Sunday, January 29, 2006

Botswana National Anthem & its terrible English translation

Fatshe leno la rona,
Ke mpho ya Modimo,
Ke boswa jwa borraetsho;
A le nne ka kagiso.


Tsogang, tsogang! banna, tsogang!
Emang, basadi, emang, tlhagafalang!
Re kopaneleng go direla
Lefatshe la rona.

Ina lentle la tumo
La tšhaba ya Botswana,
Ka kutlwano le kagisano,
E bopagantswe mmogo.


Tsogang, tsogang! banna, tsogang!
Emang, basadi, emang, tlhagafalang!
Re kopaneleng go direla
Lefatshe la rona.


Blessed be this noble land,
Gift to us from God's strong hand,
Heritage our fathers left to us.
May it always be at peace.


Awake, awake, O men, awake!
And women close beside them stand,
Together we'll work and serve
This land, this happy land!

Word of beauty and of fame,
The name Botswana to us came.
Through our unity and harmony,
We'll remain at peace as one.


Awake, awake, O men, awake!
And women close beside them stand,
Together we'll work and serve
This land, this happy land!

In this section I discuss some mis-translations of the Botswana national anthem which have in some sense gained official currency. I discuss problems with the National Anthem stanza by stanza and conclude by giving what i consider a better English translation of the national anthem.


The first stanza starts by "Fatshe leno la rona" and its badly translated as "Blessed be this noble land." The Setswana version has no "noble" & "blessed". The accurate translation is "This land of ours" or "This country of ours" it does not proclaim any blessing nor does it make any claim that the country or land is noble in any way.

The second line: "Ke mpho ya Modimo" is wrongfully translated as "Gift to us from God's strong hand". The right translation is "It is a gift from God" or a "It is a gift of God." The sense of "God's strong hand" is nowhere expressed in the Setswana version. "to us" in the English version is also nowhere in the Setswana version. If it was there it would have appeared as "go rona".

The third line "ke boswa jwa borraetsho" is translated as "Heritage our fathers left to us". This translation is fine semantically, although I feel an accurate rendering is "It is an inheritance from our fore-fathers."

I am at peace with the translation of "A le nne ka kagiso." as "May it always be at peace."


Here I query the second line "Emang, basadi, emang, tlhagafalang!" which is translated as "And women close beside them stand." The translation is totally inaccurate! The Setswana version doesn't say anything about women being "close BEHIND!!!" standing next to the men! The proper translation should read something like "Arise, O women, arise! energised"

The last two lines "Re kopaneleng go direla, Lefatshe la rona" is rendered in flowery words as: "Together we'll work and serve, This land, this happy land!" These are rather of the mark for the Setswana version doesn't say "we'll" and "this" nor does it say "This happy land"! A better translation is "Let us work together to serve, our land/country." I wonder who came up with the flowery stuff!!


The only "bad word" in the translation of the first line of the last stanza is the first word "Ina" which is rendered as "Word" in the English translation. This rendering is inaccurate. "Ina" is a shortened form of "Leina" which means "name". This makes sense as it refers to the name of the country. The English translation should therefore read as "Beautiful name of fame".

The second line "La tšhaba ya Botswana" is translated as "The name Botswana to us came." As tiring as it is to write it, but the translation is wrong too. The right one is simply: "Of the nation of Botswana". This follows well after the first line: "Name of beauty and of fame."

The third line "Ka kutlwano le kagisano," is rendered as "Through our unity and harmony". Let's deal with the individual words in this line "kutlwano' is a noun that is derived from "utlwana" meaning "befriend each other" or "be at peace with one another". "Kutlwano" is therefore "a state of peace or mutual friendship" or a harmonious relation. "Kagisano" is derived from "agisana" meaning "reconcile". "Ka kutlwano le kagisano" therefore translates to "Through harmonious relations and reconciliation."

The last line is ungrammatical in the Setswana language. It suffers from what grammarians term as "number agreement problems." Let's illustrate this with the sentence *"Mary and John is reading". You get the problem? While the previous line refers to "kutlwano" AND "kagisano" the final line uses "E", the singular pronoun to refer back to the plural Noun Phrase. There is therefore no number agreement. It should therefore read in Setswana: "Di bopagantswe mmogo". Se se bopaganeng here is "kutlwano" AND "kagisano". When that hurdle is passed, the proper translation is not, "We'll remain at peace as one" for there is no reference to "peace" in the Setswana text. The text actually means: "bound together" here refering to "harmonious relations" and "reconciliation".

I here therefore offer a different translation

Translation © Thapelo Otlogetswe 2006

This land of ours,
Is a gift from God,
An inheritance from our fore-fathers,
May it always be at peace.

Awake, awake, O men, awake!
Arise, O women, arise! be energised,
Let us work together to serve,
Our land.

Beautiful name of fame
Of the nation of Botswana
Through harmonious relations and reconciliation
Bound together


Anonymous said...

Dumela rra, although I do not speak Setswana myself, I found your translation to be more accurate than the "official" translation. The less said about the terrible translation the better - Thabo

Anonymous said...

I am going to mafikeng in July. I will be there with helping hands doing a vacation bible school. I really like how you translated the anthem to what it really means or english is sort of a hodge podge. What do I need to know about the reality there.

Anonymous said...

The "official" lyrics may be less of a "translation" and more a "versification" (which rarely is an exact translation), after all the "official" lyrics fit the tune, while your more accurate translation does not.

(Several countries that have lyrics in more than one language have their original lyrics translated in a way to fit the melody, which means many liberties have to be made to the translation to fit the melody. When translating lyrics, either the translation suffers (resulting in a less accurate translation that you can sing) or the versification suffers (resulting in a more accurate translation that you cannot sing).

I run an extremely comprehensive website on information on national anthems ( and I was wondering if I would be able to put your translation on the Botswana page, alongside the official English versification that's already there (and make the difference clear), giving you the proper copyright credit as well. If not, I will not.

Anonymous said...

Fair comment David & you are free to use my translation.

Anonymous said...

u made a great effort to show us the real meaning of the setswana version, i was not aware that it is not translated correctly into enlish, maybe its because the enlish version is rarely sung. But when i sing the last stanza of the setswana version the meaning i get is that: ka kutlwano le kagisano tshaba ya Botswano e bopagantswe mmogo. "E" o raya tshaba ya Botswana. Thank you. Tshenolo

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for sharing this translation.

May I translate your literal translation into Hebrew and post it in the Hebrew Wikipedia?

I think that translations of national anthems in an encyclopedia should be literal and not poetic.

Thank you.

Masego said...

I found Otlogetswe's translation very relevant than the official one even though David doubt it...anyway, mmualebe o bua la gagwe.. thats how i percieve it,i like Otlogetswe's translation.

Masego Radinonyane said...

I would lyk to thank you so much Otlogetswe 4 sharing the translation..I really learnt a lot from it n many people will benefit from it.David you also played your part n made a very good comment with solid elucidations but i stand with Otlogetswe...

Bantsijang said...

Ke gone Bagaetsho...

bathmate said...

am going to mafikeng in July. I will be there with helping hands doing a vacation bible school.
it is really good


Job said...

Very interesting page and so beautiful translation! Ke a go rata

Kgalalelo said...

Surely accuracy means everything in the translation of a national anthem. Thank you tata.

Unknown said...

What an interesting post! I added your translation to English Wikipedia and named it 'Literal' version of that anthem! The translation you called "official translation" is actually a poetic translation of that anthem to make it more rhythmic to sing it with English. Thanks for a more correct translation!!!

Timothy Barton said...

Song translations are rarely faithful to the original. I don't know the anthem and I don't know Tswana, however, I can see that the first line in Tswana has seven syllables, as does the English version (assuming that "Blessed" is sung using the poetic form "Blessèd"), whereas your two proposals have four and five syllables, which, presumably, make it unsingable. You have to take the metre into account when translating a song.