Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Letlafula sound bite Lost in Translation

A group of young girls gather around in a semi circle singing and clapping their hands while two of them are at the centre dancing around bare breasted and wearing nothing but their traditional skirt made of beads (makgabe). It is a beautiful innocent sight of youthful exuberance only to be tainted by the pervasive minds of adults who are able to somehow sexualize through words and action a pre pubescent little girl and get away way with it by calling it culture or tradition.   

The annual Orange Letlhafula is back again this year under the theme, ““NNANA TSHOLETSA MAKGABE RE JE BOPHOSE! A SETSO RURI,” which literally translates to ‘instructing a girl child to lift up her dress for all to enjoy.’

Makgabe is a traditional gear worn by young Batswana females, nnana is a toddler, and when girls are younger they wear the makgabe with no under garments. ‘Bophose’ is said to be a descriptive figurative word used to describe a ripened, juicy fruit ready for consumption, and also widely used ambiguously with vulgar connotations. 

As Setswana riddles go, when someone posed this riddle, ‘Tsholetsa makgabe re je bophose,’ the answer would be ditloo ().

During letlhafula, fresh ditloo, still yet to dry, are dug out and cooked with their skins on. To consume, one has to peel off the skin (which in this riddle is equated to taking off the traditional skirt or go tsholetsa makgabe) and partake of the cooked ditloo beneath.

In an era where the protection of the girl child is global agenda, one may wonder how an international mobile network and communication powerhouse settled for a theme which has such vulgar connotations towards a girl child, who in many instances are considered an endangered species presiding amongst the child predators of the world.

When asked regarding their theme of choice, Orange Botswana spokesperson Boga Chilinde Masebu said they mean, “Let us celebrate in song and dance, this is true culture indeed.”  Chilinde-Masebu further explained that the Setswana language is extremely rich and that Batswana need to celebrate it, Orange Botswana state that they have no comment regarding the vulgar connotation emanating from the theme.

University of Botswana linguist Professor Thapelo Otlogetswe, during an interview with Lifestyle however said he recently came across the theme and he was ‘Horrified.” Professor Otlogetswe further said, “In all my studies of the Setswana language I have never heard of a Setswana idiom or proverb that says, ‘Nnana tsholetsa makgabe re je bophose.’ It is highly sexualised. Otlogotswe cited a song that was a released a few years ago by a local traditional dance group as an unequivocal request for sexual intercourse.

According to Professor Otlogetswe there is no other way of perceiving this expression and it is no way socially constructive he further says, “Perhaps to some this so called theme may be some kind of sick joke coined to attract attention but in this period where child abuse and child molestation are common this theme is most unfortunate.”  

A local community leader who chose to be anonymous said that, “In poetic Setswana, the phrase can be interpreted in many ‘poetic’ ways; however as a theme I doubt that the people who chose it for the forthcoming Letlhafula festival know exactly what they are saying.”

Due to the growing trend of intergenerational sex, through the sugar daddies and the blessers the Botswana government through parliament has passed a bill to rise the age of sexual consent from the current sixteen years to eighteen years, a crucial move necessary to curb defilement in the country.

The patriarchal dominance of the Setswana culture allow for such foul expressions to be used so often to the point where they become normalised. A society where an grown man can grope the genitals of a girl child no older than 3 years of age, bring his fingers to his nose, inhale them and make sneezing sounds is the same society that will accept a theme presented by Orange Botswana and go eat drink and be merry.    

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