Tswana - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Although Batswana received Christian missionaries in the early nineteenth century (see "History and Cultural Relations") and most belong to a church today, precolonial beliefs retain strength among many Batswana. Missionaries brought literacy, schools, and Western values, all of which facilitated the transition to migrant wage labor. In precolonial times Batswana believed in a Supreme Being, Modimo, a creator and director, but nonetheless distant and remote. More immediate and having a greater influence in daily affairs were the ancestors, Badimo. Ancestor worship was reflected in the respect given to the elders and their capacity to influence the young; after death, their spirits left their bodies to join others. Badimo were venerated and invoked; appeals were addressed to them, and they were piacated with sacrifices, prayers, and appropriate behavior. Badimo intervened actively in daily life and they could withdraw their support, rendering their descendants vulnerable to disease and misfortune. Most Batswana today belong to African Independent churches that incorporate Christian and non-Christian practices, beliefs, and symbols.

Religious Practitioners. Most people have some knowledge of medicinal plants; dingaka (doctors; sing, ngaka ), however, are specialists in healing and magic. "Dingaka" is a collective term referring to many different types of specialties, which among others include rainmaking, compound protection, avenging sorcery, and women's reproductive health. Formerly, dingaka presided over rituals and aided the chief in protecting and controlling the village and tribe. Dingaka apprentice with others, often paying them a cow. Many divine using a set of bones: the interpretation of how they fall determines the source of a patient's problem. Baloi (sorcerers; sing. moloi ) manipulate substances for malevolent purposes. Baloi are believed to work by day or by night; in the latter case, they meet together, often transform into animals, and may cause their victims to do the same. Much illness and misfortune is attributed to their powers. Practitioners of the African Independent churches (e.g., a baporafota [prophet] or a baruti [minister or teacher]) also engage in healing. Their training is considered less rigorous than that of the dingaka.

Ceremonies. There are many ceremonies to mark lifecycle events: these include birth, the end of the three-month postpartum confinement, several marriage ceremonies, bride-wealth payment, and death. Increasingly, funerals have become the most elaborate life-cycle rituals. Funerals used to be conducted shortly after death but now the use of mortuaries has enabled funerals to be postponed. Thus, the expectations in terms of attendance, quality of coffin, and level of hospitality have escalated, and many more people can be notified and material resources assembled. Funerals have become one of the main venues for the expression of cultural, time, and resource commitment, both on the part of the aggrieved family and those attending, who are expected to work at the funeral and who expect to be fed. In the past initiations into adulthood were elaborate ceremonies lasting a few months, in which girls and boys were taken separately to the bush in the winter. The boys were circumcised. Other ceremonies tied to the agricultural cycle, such as those to initiate planting, to make rain, and first-fruits rituals, are no longer regularly practiced.

Arts. There are few specialized arts. Beadwork is practiced by some, and children are often adorned (sometimes for protection from malevolent forces) with beads and other decorations. Compounds and houses are often beautifully designed and painted. Song ( pina ) and dance ( pino ) are highly developed forms of artistic expression. Choirs perform and compete with each other on official and ritual occasions. They compose lyrics that offer narratives and critiques of the past and present. (See also "Industrial Arts.)

Medicine. Batswana have an extensive local pharmacopoeia. Medicines ( ditlhare ["trees"] or melemò ) are used for treating ailments in humans and animals, for fortification, protection, fertility, injury, making rain, and so on. Batswana seek medical help from a number of sources, including clinics and hospitals, traditional practitioners, and Christian healers. Western medicine is more or less universally acknowledged for its ability to treat symptoms, but other healers are frequently sought in order to address the causes of illness and misfortune. (See "Religious Practitioners.")

Death and Afterlife. Death is usually considered to have both natural and supernatural causes. Traditionally, men were buried in their cattle kraals and women in the compounds. Small children were buried under houses. Many people are still buried in this fashion, although cemeteries are increasingly used. Funerals are highly elaborated, expensive, and can last up to a week (see "Ceremonies"). Livestock are slaughtered during the funeral to feed guests. Priests and, often, traditional healers preside over funerals, administering rites to the bereaved that are directed toward exorcising thoughts of the dead from the living so that they will not "go mad" from their grief. After death, elders become ancestors (Badimo) (see "Religious Beliefs"). People who die with regrets are believed to become ghosts ( dipoko ); their souls remain in the grave by day but rise at night to haunt the living.

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Nov 2, 2012 @ 5:05 am
This information was very useful thanks a lot, but can you please email me the tswana's culture's perception of health and illness and dietary habits that can affect the tswana's health.
M Robbertse
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Aug 21, 2013 @ 6:06 am
A Tswana learner from our school passed away. She overdosed in the hostel but died in the hospital. We want to know, as members of the school, if we should attend the funeral en how long would we need to stay at the funeral? Can we only show our respects at the house and then leave, or do we have to attend the actual burial? We were asked to say something about the child. When and were do I do it? What should one include in this speech?
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Sep 27, 2018 @ 6:18 pm
I find this article relevant and is very relating to me and my life. May you please help me. My family does not at all belief in the ancestors and role that they play in our everyday life. Which I noticed that they realy are existing and affecting my family life and myself. How do I help my ancestors pass to the afterlife as no rituals are done in my family and I wasn't tought anything and when I ask the elders they say they do not know anything of such. Please help. I m realy suffering as a half tswana and half sotho women. I realy need help.
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Jul 29, 2019 @ 3:15 pm
My college died of a heart attack today. We worked together for 16 years. She was a Christian. I am white and want to go to the funeral. What should I, and what should I not do?

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