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Bakgalagadi (Part 1)

Publishing Date : 12 September, 2017


Moving north-eastwards from the Vilander community of Boksprits and The Mier country, profiled last week, one comes to the predominately Bakgalagadi (Shekgalagari - Bakgalagari) communities of the Matsheng region, which includes the villages of Hukuntsi (Hugunshi), Lehututu (Lehududu), Lokwabe and Tshane. The name “Matsheng” refers to the area’s many pans.

Most of this area's inhabitants speak Shekgalagari and are often collectively referred to as Bakgalagadi, though they belong to historically distinct, albeit often related, merafe. The name “Kgalagadi” is itself almost certainly derived from the verb “go kgala”, meaning to become dry or parched, and adjectival suffix “gadi", which feminizes the noun that it modifies. "Kgalagadi" can thus be loosely translated as "the drying motherland". To later Batswana invaders, Bakgalagadi were the people they found when entering the western dry lands. But who are the Bakgalagadi really? What are their origins and identity? The more one looks at the evidence the more complex and open to debate the picture becomes.

General post-colonial histories covering the region, notably Tlou and Campbell’s History of Botswana and Ramsay, Morton and Mgadla’s Building a Nation, have divided Bakgalagadi into five sub-groupings: Bakgwatlheng, Babolangwe, Bangologa, Baphaleng and Bashaga. But, this division is at best a simplification. For example communities commonly grouped as Bangologa have a rich variety of local sub-identities, e.g. Baeharu (Baehadu) and their offshoot Baehazwana (Baehatshwana), Bapebana, Bakgala, Batyhaga (Batlhaga), Bakgwatlheng (Bakhwatheng), Barolong (Barholong), Bashiwana, Baselebe, Batlharo (Batharo).

Only some of the above groups claim descent from a founder patriarch named Mongologa, whose sons are said to have included Moeharu, Motyhaga, Mpebana, Moselebe, Moriti, and Mokwatheng. The name Mongologa has been associated with the verb go ngaloga, which may be translated as “to become disobedient, stubborn or delinquent.” This meaning is connected in oral traditions to a Morolong prince who became known as “Mongologa” after he unsuccessfully tried to usurp bogosi from his senior brother. Expelled for his ambition, Mongologa fled to Hukuntsi, from where he was able to establish his paramountcy over other local Shekgalagari communities, who thereafter were also known as Bangologa.

Alternatively Tjako Mpulabusi, in Barile, The Peopling of Botswana: vol. II, traces the name to an apparently more archaic translation of verb go ngaloga as “to stampede” in the context of a dismissive Serolong expression “sa ba gase gosia ke go ngaloga”. At least in the past Mongologa’s followers have also been referred to as Bashaga (Basaga), a name that is pejoratively associated with bothanka/botlhanka or servitude. Bashaga has, in this respect, also been used as a label for other groups such as the Bariti at Kokong and Kang who at times in the past were vassals of Bakwena and Bangwaketse.   

According to the 2011 census Hukuntsi is the largest historically Bakgalagari village west of Letlhakeng, with 4,654 inhabitants. Growth over the years has been relatively modest; the 1946 census, which enumerated Botswana's total population at only about 300,000, listed Hukuntsi's population as 1,423. The village is today divided into nine principal wards, namely GaMaeharu (Goo-Kgosi), Galetsepa, Goo-Khibane, Goo-Magobelelo, GaMotharo, GaMhutlla, Ga-Tjhaga, Ga-Moselebe (Ga-Maleme) and Goo-Tshweu.

As reflected in their positioning at Kgosing, the predominate merafe at Hukuntsi are the Baeharu and their offshoot the Baehatswana (Baehazwana). Another group found in the village are of Batlharo origin, some of whom arrived as nineteenth century refugees from British atrocities in the Northern Cape. The Baeharu and Baehatswana trace their bogosi back to Moeharu. According to genealogies Moeharu begot Sekekwana (or Sekokwana), who begot Tauesele (Tyauesele), who begot Mogolana, who begot Matsipe, who begot Koomane, who begot Phogopi, who begot Magobelelo, who begot Moaparhi or Moapare I, who begot Mosiwa who begot Moapare II.

During the 1930s the colonial administration attempted without success to install the latter as the Paramount Chief over most of the Kgalagadi District, in the hope of increasing its then meagre Hut Tax receipts. The Baehatswana trace their bogosi from Lemane, a junior brother to Koomane. Lemane is remembered by the Bangologa as having been a great freedom fighter, who resisted the tribute demands and cattle raids of the Batawana and Barolong. Lemene begot Mabotye, who begot Boamakge, whose followers separated from the Baeharu before the nineteenth century.

Baeharu settlement at Hukuntsi is said to have occurred by the time of Tauesele and has otherwise been continuous since the reign of Matsipe. During the 1830s the Bangwaketse Kgosi Sebego briefly established himself at Lehututu and proceeded to subjugate the surrounding region. By all accounts he was a talented, but cruel, militarist: "Sebego opelo kebonye athelesetsa Matebele; oneile baba mmala wa thebe...Lomoreetseng lware moabi? Loko lorile molhasedi, gongwe lware be bua bogale".

The French missionary Lemue recorded an incident in which the Mongwaketse is alleged to have resorted to pure terror against Bangologa who refused to submit: "After having confiscated their goats, Sebego had the men, women and children put into their huts, which he then burned down." During the period some Baehuru left Matsipe and migrated to the Boteti area, forming the core of the Bangologa found there today. They subsequently joined the Bangwato of Kgosi Sekgoma I in repulsing the Amandebele.



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