I love Setswana poetry. To me it is far much superior to the English poetry of Shakespeare, Wordsworth or Blake. Some may disagree and that’s ok with me. I am here not comparing the internal structures and the poetic devices used in both types of poetry. I am instead referring to the energy of Setswana public performance poetry, the humour; and the public’s engagement in the poetry delivery – not the one read from A4 pages at gatherings with an individual tripping over words they have written before. That’s embarrassing poetry ÔÇô the type that you wish the reader could cease talking and allow a ‘real’ poet to come to the stage and deliver with class and humour that characterises the larger part of Setswana poetry. In this country there has been a recent revival of poetry, especially poetry in English which has seen aspiring poets write and perform in various arenas. Most of the stuff I have heard, however to me does not qualify to be called poetry ÔÇô it’s just speaking. It lacks the condensed linguistic sophistication of a poem and the use of poetic devices such as rhyme, alliteration and assonance. And yet many young people are relentless in reciting these unattractive pieces. Their vigour is admirable and must in a way I genuinely hope that it could be sustained. I am aware that some of the performers are attracted by the idea of being on stage before a modest crowd, when they have not mastered the basic craft of poetry.
Now, if you were asked to come up with two or three names of top Setswana poets who would you think of? Probably, Sekokotla Kaboeamodimo and Ponatshego Mokane might be top on your list. They are top on mine. Their poetic skill still is above that of most. While we have seen a resurgence of English poetry, we have seen a worrying decline of Setswana poetry nationally. In the mist of this poverty of good Setswana poetry there is one man to whom all can call on when a poet is needed. His name is Moroka Moreri and he is from Molepolole. He is the Chief Editor of Botswana Parliamentary Hansard, a graduate of MCE and UB, who is currently completing his Masters with the African Languages and Literature Department. He has recited poetry at some of the key national events, including the inauguration ceremony of the current president, the opening of Ntlo ya Dikgosi, Cultural diversity Day of the UB, National Tourism Day, Harvard Institute Opening, International Mother Tongue Day, the BOMU awards and many other events. He also appears in a couple of music albums of a number of artists such as Mmereki Marakakgoro. A couple of years ago he brought together a band of Bakwena poets to Kanye to celebrate the statesmanship award awarded to Sir Ketumile Masire. Moroka Moreri is simply a poet of our time ÔÇô a man to whom we can turn when we need the lyrical sophistication of Setswana. He has both the academic rigour to analyse and explain what Setswana poetry is all about as well the arresting presence on stage. He possesses the rare skill of those great poets who have gone before him as well as the technical knowledge of a modern poet. He has published four poetry books: Motlhaolosa, Tshokele, Thotse and Khuduela. He has also contributed poems to other publications such as Kutlwano, Mokgosi and Echo newspapers and many others.
The weekend after this coming one, that is on May 29th, this poet who attracts to himself descriptions in the superlative, will yet again bring together other three top Bakwena poets in an occasion that has been styled Molaletsa Poetry Festival. The three poets are Rabojalwa Keetile, Dipako Sesienyane and Kaone Bahuma. The event will be held at Kgosi Kgari Sechele II Senior Secondary School from 6pm. Of the three additional poets, I am familiar with two: Rabojalwa & Dipako. Rabojalwa Keetile ke monnamogolo. He is a celebrated poet who possesses the unparalleled oratory skills of the ilk of Sekokotla Kaboeamodimo and Ponatshego Mokane. He is a traditional poet; the kind that doesn’t stop reciting a poem until the audience has fully enjoyed his rendition. Keetile has recited his poetry in numerous occasions including the royal Bakwena Kgotla, weddings, and the unveiling of the statue of the three Dikgosi. He is an epitome of rich traditional vocabulary with captivating images from yesteryears’ environment and space. I saw him deliver his poetry in Kanye during the Sir Ketumile Masire’s Africa statesmanship award celebration. I first met Dipako Sesienyane during the recording of Mmereki Marakgoro’s album entitled Chigongoro. He recited a poem in one of the tracks: A teacher. Mosienyane subsequently joined the Serowe TTC to train as a teacher. He firmly believes that during his presentation, no one should ululate, strictly. His style has fusions of traditional dikoma. He is a renowned author of several books including controversial drama Sefefo and he prominently celebrates his poetry in an album entitled African taste.
I have not heard Kaone Bahuma’s poetry recital. He is the youngest in the quartet. I hear that his poetry is mesmerizing as he delivers it with a talented male ululator, called Oageng. I therefore look forward to this exciting new talent. Of these four Bakwena poets, Rabojalwa and Moroka are my favourite. I particularly love Moroka’s distinct style which uses phathisi accompaniment and segoloduane signature. It seems that May 29th will be an important day for Setswana poetry and lovers of poetry and Setswana culture would do better to head to Molepolole to support these great messengers of cultural renaissance and preservation.