THE IMPORTANCE AND ROLE OF CATTLE AMONGST BATSWANA
WITH EXAMPLES DRAWN FROM BAGAMMANGWATO
Beef Cattle Photo by Roger Brown from Pexels
There is no doubt that Batswana of yesteryears were indeed cattle people. Cattle played a major role in their lives and it was a symbol of status. The skin of the cow was used as a coffin and cattle was used for dowry (bogadi). In Rev. Wookie’s book, “Dicho tsa Bechuana”, where he asked Khama what Batswana thought of God, Khama answered by saying that some Batswana would select a prime calf from a kraal and give it a status of a god. This doesn’t come as a surprise, in one of the praise poems about cattle the opening line goes, ‘Mmadinku wa marumo modimo o nko e metsi’, which loosely translates to,” Mother sheep of bullets the god with a moist nose.”
Back in the days, a ceremony, event or festival would be marked with the slaughtering of a beast. For example, when there is a new mother (motsetse) in a home, a cow will be slaughtered to make sure that she is fed well and not lack.
I would now pick one of these ceremonies, a wedding and further discuss how the slaughtered cow was apportioned amongst the relatives, who got which part, and the significance of this practice.
A wedding ceremony in the past involved relatives like parents of the bride/groom (mme le ntate), the paternal and maternal uncles ( bo malome or rrangwane), the aunties (bo rrakgadi and mmangwane), the grannies (bo nkuku) and other people in the ward. In Setswana culture, people in the ward are a support system towards one another. There is a saying that ‘matlo go sha mabapi’ , meaning that when a house burns, the one next to it also catches fire, because of this adage, they also formed an integral part of the celebrations, so, by virtue of being a relative, one automatically qualifies for a share and below is how the apportioning was done; The mother of the bride or groom got brisket (sehuba) since she is the one who breastfed the bride or groom. This part of the cow also has a concentration of fats (bokwana), which is considered tasty, and a mother has to get nothing but the best! The Uncle (malome) is referred to as the’ head’ (tlhogo) of the wedding delegation. Malome is charged with negotiating the bride price on behalf of the family to handling the transactions as well. And for his role, he gets the head of the cow. The paternal aunts (rrakgadi) and grannies (nkuku) gets the intestines, the liver and tripe.
The maternal aunts are given either hind or front leg depending on the number of people they are going to share the meat with. Then there are other people in the ward who have been invited, the men, led by malome will be given the back (mokwata) with some tripe to prepare mokoto, a delicacy which is for men only.
The slaughterer of the cow is given a portion called ‘thupa’, which loosely translates to ‘whip’ as a token of appreciation. The above explanation might differ from clan to clan, however what is paramount is how this sharing of a cow cemented relations.
To further illustrate how cattle played a significant role in the lives of Batswana is taken from S. M. Gabatshwane’s ‘Tshekedi Khama of Bechuanaland’ when Bechuanaland was refused the right to form a legislative council on the grounds that it was economically dependent on the Union of South Arica. Tshekedi Khama countered with the argument that even though Bechuanaland was undeveloped, ‘its principal product was cattle’, and went on to give figures of the population of cattle and how much they were exporting to the Union, Rhodesia (present day Zimbabwe) and Congo.
To conclude this, another example to further show the importance of cattle is how the national University of Botswana came into being. In 1975 the political leadership formed a Botswana University Campus Appeal to solicit funds for the establishment of the first university after the unceremonious parting of Botswana from Swaziland and Lesotho University. Batswana came together and pledged cows in what was known as ‘ motho le motho kgomo’ loosely translated as ‘one man one beast’, with this the first university was built.
To acknowledge the gesture, the University of Botswana’s logo has since placed a head of a cow and a corn cob to acknowledge it's benefactors.