Kalanga culture in Botswana’s Matobo celebrated

Updated: August 9, 2013

By Abel Abednico Mabuse (repr Mmegi Online)

Long before this year’s annual Lidozo gwa Batategulu Culture Day celebrations in Matobo kick started, I learnt that there is certainly something special about Matobo village in Botswana.

Not only does the village share a name with one of Zimbabwe’s World Heritage site of Matobo Hills. Elderly people in the village trace their origins to this famous site and argue that the hills are named after their renowned leader she (chief) Matobo I. There are talks in the village that one of the custodians of the world acclaimed rain-making shrines of Njelele at Matobo Hills was a member of the community of Matobo. This woman is said to be part of an established lineage of custodians of Njelele shrine going as far back as the time when Bananzwa were living at Matobo Hills in present day Zimbabwe.

The people of Matobo are not the earliest settlers in the area. Long before they settled here, some Late Stone Age hunting and gathering communities occupied the area. One of these Late Stone Age sites is found about three kilometres South East of Matobo kgotla on a granite kopje locally known as Tshule Hill. Several red paintings are found on small shelters and panels of this hill.

It is therefore encouraging to note that even today, some of the descendants of the Late Stone Age hunter-gatherers live in and around Matobo village. Today, these people live among various Kalanga speaking groups that make up Matobo village in the northeastern part of Botswana. Oral traditions of Matobo suggest that the village is made up of Bananzwa, Bakwena from Marobela, Basarwa and other few groups that have settled in the village over time. The origins of the larger group that is known as Badheti is traced back to the Bakalanga of Banyayi origin that later on called themselves Bananzwa.

These people initially had moyo (heart) as their totem and it is suggested that their leader was Hwange. The Bananzwa are part of several groups of Bakalanga that migrated from areas around Khami, the capital of a prehistoric Bakalanga state of Butua during the military rule of the Nichasike mambos. They are believed to have fled northwards and settled among the Barotsi on the Zambezi Valley. Some people and writers say while living with the Barotsi, they changed their totem to shoko or monkey to conceal their identity. After sometime, the Bananzwa attacked a group of Batonga worshipping Nyaminyami snake god of the Zambezi River. In fear of the powerful Nyaminyami gods, these Bananzwa changed their name to Banambia to conceal their identity.

The Bananzwa are famously known for their migrations among all Bakalanga people. It is suggested that while in the area historically known as Bunanzwa near the Zambezi River, they learnt of the presence of an area with plenty water and animals known as Makgadikgadi and moved there.They probably moved back to Bunanzwa from Makgadikgadi before they were finally dispersed and found themselves back in the Makgadikgadi along the Boteti during Mfecane wars fuelled by the notorious armies of Ndebeles of Mzilikazi. While in the Boteti area, they mixed up with groups of Basarwa and probably Deti and changed their name to Badheti. From Boteti area, they settled at Bunyubi and later moved to Duthu la Majabubi where they settled near Bawumbe of Madandume. Some of the remaining Bananzwa and probably those who became Badheti can be found today in Matobo, Nswazwi, Nkange, in Tutume as Ba-Madikwe, Gambule and as far south as Shoshong.

Lidozo gwa Batategulu Culture day celebrations were held in Matobo main kgotla to celebrate this rich cultural heritage. Leaders and members of surrounding communities of Tjizwina, Madandume, Tjilagwani, Goshwe, Madikwe and members of Domboshaba Cultural Trust, representatives and well-wishers from the Departments of Arts and Culture, National Museum and Monuments glorified the event. The theme of this year’s celebrations was ‘Our Culture; Our Responsibility.’ Although the event started later than planned, it gained momentum immediately after Lidzo gwa Batategulu group eloquently sang the National Anthem in Ikalanga language.

Elderly people ululated jovially as their chief, She Matobo stood up to give the opening remarks of the event. He encouraged all present at the event to take heed of His Excellency the President’s calling to revive Botswana’s diverse cultures and reminded chiefs of surrounding villages to benchmark in Matobo and encourage their villages to do the same. She Matobo implored all villages found in the Tutume Sub District to work together to revive culture of Bakalanga and use it to improve their livelihoods. The Guest Speaker of the event was Leshatho Kopelang who became popular with the comminty of Matobo while she was a student at the University of Botswana. In her speech, she encouraged elderly and young people of Matobo and surrounding villages to revive Ikalanga culture and promote it through music, writing, dance, arts, dress, food, drama and all available ways.

Kopelang appealed to all people at the event to be proud of their cultural practices and desist from borrowing too much from foreign cultures. Similar sentiments were shared by  Marobela of Domboshaba Cultural Trust ealier on. He encouraged Bakalanga and non Bakalanga speakers at the event to write whatever knowledge they have on Ikalanga and ensure that the language and its associated cultural practices donot become extinct. Marobela reminded all that traditions are important as they help define people and show their cultural identity. He mentioned that the name of Makuta village originates from prehistoric trading networks ( ku kuta in Ikalanga) that Bakalanga of Domboshaba had with Basarwa living as far as the Makgadikgadi at hills near Makuta village. During such trading activities, Basarwa and Bakalanga would sit apart facing each other and negotiated with serious sad looking faces (ku kuta in Ikalanga)until an acceptable price was reached.

Orator and Ikalanga writers such as Tjolo Tjolotjo Jan Uyapo wa Mudaba Matjokoto kept listeners guessing as he poetically described Bukalanga during the rule of the Mambos and the Domboshaba days. Ikalanga dance groups such as Laedza Maitengwe, Baanadhi be Tjilenje from Nswazwi and poets such as Gaone Boki from Goshwe lit up the atmosphere in Matobo kgotla to signal a successfully organised celebration which fit the unique cultural heritage of Matobo. It came as no surprise to learn that such a well-attended event was funded by the community itself as the Badheti of Matobo believe that it is their responsibility to revive their cultural practices and celebrate their heritage.

When the dances, speeches and all formalities of the event were done, hundreds of people at this event were treated to traditional Kalanga dishes such as bhobola, tjimoni, thopi, zembgwe, marila and swaye. At the end of the day, traditional beer was brought to ‘wash down’ and sort of bless the success of Matobo Culture Day celebrations.


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