Another look at Domboshaba cultural festival and Bakalanga heritage

Updated: September 27, 2013

by Bawumbe wa Chiwidi, repr. Sunday Standard

This paper provides a critique of the Domboshaba Festival of Culture and History. The opinions raised here result from a critical evaluation of objectives of Domboshaba Cultural Trust, the chief proponent and organisers of the cultural festival and general intentions of the event itself.

The need for this evaluation is compelled by sceptical reports, rising levels of dissatisfaction by traditional leaders and communities of Bukalanga at large on the future of what is arguably one of the largest cultural festivals in Botswana. In general, there is a public outcry that apart from a few traditional Kalanga huts built at the famous site where the festival is held annually, there is absolutely nothing more to show that this festival is of benefit to Bakalanga.

This is despite large amounts of money generated annually through gate takings, selling of various Kalanga regalia and even funds that are brought in through sponsorships and event donations. Many critics argue that the festival has now been detached from communities, lost meaning and is alarmingly turning into a commercial consortium that worries more about raising money than showcasing and promoting the culture of Bakalanga.

Digression of the festival from its original mandate, lack of active involvement of communities and sidelining of traditional leaders of Bukalanga as well as the apparent absence of a sustainable approach towards ensuring benefits to communities necessitates this paper.

As a result of the views advanced above, this year’s Domboshaba Cultural Festival should be more important to the organizing committee than any other held before. First of all, it provides an excellent opportunity for them to learn from last year’s poor attendance, lacklustre speeches reported in the Midweek Sun newspaper and unconvincing commentary provided by the area’s Member of Parliament and the few so called ‘prominent Bakalanga’ who spoke at the Open Forum at the last event.

The low levels of public participation at the Mayedziso (evening session) held at Kalakamati as well as the main event held at Domboshaba festival grounds should certainly provide a motive for improvement. This can only be feasible in the long run if the organizing committee can shift their focus from luring more people to the event for sake of generating funds.

They should instead work on establishing ways through which they can use the festival to generate a pool of relevant ideas which can be used to send the message to the ordinary Bakalanga people; the young, elderly and even physically challenged who do not go to the festival. This focus will require the organizing committee to revisit the mandate set up for Domboshaba Cultural Trust

At its inception on the 26th March 2006, the Trust sought to preserve and promote both the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of Bakalanga through a number of interrelated objectives. Of paramount importance among these are; organization of the annual Domboshaba Festival of History and Culture, resuscitation of traditional Kalanga craft production practices, enter into strategic partnerships to foster fundraising activities, development and management of a cultural village, to establish and maintain links with local authorities, Department of Culture, community organisations, land boards and any existing bodies that deal with promotion of culture including external bodies such as the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). This list forms the essence of major objectives that the Trust exists to achieve in Bukalanga.

The second major point of introspection that the organizing committee and The trust should do, is to try to understand their major stakeholder, Bakalanga people living in Botswana.

There is serious need for those at the helm to appreciate the fact that Bukalanga of North East District and the one falling in the Central District differ politically and culturally. While the former enjoys some degree of political autonomy, the latter falls, according to the Constitution of the Republic of Botswana, within the jurisdiction of Bangwato chieftainship.

This point shall be discussed further to elaborate on the need for an open minded, as opposed, to radical approach in mobilisation of communities to promote Ikalanga culture and language.

Another point that the Trust needs to appreciate is the relevance of Domboshaba Hills and the Domboshaba National Monument in the all-important process of reviving Ikalanga culture and language. Is it pure coincidence that the festival is held at the Domboshaba Hills not far from the nationally acclaimed monument of Domboshaba Ruins? If the answer to this question is in the negative as one would expect, then we need to question whether this festival resembles the exact meaning of what these two prominent places hold in the history of Bukalanga. Domboshaba Hills are significant in that they are a prehistoric area openly used for trading purposes in the whole of Bukalanga found in Botswana today and beyond.

One cannot help but wonder whether the present day Domboshaba provides Bakalanga of today an opportunity to trade openly ( instead of freely) at the area during the festival.

This point will be clarified later to elaborate some egocentrism displayed in recent times when the festival’s organisers chased away members of the community selling crafts, Kalanga meals and other essential commodities that the organisers did not even provide. Instead of viewing and treating these people as traders to resemble and therefore revive the prehistoric trading practice conducted at Domboshaba in the past, these poor people were cast out and labelled as vendors.

The third factor deals with the need for recognizing the role that community leaders play in preservation and even revival of cultural practices. There is need to realize that Bakalanga chiefs are traditional custodians of the culture of their people. From as far back as the early days of Bakalanga civilization around AD 1000, chiefs played the all-important role of determining the direction in which the culture of their people had to take.

They did this either by allowing foreign influence or discouraging it. They have always managed to do this as they are perpetually empowered by the virtue of their hereditary position in society to influence acceptable behavioural patterns in their communities. Failure to consult and closely work with them, as is the case now at Domboshaba festival, results in mistrust and alienation of Bakalanga people from making meaningful contribution in the otherwise good course of reviving their culture.
As mentioned above, there is general failure (perhaps deliberate) in the organisers of the event to appreciate and even understand the dynamics of chieftainship in the Bukalanga area falling within the Central District. The chiefs in this region have no authority to make a collective and final decision regarding certain issues revolving adjudication of the area which traditionally or culturally belongs to Bakalanga without consulting their ‘superiors’ at Serowe.

This is worsened by the fact that their positions as community leaders has become a fully paid job that is regulated by policies just like any other that is held by the organizing team.

Radical, unpopular and misguided approaches in the revival of Bakalanga culture and addressing sensitive issues like the need for political independence from Bangwato rule has potential to steer unnecessary tribal wars in the country. Apart from that, it is considered offensive within the realm of their job descriptions as it will be tantamount to insubordination.

To engage these chiefs and win their support in promotion of Bakalanga culture and language requires patience and understanding of their unfortunate positions. Today, many people living in the North East District label chiefs and fellow Bakalanga living in the Central District as sell-outs due to their lack of appreciation of these critical matters.

The case of the Baka Nswazwi and the ultimate results of their struggle against Bangwato domination during the 1940s remains a deep and ugly scar in the memories of elderly people in the Bukalanga part of the Central District. This therefore calls for Domboshaba Cultural Trust to adopt a different approach when dealing with these chiefs. Alienating and labelling them as Bangwato puppets will not help in addressing the issue of promoting Ikalanga culture.

Domboshaba Cultural Trust also needs to understand the dynamics needed in reviving and promoting Ikalanga culture. In the 7 years of their existence, what plan do they have in place to ensure that Bakalanga people do not go back to their respective homes and continue their normal lives each year after the annual Domboshaba Cultural Festival?

Apart from the Trust’s assumed office in Francistown and the cultural festival grounds in the Domboshaba Hills, where else do we have structures in place to ensure continuous implementation of the objectives of the Trust in all parts of Bukalanga?

As we do not have satellite offices or even desks at Tati Siding, Masunga, Mosojane, Mathangwane, Nata, Gweta, Sebina, Tutume and Maitengwe, can we certainly claim that an event that is attended only by those who have money to pay bus fees or use their own transport to go to Domboshaba Hills is enough to spearhead a revival of Ikalanga cultural practices? Do we see the impact caused by failure of the festival’s core values and messages to reach children aged between 4 & 15 and elderly people who are usually left behind with them? Is it not ironical then that the messages and important cultural practices conducted at Domboshaba do not reach the major targeted group; our children?

*Bawumbe wa Chiwidi is a pseudonym for a concerned Nkalanga

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