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I write this column to clarify the misconception that seems to prevail more in the younger generation than the older one – the misconception is that bogadi is given to thank the bride’s family for raising their daughter. This is a weird supposition because nowhere in bogadi discussions or negotiations do you have anybody mentioning that they are delivering bogadi to thank the bride’s family. Bogadi has been with Batswana for a very long time and like any element of culture it has gone through multiple changes over the years. At one time it was even abolished both in Gammangwato and in Gangwaketse because of missionary influence on the dikgosi.
What is bogadi? Bogadi is cattle that are given by the groom’s family to the bride’s family as part of customary marriage. When the family of the groom comes to ask for the bride’s hand in marriage, the bride’s family demands bogadi before they can release their daughter. In some Tswana cultures bogadi is negotiated while in others it is fixed. For instance, amongst the Bangwaketse bogadi is fixed at eight cattle and a sheep, the one known as mokwele or lengwaelo. Bogadi is demanded by the bride’s family. They are the ones who tell the groom’s family the number of cattle they must bring during the wedding. This hasn’t always been the case though. There was a time amongst the Bangwaketse when the groom’s parents were the ones who told the bride the number of cattle they were bringing. Later in the Ngwaketse history, the bride’s family would say to the groom’s family: “Itlotleng” which translates to “Honour yourselves!” by so doing asking the groom’s family to set the price of bogadi for themselves! This was not as easy as it sounds. If you set the number of cattle too low, say at two cattle, they would then ask you: “Do you value yourselves at two cattle?” The pressure was therefore on the groom’s family to give more bogadi to demonstrate that they were an honourable family. This resulted with much variation and competition amongst families in the number of bogadi given. Additionally, well-off families made it difficult for young men from less privileged families to marry their daughters. Amongst the Bangwaketse this led Kgosi Bathoen to standardize bogadi to eight cattle.
There are therefore multiple functions of bogadi. It is through bogadi that a woman is shifted from the authority and control of her father and uncle and placed under the control of her husband – o a tsewa. Her husband overnight becomes rraagwe – her own father figure. Bogadi is part of a complex system of customary marriage that shifts a woman from one family to another. It turns the bride from a girl to a woman. It makes the bride into a woman who is culturally respected – yo o batlilweng – one who has been given the law of womanhood. In this state she can, with other women, socialize younger women into womanhood. She can be sent as mmamalome – the uncle’s wife – to be part of lobola negotiations. She can now eat sekgawane (a side of cow cut), and bokwana (chest beef cut) and participate in the leadership of the home and kgotla.
Bogadi is also given for the children, i.e. bogadi is given so that the bride may bear children. She is married precisely to give birth to heirs in the groom’s house – o tsile go re tsholela bajaboswa. She therefore functions to extend the family of the groom which is now her family. Children born into such a family arrangement are respected and there is an expectation that they will grow up to be good members of the community.
However if one had children outside wedlock, according to Setswana custom, two things would happen: (1) He would be required to pay damages – o atlholelwa tshenyo kgotsa go diga kgarebe lebele. He would be required to pay, sometimes up to six cows in compensation for impregnating the young woman – especially if he chooses not to marry the girl. Such a hefty penalty was imposed because it was believed that by impregnating the young woman, one has spoilt her chances of getting married. (2) A man could elect not to marry the mother but choose to pay bogadi for the children so that they could legally belong to the family of their father. In the event that their mother got married elsewhere, the custody would belong to the father. Just as bogadi is able to redeem a bride, in this case bogadi redeems the children and makes them belong to the family of the man. Bogadi jwa mothale o ke jo bo tsisang bana lwapeng mme bo tlogela mmaabone kwa ntle - tota jone ke jwa go baakanya phoso ya monna yo o paletsweng ke go nyala mmabana. Is bogadi therefore given exclusively for children? No! Can bogadi be paid for a barren woman? Definitely!
In other cases the father of the children doesn’t marry their mother. They cohabit for a long time without getting married. Sometimes the father is nowhere to be found – a ile lojwa. When the children are old enough to get married, the children would be expected to pay bogadi for their mother and for themselves. Such bogadi qualifies their mother to be part of the bogadi negotiations and it qualifies the mother of the bride to receive bogadi from the groom’s family. Bana ba a itheka; ba rekolola mmaabone ba mo ntshetsa bogadi gore a nne le ditshwanelo tsotlhe tsa go tshwara le go tsamaisa ditiro tsa tseo ya bana ba gagwe. Bogadi jwa mofuta o le jone ke jo bo baakanyang diphoso tsa monna, yo o dirileng dilo ka tshokamo a palelwa ke go ntshetsa mmabana bogadi gore bana ba tle ba dire dtiro tsa bone ka tshosologo le tlotlego.
Bogadi also changes a young man into a man who can participate in manly village affairs. He can sit with other men in the kgotla and plan and lead not just his household but his kgotla and morafe.
Bogadi therefore has multiple functions amongst the Batswana. It is not given to thank the bride’s family. It is an important element of a customary wedding.