke namane; lebitla la kgomo ke molomo; mmatla kgomo kolomela o etse mhata sediba; kgomo ga nke e ntsha boloko jotlhe; kgomo ga e nke e tlhaba mong wa yone; kgomo ga e latswe namane e se ya yone; kgomo ga e imelwe ke dinaka e le tsa yone; mokoduwe go tsoswa o o itsosang; kgomo go tlhabana tsa lesaka le le lengwe; makuku a naka tsa kgomo; maši a kgomo ke tswa thobeng ke le phepa, selabe se tla le motsayakgamelo; mmala wa kgomo o gola namaneng; go baya motho mabele a kgomo; go opa kgomo lonaka; go bopa kgomo ya mmopa; phitlhela kgomo ya serotswana; go sena kgomo ya boroko; go jela motho kgomo; kgomo ya lefisa re e gama re lebile tsela. Kgomo e tshwarwa ka dinaka, motho o tshwarwa ka mafoko; kgomo e e maši ga e itsale; mosima o duleng kgomo ga o thujwe ka bobi; mahube a naka tsa kgomo le e e mašwi ga e itsale.

Ke lekile go supa fa Setswana se humile mafoko a a rayang kgomo ka kgomo e le karolo e e botlhokwa ya matshelo a Batswana. Mafoko le diane di di ntsi tse di buang ka kgomo. Go na le ditumelo tsa Setswana tse di amanang le kgomo. Go dumelwa gore fa kgomo e jele lesapo la motho madi a yone a tlhakana le maši. Gape Batswana ba dumela fa dirwe dingwe tsa kgomo di sa siamela batho bangwe. Go na le dirwe dingwe tsa kgomo tse di jewang ke bomme, dingwe e nne tsa borra fa bagodi ba na le tsa bone. Dinama tse di tshwanang le bo telele, diphilo, mokoto le dinama tse dingwe ga di jewe ke mongwe le mongwe. Ka jalo kgomo ke karolo ya tumelo ya Setswana, ke sone se bangwe ba e bitsang modimo o o nko e metsi, le fa nna ke ebisa sešabo fela. Dikai re ka tsaya tse dintsi go supa fa re le baruakgomo, ka jalo a re kgwe mowa di ise di timela batho ba ga matshaba le kgomo matlogela temo e le seholela.

The text was published in my column in the Mokgosi Newspaper

Mathaithai a pelo

Go setse go itsege gompieno gore puo e ikhumisa ka go dirisa mafoko a a farologanyeng a a rayang dikarolo tsa mmele. Mafoko a, a na le bokao jo bontsi jo re iseng re bo anege, re bo tsharabolole gore re bo tlhaloganye sentle. Mafoko mangwe a re ka a akanyang ke jaaka ‘seatla’ go raya mothusi; ntswa maoto; go nna mokwatla wa kompone jalo jalo. Mme tlhotlhomiso e e tseneletseng e ya tlhokega gore re tlhaloganye gore puo ya rona e itogile jang. Mme fa re batla go tlhotlhomisa puo e e dirisiwang ke batho letsatsi le letsatsi, re tshwanetse ra tsaya puo e e le mo tirisong re e anege, re e rune, re e tlhotlhe, re e tenolole gore re bone gore e bopilwe jang. Se re ka se kgona fa re ka kgobokanya mafoko a a dirisiwang mo dikoranteng, dibuka, dikwalo, ipapatso, mo puong ya letsatsi le letsatsi, kwa makgotleng, mo dibareng le mo mafelong a a farologanyeng. Mme fa re ka nna fatshe ra re re akanye fela gore puo e dirisiwa jang re tlaa palelwa ka gore go thata go akanya makgetlho, kgotsa diemo tse di farologanyeng tse lefoko le dirisiwang mo go tsone. Le one mafoko go thata go nna fatshe o bo o a ntsha mo mogopolong fela o bo o a kwala fatshe. O tlhaelela kgakala.

‘Pelo’ re itse fa e le sesuma se se sekgapha se se pompang madi mo mmeleng wa setshedi. Mme lefoko le ga se gantsi le dirisiwa jaana. Fa le dirisitsweng teng ke mo polelong ya ga tlhapi le kgabo e tlhapi a tsayang kgabo a re ba boele pelo! Gantsi lefoko le le dirisiwa mo maeleng le diane kgotsa mo makgabisapuong a mefuta. Mme fa le dirisiwa ka methale-thale, le nna le bokao jo bo farologanyeng. A re lebelele mathaithai a pelo.

Pelo e kgona go fela, e lapisege; motho a nne pelo khutshwane ntswa pelo ya mongwe le mongwe e le khutshwane ka tlholego. Nako tse dingwe motho o nna pelo telele. E tloge e nne monate e ka re e a jewa! Kgotsa e nne bosula. Nako tse dingwe re re e ya itaya, e kare ntse e eme kgotsa e phophotha mongwe mabole. E a utswiwa, kgotsa mongwe a e gape, re re: Mokgarejwana ole ka re o go gapile pelo. Mo gongwe tse dingwe di tswe, e ntse e le mo go wena. Re bo re go kope gore o e tshware: Tshwara pelo mogolole!

Nako tse dingwe ra re o tlhomola pelo re ntse re itse fa e sa tlhabiwa ke mosetlho. Gongwe re e bone: motho a re: “Ke ne ka bona pelo ya gagwe gore ga e a itumela!” Kgotsa e seke e bonale gotlhelele: A sa bone pelo yame!

Mo gongwe re e fa maikutlo le maitshwaro a setho, re re motho o tsamaile ka pelo e e hutsafetseng, kgotsa e bue; motho o fitlhele a balabala ka pelo! Fa di etsaetsang teng ke fa di nna pedi, mme di bue dilo tse di farologanyeng… pelo e nngwe e re: ‘Ya kwa!’, fa e nngwe e re: ‘Nna fa’. Mo gongwe pelo e a eta, o iphitlhele o etile pelo, kgotsa pelo ya gago e nne go sele wena o le gone fa. Mo gongwe o tsoga pelo e itumetse. Nako tse dingwe e a lebala, e nne jaaka motho a lebeletse sengwe, e sirege! Nako e nngwe e tshwarwa ke tlala, mme e je serati!

Nako e nngwe e nna mebala, e nne tshweu, khibidu kgotsa e nne ntsho ke maleo – kgotsa e ntshofale fela! Pelo e a beta, e a kgama, e a hupetswa; motho yo o serintla a tle ka mabetwa-e-pelo, …pelo e sena boikhutso…e fufula! E tloge e nne matsadi, e gamukele botlhoko, e ubaube, e rothe madi e kare ga se tiro ya yone.

Makgetlho a mangwe e nne thata, e thatafale, motho a nne le pelo ya letlapa, kgotsa ya tshipi, kgotsa a e gatelele. Malatsi mangwe e a nyelela: motho go twe: ‘Ga a na pelo… ka re ntsa!’ Ke ipotsa gore ba kae ba ditshwanelo tsa diphologolo batle go utlwa jaaka maraki a sotlwa! Kgotsa e phatloge segalase……e garoge .. e tlalalane….matlhotlha pelo….

E a tle e lwale e bo e bolaye motho: motho a bolawe ke pelo ya motsoko. Bangwe ba kubugelwa ke bolwetse jwa pelo – kana koo teng bo bongwe fela fela. Kgotsa re re ‘go sena ’tsapa le fisang pelo’ - letsapa le nne legala le le tsididi le retelelwe ke go fisa pelo?
Nako tse dingwe e re o ntse o tsamaya mo botshelong o bone ‘wa pelo’ lo age motse. Mo gongwe o bo o se lesego; ntekwane o bone motho yo o suleng pelo. Bogologolo ba ne ba kopa pelo: ‘Tlhe mma ke kopa pelo ya gago’ Motho a ije dinala – ngwana o kwa masimo o disitse dipodi rraagwe gatwe o sule pelo. E tloge e kgaoge, e nne phuti, e nne potsane kgotsa pholwana e golegwe. E nne namagadi, e nne molotsanyana, e kotlomele. Letsatsi e nne la masetla pelo; o bone sengwe pelo e beege; Re e tlhatswe; ka go utlwa dikgang tse di tlhatswang pelo. E wele, e ritibale, e sidilege; … ka bongwefela jwa pelo re e tseye re e bule, re e neele Morena a e tlhatswe mme e itsheke.

The text was published in my column in the Mokgosi Newspaper

My work on Setswana Spellchecker

Setswana Spellchecker is a spellchecker for Setswana that was created using the Scannell and Otlogetswe wordlist. It includes versions for MySpell for use in OpenOffice and Mozilla on both Windows and Linux. Checkit out here: You may even download it for free if you want.

The Origins of "Tswana"

There is very little knowledge of where the words Se-Tswana and Bo-Tswana come from, only speculation exists:

The name Bechuana seems derived from the word chuana – alike, or equal – with the personal pronoun Ba (they) prefixed, and therefore means fellows or equals. Some have supposed the name to have arisen from some mistake of some traveller, who, on asking individuals of this nation concerning the tribes living beyond them, received the answer, Bachuana, “they (are) alike;” meaning “They are the same as we are,” and that this nameless traveller, who never wrote a word about them, managed to engraft his mistake as a generic term on a nation extending from Orange River to 18° south latitude…. The Bechuanas alone use the term to themselves as a generic. (Livingstone 1857:200/201)

Whether we accept Livingstone’s explanation of the etymology of the Tswana (as coming from tshwana, in current Setswana orthography) stem is not of major significance to our enquiry at this point (see Ramoshoana in Cole 1950:xx-xxii for criticism of this view). But many historians and grammarians agree that all the Tswana tribes identify themselves as members of a larger national unit – that of the Tswana cluster (Cole 1950:xx). They therefore call themselves Batswana and their language Setswana. Here I differ with Andersson and Janson in their claim that:

The idea of Setswana as one unified language, with one written form and only dialectal variation between the spoken forms is fairly recent… this was hardly the general view fifty years ago: at that time, a Mokwena might well argue that his language was Sekwena, not Setswana (1997:26).

There is enough compelling evidence dating back to the time before the missionaries codified the language, that the term Setswana included various “Setswana” dialects. This is adequately captured in the grammar books that I have quoted above, some travels records of explorers, and it is in no way a development of the past fifty years as Andersson and Janson would have us believe. But I would like to provide additional evidence that the concept of Setswana language is not as recent as it is claimed.

As far back as November 1806 the German, Hinrich Lichtenstein in Ueber der Beetjuans, published in 1807, which was later translated into English (see Lichtenstein, 1973:63), considered the Batswana a single linguistic group and wrote of ‘Beetjuana words’. He also lists in Upon the Language of the Beetjuans (1815:478-488) a vocabulary of The Beetjuan Language. And around the same time, Henry Salt (1814: appendix, xxvii) records A few words of the Mutshuana language copied from a manuscript journal of Mr Cowan. These words included, ‘sun’ let chãchi (letsatsi in current orthography); ‘moon’, werri (ngwedi); ‘much’ too na (tona) and ‘morning’ kom mo shu (kamoso). Campbell (1815:221) also lists Bootchuana Words in his Travels. Schapera records that,

The people among whom Moffat laboured at Kuruman were called Batlhaping (sing. Motlhaping). They were the southern-most tribe of the Bantu-speaking group collectively known as Batswana (usually written Bechuana or Bechwana) and the first group to come into contact with white people (Schapera, 1951:xv).

In 1857, Livingstone writes that Moffat had just completed translating ‘the Bible in the language of the Bechuanans, which is called Sichuana’. Lichtenstein (1930:407) also notes that,

Under the name of Betjuana, Sihtjuana, Muhtjuana, are to be included all the tribes that inhabit the country that extends from the river Kuruhman, as its most southern boundary thirty or forty days journey northwards; several tribes inhabiting this latitude extend quite to the eastern coast of Africa.

The weight of evidence that illustrates that Setswana has been regarded as a single language is weighty. The fact that a Mokwena might argue that he is speaking Sekwena and not Setswana as Andersson and Janson (1997) argue is a rather unconvincing way of attempting to cast doubt on the commonly known linguistic facts of this linguistic group. It may still be the case that a Mongwato man may argue that he is speaking Sengwato and not Setswana. Such statements should be interpreted as assertion of one’s identity with their tribe (or smaller group), to propagate and retain group pride. This is a well-known sociolinguistic fact that an attachment to a certain language or dialect may be used to signal group solidarity. But faced with the current data, we can only conclude that the compelling body of evidence points to the fact that Setswana has for a long time, at least two centuries, been the body label that includes the various Setswana dialects.[1]

[1] Anderson and Janson are however right in alluding to the fact that tribal names are reflected in the names of the languages with the prefix change. Thus Bangwaketse speak Sengwaketse; Bangwato, Sengwato; Bakwena, Sekwena; etc.

This an extract from my Oxford University M.Phil thesis in General Linguistics

Early Setswana Lexicographic Work

Setswana has a long lexicographic tradition although it has involved slow production of lexicographic work over the years. Current lexicographic writings usually trace the origin of the Setswana lexicographic analysis to John Brown’s bilingual dictionary of 1875 (Kgasa and Tsonope, 1998:iv), or to 1830 when Robert Moffat published a Setswana version of the Gospel of St Luke, and at the back offered two pages of explanations of the more “difficult” words.

In 1830 Robert Moffat published a Setswana version of the gospel of St Luke, and at the back offered two pages of explanations of the more “difficult” words. Is it fanciful to regard this as the first small germ of a dictionary? …but the first published dictionary of which the Botswana Book Centre has record is that of John Brown in 1875 (Jones in Matumo, 1993:vii).

Actually ‘the first gem of a dictionary’ lies much earlier than the Moffat’s 1830 writings that Jones refers to. Research shows that Hinrich Lichtenstein in the two volumes of Travels in Southern Africa in the years 1803, 1804, 1805, and 1806 had a list of about 270 Setswana words and phrases. The original document in German appeared around 1811. Therefore the earliest lexicographic activity known to us so far can be traced to 1803-1806, in Lichtenstein works. In 1815, John Campbell in his Travels in South Africa gave a list of 80 ‘Bootchuana Words’. Salt (1814) in Voyage to Abyssinia contains a list of 20 Mutshuana words and their equivalents in English. According to the evidence we have so far, lexicographical work in Setswana, regardless of its size and detail, existed before the work of Moffat, who came to Southern Africa in 1816.

The first bilingual dictionary, Lokwalo loa Mahuku a Secwana le Seeneles, was compiled by John Brown (1875) of the London Missionary Society. An enlarged and revised version was published in 1895 and was reprinted in 1914 and 1921. In 1925 John Tom Brown produced the third edition of this dictionary based on A.J. Wookey’s research
[1]. However since the 1925 dictionary version of Tom Brown to mid 1970s, Botswana went through an inactive period of dictionary production. It was not until 1976 that Morulaganyi Kgasa published his 134-page monolingual dictionary – Thanodi ya Setswana ya Dikole ‘The Setswana Dictionary for Schools’, whose main target group was primary school pupils. Kgasa’s dictionary was the first monolingual dictionary from Botswana. In 1998, in collaboration with Joseph Tsonope, Kgasa produced the second monolingual dictionary Thanodi ya Setswana which up to date remains the definitive monolingual Setswana dictionary from Botswana. For this reason, I will make repeated references to it. A smaller, but detailed, trilingual dictionary -Setswana, English and Afrikaans- was produced by Snyman et al in South Africa, whose target was the secondary and university reader. The latest dictionary from Botswana is Creissels and Chebanne’s Dictionaaire Francais-Setswana Thanodi Sefora Setswana, which is the first French/Setswana bilingual dictionary. Its primary target group is students of French at secondary and university level. It stands out as the first and only dictionary from Botswana with phonemic transcriptions and a large amount of pictorial illustrations.

Lack of Theoretical Lexicography

Although there has been an increase in the number of Setswana dictionaries, very little attention in Botswana is devoted to theoretical work on dictionaries. This problem is not unique to the Botswana situation, but it is a problem faced by the linguistic discipline at large as Connell notes:

Compiling and editing dictionaries – lexicography – certainly has to do with language, but judging by the lack of attention devoted to this practice in linguistics programmes and textbooks, one might be forgiven for concluding that it is relatively insignificant or is a task of such monumental complexity that it is still beyond our grasp (Connell, 2000).

The lack of interest in lexicography by linguistics departments, as Connell points out, results in a gulf between linguistic concerns and lexicographic ones. Lexicography as a theoretical practice is fairly recent in academic discourse in the world at large and more so in Botswana, although as a practice it has been around for centuries. Its development and success has depended greatly on advances in linguistic (Discourse Analysis, Phonetics, Morphology Translation Studies and Semantics, etc.) and on the development of printing (Johnson, 1824, preface; McArthur, 1986; Hudson, 1988). As stated above, interest in lexicographic theory in Botswana are almost non-existent and this is especially shocking in that lexicographic practice is fairly vibrant and dictionaries are used consistently across the education spectrum. In many educational departments, debates on the validity and structure of dictionaries have largely been left to publishing houses, which advertise them in various schools. The danger with this commercial approach is that scholarly lexicographic work stands threatened by the pursuit of profit. Clear theoretical analysis of, and debates concerning dictionaries, using some of the recent lexicographical principles needs to be maintained to assess the quality of contemporary dictionaries. It is important that this is done within a scholarly framework to advance the development of lexicographic research, both at a theoretical level and at the level of dictionary production. Having discussed a historical development of dictionary making in Setswana, I will proceed to look at some of the common problems that have faced lexicographers through the history of Bantu lexicography in general.
[1] Peters, M.A., Bibliography of the Tswana Language, State library, Pretoria, 1982: xxiv

This an extract from my Oxford University M.Phil thesis in General Linguistics

The 100 most popular Setswana personal names listed in alphabetical order

Part of my research is on Setswana personal names. I here list the top 100 Setswana personal names from my corpus of over 25 000 Setswana personal names. By (pl.) we mean that it is as if something is said to many people instead of an individual. I am writing a bilingual dictionary of Setswana personal names which will have over 16 000 entries.

Amogelang ---- receive; accept (pl.)
Akanyang ---- think (pl.)
Baboloki ---- saviours; people who save
Barulaganye ---- they come immediately one after the other
Boikanyo ---- a dependence
Boitumelo ---- happiness; joy
Bontle ---- beauty
Botshelo ---- life
Dikeledi ---- tears
Dineo ---- gifts
Dipuo ---- talks
Ditiro ---- acts
Gaone ---- of His (God)
Godiraone ---- it is Him (God) who acts or who does
Gofaone ---- it is Him (God) who gives
Goitsemang ---- who knows?
Goitsemodimo ---- it is God who knows
Goitseone ---- it is him (God) who knows
Gosego ---- lucky is he
Itumeleng ---- be happy; celebrate; rejoice
Kabelo ---- a gift
Kabo ---- that which has been given
Kagiso ---- peace
Karabo ---- answer
Keabetswe ----I have been given
Kealeboga ----thank you; I am thankful
Keamogetse ----I have received; I have been paid
Kedibonye ---- I have seen them
Kefilwe ---- I have been given
Keitumetse ---- I am happy; I am thankful
Kelebogile ---- I am thankful
Keneilwe ---- I have been given
Kenosi ---- I am alone
Kgomotso ---- comfort
Kgosi ---- chief; king
Kgosiemang ---- who is the chief
Khumo ---- wealth; riches
Khumoetsile ---- wealth has come
Lebogang ---- be thankful
Lesedi ---- light
Lesego ---- luck; a blessing
Lorato ---- love
Malebogo ---- thanks (noun)
Marea ---- Mary
Masego ---- blessings
Matlho ---- eyes
Matshidiso ---- condolences
Mmoloki ---- a saviour
Mmusi ---- governor; a ruler
Moagi ---- a builder; a resident
Modise ---- herdboy
Moeng ---- a guest; a visitor
Mogapi ---- one who confiscates
Mogorosi ---- one who brings the animals into the kraal in the evening
Mogotsi ---- the builder of fire
Mokgosi ---- a loud call for help
Molatlhegi ---- the lost one
Molefe ---- pay damages for her
Molefi ---- one who pay damages to another
Mompati ---- one who accompanies me
Mooketsi ---- one who increases
Morapedi ---- one who prays
Moremi ---- one who cuts with an axe
Moseki ---- one who appears before a court
Mosetsanagape ---- a girl again
Mosimanegape ---- a boy again
Mosweu ---- the light coloured
Mothibi ---- one who drives animals
Mothusi ---- a helper
Motlalepula ---- one who brings rain
Motsumi ---- a hunter
Mpho ---- a gift; a present
Neo ---- a gift; a present; that which is given
Oaitse ---- he knows
Obonye ---- he has seen
Odirile ---- he has done, created, made
Oduetse ---- he has paid
Ofentse ---- he has conquered; he is victorious
Olebile ---- he is watching
Olebogeng ---- thank Him (God)
Onalenna ---- He (God) is with me
Onkemetse ---- he is representing me; he is awaiting me
Ontlametse ---- He (God) has protected me; He (God) has tataken care of me
Oteng ---- He is there
Othusitse ---- He has helped
Otsile ---- He has come
Pono ---- sight
Pule ---- rain
Segomotso ---- a comfort
Sethunya ---- a flower
Tapologo ---- relaxation
Tebogo ---- thanks (noun)
Thapelo ---- prayer
Thatayaone ---- His (God) strength
Thato ---- Will; desire
Tshegofatso ---- Grace; Blessing
Tshenolo ---- Revelation
Tshepo ---- Trust
Tsholofelo ---- Expectation
Tuelo ---- Payment

Setswana Facts

SIL code: TSW
ISO 639-1:
ISO 639-2: tsn
1,070,000 in Botswana (1993 Johnstone), 70% of the population. Population total all countries 4,000,000 (1999 WA).
Spoken throughout the country as lingua franca, and as mother tongue primarily in the Southeast and Kgatleng districts, the eastern half of Southern and Kweneng districts, in the Serowe-Palapye and Mahalapye subdistricts of Central District, and around Maun village in Northwest District. Also spoken in Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe.
Alternate names
Niger-Congo, Atlantic-Congo, Volta-Congo, Benue-Congo, Bantoid, Southern, Narrow Bantu, Central, S, Sotho-Tswana (S.30), Tswana.
Southern Sotho, Northern Sotho, and Tswana are largely inherently intelligible but have generally been considered separate languages. Standard Tswana uses Kgatla dialect. Used among the educated. Used more for spoken purposes than written. All ages. Vigorous use. 90% to 95% of children complete standard 7 in primary school. National language. Dictionary. Grammar. Literacy rate in first language: 80% to 90%. Officially used as language of instruction in grades 1-4 in all government primary schools. Often used for explanations through Standard 7 and first 2 years of secondary. Taught as a required subject in all secondary schools. Newspapers, magazines, radio programs, TV. Agriculturalists, pastoralists: cattle. Christian, traditional religion. Bible 1857-1993.
Also spoken in:
Language name
6,050 in Namibia (1991 census).
Education, administration, radio broadcasting. National language. Radio programs. Pastoral: cattle, agriculturalists. Bible 1857-1993. See main entry under Botswana.

South Africa
Language name
2,822,000 in South Africa (1995), 7.2% of the population (1995 The Economist).
Alternate names
Close to Southern and Northern Sotho. National language. Newspapers, radio programs. Bible 1857-1993. See main entry under Botswana.

Language name
29,350 in Zimbabwe (1969 census).
Alternate names
Spoken by the Bakaka. Bible 1857-1993. See main entry under Botswana

The Setswana language

The language, Setswana, is spoken widely in Southern Africa. Mainly in Botswana and in South Africa in the Northern Cape, the central and western Free State and in the North-West Province. There are also few speakers in Namibia. There are around 3 301 774 people in South Africa who use it as their home language & over a million speakers in Botswana. Setswana was the first Sotho language written to have a written form. In 1806 Heinrich Lictenstein wrote Upon the Language of the Beetjuana. While in 1815, John Cambell wrote Bootchuana words and was followed by Burchell who wrote about Botswana in 1824. Dr Robert Moffat from the London Missionary Society arrived among the Batlhaping in Kudumane in 1818, and he built the first school for Botswana. In 1825, he realised that he must use and write Setswana in his teachings. He finished translating The Gospel according to Luke in 1830, The New Testament in 1840 and the Old Testament in 1857. The first Motswana (speaker of Setswana) who contributed to the history of written Setswana is Sol D T. Plaatje, who, with the help of Professor Jones wrote Tones of Secwana Nouns in 1929. The New Testament and the Psalms were translated in 1963 in the 1910 authography and the whole Bible was translated into Setswana 1970.