Thursday, October 5, 2023

Builders of Botswana ÔÇô Kgosi Kgari

We left off last week with the c. 1815 death of Kgama aMathiba, who was the first ruler to bear what would become the dynastic name of the Bangwato royal line. The names pre-eminence is, however, associated with his more famous great-grandson who would reign (1875-1923) as Kgosikgolo Khama III.

Most readers will be aware that ka Setswana “kgama” is the name for a type of antelope commonly known in English as a hartebeest. Prior to the 1937 Standard orthography “kgama” and “khama” appeared as divergent spellings, while since then most royal family members have preferred to continue to render their surname as Khama, although Kgosikgolo Sekgoma II (1869-1925) had generally used “Kgama”. Similar royal examples include Sechele, as opposed to Setshele, and Linchwe rather than Lentswe.

Kgama I was otherwise praised as “Mmamathula” and “Jabane”, names which are said to refer to his qualities as a military leader who established his hegemony over many of the smaller merafe, or communities of today’s Central District. In this context, he, rather than his father Mathiba, may be considered to have been the first true Kgosikgolo of a wider Gammangwato polity.

The Bangwato grew further during the brief but dynamic reign of Kgama’s son Kgari, who is credited with consolidating the power of bogosi to prevent further internal challenges and secessions, such as had occurred between his father and uncle Molosiwa, as well as earlier with Tawana.

Like many dikgosi, Kgari sought to consolidate his authority by elevating the social status of the family heads of non-relatives, who by origin often belonged to non-Phuti, bafaladi, groups who had either submitted to Bangwato authority or sought refuge within the morafe. This was principally done by entrusting the headmen with herds of cattle (go mafisa) so as to ensure their loyalty as a political counterbalance to the royal dikgosana.

Even after the Kgosikgolo’s death, the hereditary retainers of royal cattle were known as “Batlhanka bagaKgari”, while their descendents have since retained the honorific of “morwa Kgari (“sons of Kgari”). More generically, they were also referred to as “batshwari ba kgamelo”, which literally means the holders of the milk sacks. This is in reference to the expectation that they would periodically pay tribute to the kgosi in the form of madila, as well as meat. Scholars have thus at times referred to the Sengwato royal patronage network established by Kgari as the “kgamelo system”.

Kgamelo tribute was, however, secondary to the expectation that they would uphold the king’s authority in war and peace. During Kgari’s reign the batlhanka were liable to lose all of their livestock if their loyalty were to falter.

Although it can be translated as “servant” the name “motlhanka”, along with the institution of “botlhanka”, should not in the context of 19th century Gammangwato be confused with “malata” and “bolata”, which denote servitude that can be equated with the status of serfdom, if not slavery. By the time of Kgari bolata had also become a significant institution with many of the royal dikgosana as well as the Kgosikgolo being served by Khoe or Basarwa malata, who were expected to herd and hunt for their Bangwato masters without compensation.

Kgari also sought to increase his power through other measures. He ordered most Bangwato, i.e. Baphuti and bafaladi batlhanka, to live together in his capital village, which he established at Serowe. There he organized the batlhanka households into four major sections or ditlhase, which have survived as the Basimane, Ditimamodimo, Maaloso and Maalosa-a-Ngwana wards.

Building on Kgama’s legacy, Kgari further extended Bangwato overrule in the region. In the process, the Babirwa of Kgosi Malema, Bakaa of Kgosi Lebelwane, Baseleka of Kgosi Kobe, and Batalaote of Kgosi Matsoga, accepted his “protection”. In the aftermath of the assassination of Motswasele II the Bakwena faction of Segokotlo (regent to Sechele) also temporarily joined the Bangwato, as did the Batlokwa of Kgosi Leshage who had fled the Bakololo of Sebetwane.

After a successful first decade, from 1825 Kgari’s realm also came under Bakololo threat. Following his victories over Moruakgomo’s Bakwena and Makaba II Bangwaketse, Sebetwane sent raiding parties into Gammangwato. The crisis deepened in the aftermath of Sebetwane’s 1826 defeat at the hands of Sebego aMakaba II at Dithubaruba.

In the early months of 1827 the Bakololo moved in mass into the Gammangwato heartland, by which time Kgari had relocated his headquarters from Serowe to Khutswe. From there Kgari attempted to recoup his losses to the Bakololo with raids on the Bakalanga. The easy success of his initial forays appears to have encouraged the Phuti to launch his ill-fated full scale invasion of the Banyayi Kingdom, which culminating in his defeat and death at the Matopos.

Sengwato accounts of the debacle confirm that the Bangwato were lured into a narrow passage through the hills by Tombale’s Banyayi where they ambushed from all sides. Although the ground ahead had been scouted, most of Kgari’s lieutenants had advised against entering passage, correctly fearing a ruse. But, Kgari made his fatal decision to advance after younger regiments led by certain Taueyele decided on their own to rush ahead.


Read this week's paper