Chief Malebogo of the Bahananwa Part 1

Date: Sep 7, 2016

A history of Limpopo, its people, its kings and culture

Dr Tlou Setumu

The Bahananwa originated from the Bahurutse branch of the Batswana nation. They are a breakaway section whose roots are in the present day Botswana. Before the break away, they were the Malete people of the Bahurutse. Oral history has it that this break away was caused by the fact that Kgoši Malete had no sons by his senior wife to succeed him in his throne. This wife only had one child, Mmatsela, a girl. Without sons, Mmatsela was the natural heir to succeed her father. However, there were people who strongly opposed the fact that they could be ruled by a woman. As a result, there were plots to kill Mmatsela, especially by Kgoši Malete’s son of a junior wife.

To avert bloodshed, Kgoši Malete sent this jealous son to hunt for a phuti (springbuck) and then he tipped his daughter, Mmatsela to fl ee. Mmatsela took her followers and headed to the east. When the troublesome son returned with a springbuck and enquired from Malete about Mmatsela’s whereabouts, Kgoši was pressurised to disclose that she had fl ed. Noticing that his son was eager to pursue her, Malete instructed that should he indeed follow her, he should not follow her beyond the river, the Limpopo. Apparently, Malete had tipped her daughter, Mmatsela, to swiftly cross the Limpopo before they could even rest. Indeed, those who wanted to attack Mmatsela followed her and found her already on the other side of the river. Following Malete’s instruction,

they stopped their chase. All what they could say in frustration was, “Lena bahanani tena, sepelang, empa le be maboho a rena mo le yaho”. (You rebels – those who do not want to be controlled – go away, but you should be our arms wherever you are going). That is how the names, Bahananwa and Leboho (Lebogo) came about. After their pursuers gave up, Mmatsela and her people relaxed and then moved further east in their own pace. Mmatsela had a relationship with Kgwedjane, and out of that union, a son was born and named Leboho (written as Lebogo in current literature). He was named thus after those pursuers who instructed that they should be their arms wherever they went. An indeed, the young son would become his mothers arm (assistant in royal matters). Lebogo was born around Thabana ya Morudu, on the eastern side of Limpopo River. Again, still using their pursuers’ reference, Mmatsela’s people were beginning to refer to themselves as the Bahananwa. At this stage, they still retained the Bahurutse totem of a springbuck.

However, they later abandoned a springbuck as their totem because it snored. The snoring of a springbuck was regarded as in a negative light because they believed it would expose them to their enemies. They moved slowly until they eventually reached the Blouberg Mountains which they turned into their permanent home until the present day. At Blouberg they adopted a baboon as their totem after abandoning the springbuck. They chose the baboon as they found them in abundance in the Blouberg area. During those days of unannounced attacks, mountain strongholds were very essential for security. Other key fi gures who helped to lead and guide the Bahananwa during their exodus included Sebudi and Lerokolole. Because of lack of records, especially written ones, much of the history of the Bahananwa in the 16th, 17th and 18th century is very scanty. Much light on this history was shed by the arrival of the missionaries – who kept written records – in the second half of the 19th century. The missionaries arrived in the Bahananwa country during the reign of Kgoši Matsiokwane. Thefirst missionary to arrive was Reverend Beyer in 1868. Beyer was warmly welcomed by the Bahananwa and was even given a piece of land in order to establish himself so that he could be able to perform his duties of spreading the Holy Gospel among the Bahananwa.

Kgoši Matsiokwane and the Bahananwa did not only embrace the missionaries just for the Holy Gospel. But they also viewed the White missionaries as important diplomatic agents in the increasingly changing environment in which the colonial forces were slowly encroaching on their area. Just like most Black communities, the Bahananwa found the missionaries to be useful sources of information about broad world view issues such as the presence of Whites, and other related matters which the missionaries knew, as they travelled extensively. The missionaries also acted as advisers to Black communities in the face of the approaching aggressive colonialists. In other words, in addition to the missionaries’ role of the preaching the Word of God, they inevitably became involved in diplomatic and political matters.

However, even if the missionaries were useful to the Black communities and their leaders, their roles soon caused trouble among communities. In their quest to spread of Christianity, the missionaries found some obstacles along the way. They were very intolerant of some of the ways of life of Blacks which they wanted to dismantle so that Blacks could be “saved” and “shown the light”. They found some of the Black customs as “evil”, “backwards” and “barbaric”. For instance, they worked tirelessly to discourage polygamy, magadi (bride price), koma (initiation) and such related Black customs. The attacks of the ways of life of Blacks by the missionaries created divisions and confusion among communities. Those people who were converted began to look down upon those who resisted conversion. Tensions among communities due to missionaries varied. In most instances, the missionaries used the political intervention of the colonialists in order to overthrow the Black tribal system which disabled them to achieve their goal of converting Blacks into Christianity.

The missionaries’ divisive impact was also felt by the Bahananwa. As already indicated, the missionaries messed up with tribal politics and in Blouberg, the Bahananwa of Kgoši Matsiokwane was divided as a result. This tension which was partly due to power struggle and partly because of Christian/non-Christian factor, resulted in Kgoši

Matsiokwane chasing away the missionary, Stech, who had succeeded Beyer in 1874. Matsiokwane dismissed Stech from his country because in addition to causing divisions, he also regarded the piece of land he was allocated as his own private property and he also began mine prospecting on that piece of land. The Bahananwa (and other Black communities) did not know of such a thing as private land ownership and they were disgusted by Stech’s actions. Stech was also accused by the colonialists of trading fi rearms to the Bahananwa. Tensions within the Bahananwa polity reached climax when Kgoši Matsiokwane was assassinated in 1879. The missionaries’ involvement, which complicated the power struggle factor, accounted for this tragic event. The main contestants for power after Matsiokwane’s death became Ramatho (Kibi) and Kgaluši (Mašilo/Seketa/Ratšhatšha). Apparently, it was the section of Kibi, with the help of the Christians, which orchestrated the assassination of Matsiokwane, in the hope of seizing political power. However, their hope was thwarted when Ratšhatšha succeeded to take the throne. As a result, Kibi fled with his followers and settled on the northeastern side of the Blouberg mountains.

Source: Limpopo Provincial Government heritage Month Souvenir Edition 2009


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