I have recently been studying Setswana names using a database of around one million names. My focus has been on the kgotla and kgosi names, that is, names that in the structure comprise kgosi or kgotla in their form.
There is a close relationship between a kgotla and kgosi since both represent traditional Tswana power. A kgosi’s power is administered from a kgotla and it is almost impossible to envisage a kgotla without a kgosi. The kgosi and the kgotla both express tribal leadership. A study of names that make reference to chieftaincy is significant in that it will shed light on how different members of the society have thought about the institution of chieftaincy. As Schapera (1970:5) has observed “The Chief is therefore not only the ruler of the tribe. He is also the visible symbol of its cohesion and solidarity” In this column I am only making rather restricted commentary on kgosi names and not on kgotla names.
Our data on kgosi covers a wide spectrum of opinion on chieftaincy. This is done through a number of images of strength and defence that are found in the names such as thebe (shield), thaba (hill/mountain), tau (lion) and ngaka (doctor). Kgosithebe, Kgosithaba, Thebekgosi, and Kgositau Kgosingaka, Kgosithaba portray a chief as the defender of a tribe just as a shield would defend a warrior on the battlefield against the flaming assegais or arrows or perhaps like a mountain that shelters a tribe from assailants. A chief is also depicted as a lion that devours its enemies. In this regard the chief is portrayed as the defender and embodiment not only of the tribe in a physical sense, but of tribal values and norms as well. It is chieftaincy that is seen as the strongest defence against foreign elements. It epitomises a sense of the core culture of the people; their beliefs, strengths, and weaknesses. The defeat of chieftaincy translates into a defeat of the tribal system as we know it.
In Kgosipula, Kgosimore, Morewakgosi, Kgosipheko, Kgosikhumo, Kgosidijo, Kgosisejo, Kgosibodiba the bountifulness associated with chieftaincy is expressed. The metaphor of the rain is seized to express many sides of the chief’s role and character. One could see the chief as the rain that cleanses the tribe of undesirable elements thus leaving the tribe healthy. The rain might also signal life; just as rain brings life to the crops, the chief brings life to the tribe. A tribe with a chief is full of vigour and has a sense of direction. The chief is also portrayed in a medicinal manner as an herb that restores health to a sick tribe. He unites the fragmented tribe and restores order and discipline as he settles disputes and punishes misconduct. The chief also represents tribal wealth, for he will defend the tribe against marauding bands of cattle thieves who raid villages and leave communities on the brink of poverty. Gulbrandsen (1995:421) observes that “The kgosi is not only rich but ideally generous, the source of wealth for all.” This is so since a kgosi used to control used to control the tribal herd and a common granary, serving as the major source of concord and prosperity. Such names reflect a chief as an essential element in the life of a tribe.
Other kgosi names comment on the lack of chieftaincy or the absence of kgosi. Kgosidiile, Gabaitsekgosi and, Gabanakgosi may be given to refer to those who do not place great respect on the institution of bogosi and therefore the names despise those whose culture does not value chieftaincy. The names could also be pointing to a tribe that has not known a chief since he died or went away for whatever reason.
Kgosiemang, Kgosidintsi, Kgosidialwa, Kgosikemang and Kgosijang articulate the wrangling for chieftaincy that is common in many tribes (for instance the fight between Kgosi Seepapitso III and his younger brother Moeapitso (Matemba, 2002). The fight for the Bakwena of Sechele in Molepolole chieftaincy of 2000-2002 with its roots deeply entrenched in the colonial era is a case in point. Therefore names like Kgosiemang accurately articulate an existing uncertainty since it serves to question who the true leader of the tribe is. Kgosidintsi expresses that there are too many claimants to the throne ÔÇô a state that can be a source of tribal unrest. Kgosidialwa on the other hand expresses a conflict between members of the royal house or between tribal leaders. For instance there was a fight between Bathoen II of the Bangwaketse and Kgosi Gobuamang of the Bakgatla (Mmanaana) around 1934 over the refusal of the later to pay medical levy to Bathoen and a cessation of a tax commission to Gobuamang. Following much conflict and strife Kgosi Gobuamang left Moshupa with a group of followers and relocated to Thamaga (Matemba, 2000).
A name such as Kgosijang questions how a certain individual ascended to the leadership of a tribe. A case in point is following the suspension of Kgosi Seepapitso IV from bogosi of Bangwaketse by the government, his son Leema was placed in leadership by government (Gulbrandsen, 2012:142). Gulbrandsen observes that “Kgosi Seepapitso was absolutely opposed to the idea that Leema should act in his place. Leema was however, apparently tempted by prospects of permanently replacing his father.
Kgosi Seepapitso approached Leema in a letter, requiring him to step down which Leema rejected…. Leema refused to obey, arguing, ‘I was appointed by the government, and its only the government which is going to remove me.”…The fact that he was offered a house by the government and he was driving a Mercedes Benz gave rise to suspicion that the government was bribing him.” (Gulbrandsen, 2012:142) “The state and the social: state formation in Botswana and its precolonial and colonial genealogies”
This led to some villagers in Kanye wondering how Leema could agree to ascend to his father’s throne whilst his father was still alive. They therefore asked: E le gore o ka nna kgosi jang? ‘How could he become a chief?’ Therefore names about chiefs are not just praise names. In this way names are also critical commentaries on the institution of bogosi. Other names
Other kgosi names celebrate the arrival or birth of a kgosi. They are individuals’ claim of their kgosi. For instance names such as Kgosietsile, Kebonyekgosi, Kenalekgosi, Kgosiyame, Gotsilekgosi, Kgosiyarona, and Kelebalekgosi all celebrate a kgosi.
Some names reflect a relationship that individuals have with a kgosi. I am here referring to names such as Mokopakgosi, Molaakgosi, Modisakgosi, Kekopakgosi, Motlhankakgosi, Rebakgosi, Reetsakgosi, Molatakgosi, Mosimaneakgosi, Wakgosi, Wadikgosi and Mosimanewakgosi.
Before leaving the discussion of names with kgosi, it is worth noting the ambiguity that usually exists in the use?of the word ‘kgosi’. ‘Kgosi’ is not only used to refer to the leader of a tribe in Setswana discourse, but also to mean the eldest son, since he is usually seen as the one who takes care of the household in the absence of the father.
Therefore names like ‘Gotsilekgosi’ should not be taken necessarily to comment on the birth of a future tribal chief, but may as well be making a statement on the birth of the eldest son.