Tswana - History and Cultural Relations



New archaeological evidence continues to push the arrival of Bantu speakers into the Batswana area further back in time; it is now assumed that they arrived in southeastern Botswana around A.D. 600 or 700, displacing, absorbing, and/or living among Khoisan foragers and pastoralists. Ancestors of Sotho speakers are believed to have been in the area by about A.D. 1200, and by 1500 the major Batswana tribes/chiefdoms/nations began to form, through a process of fission and amalgamation of agnatic groupings, as they spread northward and westward from the Transvaal, in search of better watered pastureland.

A period of warfare, political disruption, and migration commonly termed the difiqane (Zulu: mfecane ) characterized the first quarter of the nineteenth century. These wars have conventionally been attributed to the rise of the Zulu state and to the innovative forms of political and military organization of its leader, Shaka. The causes of the difiqane have become a subject of late twentieth-century debate; it is now argued that European trade and slaving initially precipitated the period of warfare. The difiqane engendered a period of chaos, during which Batswana polities experienced varying degrees of suffering, impoverishment, political disintegration, death, and forced movement. At the same time, however, some groups, particularly the western Batswana chiefdoms, eventually prospered and strengthened to the extent that they incorporated refugees and livestock. Batswana polities are noted for their capacity to absorb foreign peoples, to turn strangers into tribespeople, and to do so without compromising the integrity of their own institutions. Socioeconomic mechanisms such as mafisa (which provided for the lending of cattle) and the ward system of tribal administration (see "Political Organization") facilitated the integration of foreigners. Not all peoples were welcomed into the Tswana fold; some remained foreigners, and some became subjects. The latter category includes peoples of the desert (Bakgalagadi and Bushmen) who are accorded a servile status termed "Batlhanka" or "Boiata."

European traders and missionaries (of the British nonconformist sects) began to arrive in the Batswana region in the first two decades of the nineteenth century. Trade (ivory, furs, and feathers being the most valued items) escalated after this period, and control over this trade dramatically empowered some Batswana chiefs, who were able to consolidate their control over extensive areas. By the mid-nineteenth century, Afrikaners, newly settled in the Transvaal, posed a threat to Batswana; Batswana chiefdoms acquired firearms to protect themselves, and many Batsana moved westward, into the area that is now Botswana. Christian missions were established throughout the region in the nineteenth century; today most Batswana profess to be Christian.

The discovery of diamonds and gold in the 1860s and 1870s in southern Africa led to the industrialization of South Africa and the introduction of the migrant-labor system, which continues to draw thousands of Batswana men to the mines (although recruitment from Botswana has been restricted since 1979). In 1885 the Bechuanaland Protectorate was established in the north of the region, and, in the south, British Bechuanaland was established as a Crown colony; ten years later it was annexed to the Cape. In 1966 Botswana achieved independence. In 1910 British Bechuanaland was incorporated into the Union of South Africa; in 1977, under the apartheid regime, the Tswana ethnic "homeland" of Bophutatswana was granted nominal independence by South Africa, but no other nation recognized it; in 1994, in conjunction with the first all-race elections in South Africa and the dismantling of apartheid, Bophutatswana was reincorporated into South Africa.


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Sep 20, 2011 @ 10:10 am
Is there any argument that Batswana are decedents of the Basotho?

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