Monday, July 22, 2024

History of Bangwaketse ÔÇô Children of Matsieng (Part I)

Given the House of Ngwaketse’s past legacy and present status, the ceremony may ultimately prove to be more than a symbolic milestone in the regal affairs of one morafe. It is with such understanding that this first in a series of articles begins to explore the evolution of one of our country’s most resilient dynasties. For generations the heirs of Ngwaketse have survived, often against the odds, to exert a lasting influence in the development not only of Botswana, but also the surrounding region.

The autonomous history of the dynasty begins with the life of its namesake, Ngwaketse, who was a junior son of a Mokwena monarch named Malope. The line of decent from the original Malope to his current namesake is free of serious dispute. Kgosi Malope is the son of Seepapitso, who was the son of Bathoen of Seepapitso of Bathoen of Gaseitsiwe of Tshosa of Makgaba of Moleta of Mongala of Makgaba of Khutwane of Leema of Seepapitso, born of Ngwaketse of Malope.

Counting back the generations, the above genealogy suggests that Ngwaketse was probably born sometime in the late 16th century.

In many popular accounts Mohurutshe, Ngwato and even Kwena are also said to be sons of the earlier Malope. But comparative analysis of the existing genealogies for each of these merafe and other evidence calls into question the belief that the principal royal lines of the Bahurutshe and Bakwena, including Bangwato and Bangwaketse, all literally converged in single generation of siblings. Ngwato may have predated Ngwaketse by at least two generations, despite their fraternal association in many accounts, while the division between the progenitors of Bahurutshe and Bakwena royal lineages almost certainly goes back much further.

There is a tendency in any culture for oral traditions to compress events and personalities over time. What the folk memory does preserve is an enduring appreciation of common roots. In this respect, what is not in dispute is that the ruling families of each of the above merafe, as well as those of the Bakgatla and Barolong, including such offshoots as the Bakaa, each claim to be the decedents of an ancient ruler named Masilo.

Beyond common kinship, the putative descendents of Masilo, along with neigbouring Bakgalagari groups such as the Bakwatheng (alternatively Bakwatlheng), also share a deeper genesis mythology based on a common ancestor named Matsieng, who is said to have come into this world through Lowe’s cave, which is adjacent to Rasesa.

Throughout Southern Africa, Sotho-Tswana traditions more generally agree that the first ancestors emerged from the ground through sacred caves. While a number of reputed “caves of life” exist throughout the region, those merafe tracing their descent from Matsieng are consistent in their focus on Lowe’s as their place of origin.

The cave is named after a one-sided medimo who may appear in the form of a single legged giant. According to legend, Matsieng was once living without care in the underground realm of Tintibane, from where he was tempted by Lowe to follow the light to the surface world between the earth and sky.

Banished from returning to his former underworld comfort, Matsieng initially suffered from hunger. Tintibane then took pity on him, giving him wild animals to hunt and goats to domesticate, including the giraffe who guided Matsieng to the place of women.

Tintibane was venerated as a demigod protector by the descendents of Matsieng, including the Bangwaketse, who were united by their common origin oath:

“Ke a ikana ka Tintibane, a ngwana wa Mafatshe, ka thibe ka lefatshe ka lelemela sefonyana se se kwa go Moseki.” (“I swear by Tintibane, the child of the Earth, sealed by the earth, I crept stealthily in a small flight at Moseke.”)

The oath refers to the fact that, besides being the lord of the lower world, to whom the dead were returned (thus the rite of burial) Tintibane was known as “Ngwana wa Modimo le Mafatshe” (“the child of the Supreme God and Earth”).

People prayed for Tintibane’s intervention through the mediums of Lowe and/or Thobega-a-Phatswa. The later, identified in his youthful manifestation as Thibela, became immortal after marrying Tintibane’s daughter Mmape. Thereafter, he assumed the status as Lowe’s gatekeeper.

In paying homage to Tintibane, generations of Batswana and Bakgalagari have over the centuries affirmed their status as indigenous occupiers of the ground of Matsieng and Masilo. In this context, Lowe’s cave remained, at least until recently, a place of pre-Christian pilgrimage. Early missionaries and other 19th century European visitors also spoke of its significance.

Coupled with modern archaeological evidence, which tends to show continuity in southern African settlement patterns across the centuries, the folklore surrounding legendary figures such as Matsieng runs very much counter to the debilitating counter-myth that black Africans, the so-called Bantu, are relatively recent arrivals in the region; a colonial era turned Bantu Education distortion that sadly survives to this day in the continued classroom emphasis on “Bantu Migration”.

Given the ancient prominence of Lowe’s Cave, the lands of south-eastern Botswana would not have been unknown to Ngwaketse when he broke away from the main body of the Bakwena bagaMagopa to establish his own settlement at Magarapa Hill. While some accounts state that his brother, the BagaMagopa paramount Kgosi Kgabo, was reluctant to allow Ngwaketse’s departure from the main body of the morafe then residing along the Crocodile River in modern South Africa, there is no suggestion of any resulting conflict.

Here it may be noted that Kgabo aMalope is said to have been the grandfather of Kgabo aTebele, the founder the Bakwena dynasty now based in Molepolole. Ngwaketse’s settlement in Botswana thus occurred much earlier. While establishing his community’s autonomy, Ngwaketse is said to have continued to show allegiance to the BagaMagopa Kgosi-e-kgolo.

Ngwaketse was succeeded by his son Seepapitso, who established his settlement at Khale. There they repulsed a Bakwena attempt to force their return to Mapopa. Following this incident, the Bangwaketse re-settled a short distance further south and west along the Kolobeng River at Ntsotswane Hill. Seepapitso was succeeded by his son Leema, during which time they moved further south to Potsane.

Leema’s was in turn survived by two sons – Khutwe and his younger brother Khutwane. Due to Khutwe’s alleged incapacity, Khutwane ultimately assumed leadership, during which time the morafe stayed at Sengoma, a hill just south of Ramotswa.

Khutwane’s reign appears to have coincided with a major shift in the balance of power in the region brought about by the arrival of Kgosi Kgabo aTebele’s Bakwena, who were accompanied by the Bangwato. In alliance with the Bakaa, then settled at Mmopane under their own Kgosi named Magogwe, Kgabo forcibly seized the strategic Dithajwane hills from the Bakwatheng, who were then united under the rule of Kgosi Magane. From this strategic position Kgabo gained control over the trade routes and riches of the central Kgalalgadi.

In the aftermath of the conquest, the Bakwatheng morafe was permanently shattered. Some became subjects of the Bakwena, while others fled either westward into the sandveld or northward to the Shoshong Hills.

Still others led by a son of Magane named Tau found refuge with the Bangwaketse. A dynastic alliance was then forged with Tau’s sister becoming the great wife of Khutwane’s heir Makgaba.

According to Bakwena sources, Khutwane accepted Kgabo’s claim as Kgosi-e-kgolo, paying token tribute, while maintaining his separate settlement.

Following Khutwane’s death Bogosi jwa Bangwaketse was disputed between his son Makgaba I and Khutwe’s son Modutlwa. This led to a temporary split in the morafe with Makgaba leading his followers to Seoke, whose stone ruins survive on the outskirts of Lobatse. This may have followed an attempt by Modutlwa to enlist the support of Kgabo’s son Motshodi for his own claims.

In the end Modutlwa failed in his efforts. His descendents and those of his followers became reconciled with those of Makgaba. Today they form the historic Modutlwa, Taukobong, Pudumo and Ruele wards of Kanye.

Makgaba I was succeeded by Mongala, who is credited with reasserting Bangwaketse independence from the Bakwena during the twilight years of Motshodi’s long reign.

Mongala’s rule is otherwise remembered for his tragic demise as a result of an outbreak of war with the Bakwatheng, who sought to reassert their independence under Tau’s son Mabeleng and grandson Seeiso. Following an altercation between Seeiso and Mongala’s son Moleta, Mabeleng led the Bakwateng to a place known as Kgaloong-loo-Tau, near Segeng.

In pursuit, Mongala attacked Mabeleng’s position. It is said that in his eagerness for action, if not misplaced pride, Mongala failed to bring sufficient force with him. At any rate the Bangwaketse suffered defeat. Mongala was captured and speared to death.

When news of his father’s execution reached Seoke, his son Moleta vowed to extract revenge. An era of sustained militarisation, which would transform the Bangwaketse into the most feared of all Batswana warriors, was about to begin.


Read this week's paper