Tsamaiso ya Lenyalo La Sengwaketse mo Botswana –
Traditional Wedding Proceedings of the Bangwaketse in Botswana
The Bangwaketse Tribe
Botswana officially recognizes various tribes, including Basarwa Bakgatla, Bangwato, Bakwena, Barolong, Bangwaketse, and Bakalaka, among others. Each of these cultures share similar heritages and customs, although they differ in terms of execution. This diversity is what gives Botswana its opulent cultural heritage. The Bangwaketse are one of Botswana’s major tribes, along with Bangwato, Bakwena, and Bakgatla. Their administrative capital is Kanye village, surrounded by minor villages further south of Botswana. The tribe is led by the Paramount Chief of the Bangwaketse, Kgosi Malope wa Bobedi – Chief Malope II. The spoken language is Sengwaketse, which is a dialect of Setswana, the national language. The Bangwaketse are known for their eye-catching traditional celebrations, which are rich with food, beverages, designer clothing, and traditional dance. Ceremonies and festivals in the local communities are an important part of their way of life. Most of the traditional celebrations honor various rites of passage, including Go tshola (childbirth), Bogwera/Bojale (puberty rituals), and Lenyalo (wedding). The Bangwaketse have a unique approach to customary marriage. Their customary marriage follows a refined and culturally aligned process and involves stakeholders who each play critical roles.
The Key Stakeholders – Batsamaisi Ba Lenyalo
Malome – The Great Uncle
The eldest brother of the mother of the bride spearheads the marriage proceedings of the Bangwaketse. This position is highly prestigious in the traditional marriage process of the Bangwaketse. Being a Malome is an honor and comes with great responsibility towards the success of the marriage. The Malome has the power to summon all the family members to initiate the customary marriage process. It is therefore important for both the bride and the groom to inform their great uncles to guide them through the process. In the absence of an uncle, a chosen representative may be designated to ensure the proceedings continue. By default, the Mma Malome – the wife of the great uncle, also shares the authority to lead the wedding proceedings.
Rakgadi – The Great Aunt
The Rakgadi handles the logistics and arrangements of the marriage process. She is the sister of the groom’s father. It is common for the Rakgadi to oversee the kitchen, giving orders and managing the food stores and beer pots. They also serve as the gatekeepers of protocol to ensure that all proceedings are followed satisfactorily. From negotiations to the day of the celebration, the uncle relies on the Rakgadi to handle other aspects of the marriage process while he leads the clan. The Rakgadi also purchases a dress for their in-law as a gesture of appreciation and to welcome the bride into the family.
Before It Starts – Patlo: Expression of Interest to Marry
At the beginning of the marriage process, a single man must express his interest in marrying a woman by asking for her hand in marriage. Some men have started their journey to marriage by Peoletlhokwa, which is the act of betrothing a Mongwaketse woman, while others have promptly pursued marriage. Once the two parties agree to proceed with the marriage, it becomes the responsibility of the male counterpart to inform his parents, who then relay the message to Malome. The communication follows a specific route to ensure that the pursuit of marriage is taken seriously. At each level of communication, the most important requirements for marriage are discussed. These include:
– A residential plot
– Means of income
– Bogadi – Bride Price
Fulfilling all or part of these requirements does not necessarily hinder the marriage. However, it may lead to certain modifications in the proceedings. The aim is to ensure that all the requirements are fulfilled at a later stage, once the groom has accumulated all the necessary resources. The majority of the responsibilities during the marriage proceedings of the Bangwaketse lie with the groom’s family. It is believed that since the male expresses the intent to marry, it is their responsibility to gather all the necessary requirements beforehand.
The Bangwaketse have relatively strict requirements that must be met before a man can seek a woman’s hand in marriage. As mentioned earlier, it is essential for a man of marriageable age to possess at least a residential plot. Whether it is developed or not, the key is to have a clear plan for where the soon-to-be-married couple will reside after marriage. The assumption is that both individuals have been living in their respective parents’ homes, and now that they are advancing, proper arrangements should be made for a smooth transition.
In addition to a place of residence, the male counterpart is also expected to have a viable means of income that can support his new family. In the past, owning a farm with crops, small livestock, and cattle served as a positive indication that the man was ready for marriage. Bangwaketse men take pride in accumulating wealth as it greatly impresses the bride’s family.
Go Isa Mafoko – Communication of the Intent to Marry
Malome is entrusted with leading a collective effort by the groom’s family to approach the bride’s family and express their interest to marry – a process known as “Go isa mafoko.” The man’s intentions are then presented to the bride’s family for consideration. There is a poetic manner in which this is done to impress the bride’s family, involving the use of Setswana language poetry known as “go boka.” Once the message has been conveyed to the bride’s family, negotiations for the Bride Price, also known as Bogadi, commence.
Getting Things Underway
Dipuisano tsa Magadi – The Bride Price Negotiations
A total of 8 cows are accepted as the Bogadi. These cows should be young and well cared for. Payment of the Bride Price is seen as a gesture of gratitude from the groom to the bride’s family. It is not considered a payment in the strictest sense, although in some cases, Bogadi may be presented in the form of cash equivalent to the value of 8 cows. The number of cows required as Bogadi by the Bangwaketse is generally non-negotiable. In situations where the Bride Price cannot be paid immediately or in full, certain significant aspects of the marriage celebrations may be omitted. For instance, the bride is not allowed to wear a white wedding gown if the Bride Price is delayed or falls short of the required number or value. It is the responsibility of the groom and his family to plan and ensure that they gather the necessary Bride Price to seal the union.
Elders play a crucial role in the Bride Price negotiation stage within Bangwaketse culture. Most Bangwaketse families are extended, with many relatives residing in close proximity due to former cultural land allocations. The groom’s family is led by Malome, the eldest uncle. Interestingly, not every Malome can assume this responsibility. According to cultural norms, one must be a married man to participate in customary marriage proceedings. This means that unmarried elderly uncles must step aside to allow their married younger brothers to take part. In cases where there is no uncle in the family, a stand-in uncle may be designated, but he must also be a married man. Marriage signifies a progression in social status and responsibility for both men and women in Bangwaketse culture. That is why only those who have undergone the traditional marriage process are recognized as stakeholders in the proceedings.
In addition to the marriage requirements, Bride Price negotiations encompass topics such as the intended dates of the traditional marriage celebrations, children born out of wedlock, and religious and cultural differences. Negotiations typically span several weeks and may take months in cases where there are disagreements regarding the terms of negotiation. Due to the strict adherence to marriage requirements by the Bangwaketse, negotiations can be protracted, especially in instances of intermarriage. If the groom’s family is from a different culture, they must find a representative family to assist them in the negotiations. Language barriers may lead to misunderstandings and delays in the negotiation process. Ultimately, the cultures involved must find common ground for the marriage to progress to the next stage.
Go Pega – Official Declaration of Marriage Agreement before the Tribal Chief
Once the two families have completed the negotiation process, the next stage, known as “Go Pega,” is set to commence. During this stage, the community leaders are notified about the upcoming customary marriage. The Bangwaketse community is led by Kgosi, the tribal chief, whose role in the marriage process is to formally recognize and sanction the marriage according to customary law. Kgosi announces the marriage officially after ensuring that all negotiations have been completed and an agreement has been reached between the two families. The Bride Price, consisting of either 8 cows or the equivalent cash value, is presented, along with an additional sheep known as “lengwaelo,” which is included with the Bride Price. The sheep is slaughtered and enjoyed in a feast before the celebrations take place. Kgosi’s secretary records the details of the Bride Price to ensure accuracy. It may take up to three weeks before an official go-ahead is given for the families to proceed to the next stage. This delay is common in Bangwaketse marriages due to the potential volume of marriage requests made before Kgosi. During this waiting period, families usually prepare for the wedding celebrations, planning for their turn to host the marriage celebration. It is worth noting that Bangwaketse marriages involve celebrations at both the groom’s and bride’s places.
The Celebrations Begin: Ko Goora Mosadi – The Bride’s Place
Go folosa – The official go-ahead of the marriage
The first half of the celebrations takes place at the bride’s place a day or two after receiving the official go-ahead following Go Pega. This tradition signifies that the groom’s family is accepting the bride as one of their own. To emphasize the importance of this process, the Bangwaketse proceed with “kgoroso,” which involves delivering the bride to her new home with the groom.
During the wedding celebrations, the sound of “mogolokwane” (ululations) fills the air as a repetitive expression of joy from all attendees. The community actively participates in the celebrations, assisting with various tasks that need to be carried out in preparation for the festivities.
– Cooking “dijo tsa Setso” – Setswana Cuisine: Large pots are used to cook traditional Setswana dishes, capable of feeding hundreds of attendees. Women gather around a fireplace, wearing aprons and equipped with knives and kitchen utensils to prepare a lavish feast.
– Brewing “Bojalwa jwa Setswana” – Traditional Beer: Large clay pots are used to brew home-brewed sorghum beer, known as Bojalwa jwa Setswana. This beer is enjoyed by the adult guests attending the wedding. The brewing process begins the night before the celebration to allow for thorough fermentation.
– Yard refurbishment before the celebration: Both the bride’s and groom’s families ensure that the yard is in pristine condition. Necessary enhancements, such as re-decoration and thatching of mud huts, are carried out.
The various roles before and during the celebration are shared among willing community members and family relatives. This cooperative effort is common among Bangwaketse and serves to strengthen bonds within the community – known as “Tirisano mmogo.”
Dijo le Kapari ya Setso – Food and Dress Code
The cow slaughtered for the feast is known as “Sekgawane” and is consumed by the bride while she is wearing her white wedding gown. This cow is presented by the groom’s family. Additionally, “kapesi” (covering) is done by placing a dried-up fatty membrane from the Sekgawane cow. Only after this is done can the bride change her attire. The changes in attire symbolize the pride that her uncles and aunts have in the marriage. The different outfits are purchased by her uncles and aunts and often made from “leteisi,” a vintage German print fabric that has become an important dress code within the Bangwaketse tribe. Married women participating in the proceedings must wear their traditional attire, along with “tjale” (shawls) and “tukwi” (headwraps), which distinguish them from single or widowed women.
Go laa – Special Guidance
“Go laa” takes place during the celebration proceedings and involves married uncles, aunts, and other relatives from both families. In this private session, the bride and groom receive guidance on their roles and responsibilities in marriage. They receive advice on how to navigate marriage and its various challenges. “Go laa” ensures that the couple understands the commitment they are making and how to manage their marriage effectively.
The Last Lap of Celebrations: Ko Goora Mosimane – Groom’s Place
The groom’s place hosts the final leg of the celebrations, indicating that the handover process of the bride between the two families is nearing completion. A cow called “Perepetsha,” given to the groom’s family by the bride’s uncle, is slaughtered to provide “Mokoto” (meat) for the family and community elders. One symbolic aspect of the celebrations at the groom’s place involves showcasing the various chores that the bride will be expected to perform in her new household. Dressed in their German print dresses, stylishly tied headwraps, and colorful shawls, they proceed as a group. They demonstrate chores such as:
– “Go thuga” – Pounding grain: In the past, women had the important responsibility of pounding grain, particularly during the harvest season. Foods like “bogobe jwa mabele” (sorghum meal), “phaleche” (maize meal), and “setampa” (samp) required women to use a “kika” (pounding mortar).
– “Go Fefera” – Winnowing: This process involves separating chaff from grains such as sorghum, maize, and mealie after pounding to obtain pure grain.
– “Botsetsi” – Nursing an infant: Women are expected to bear children for their husbands and care for their everyday needs. Meanwhile, men are expected to provide adequately for the mother and child during this period.
Interestingly, the Bangwaketse treat men and women as equals while upholding the understanding that the man is the head of the household. This division of labor in marriages ensures complementarity. It is expected that the bride pays attention during these performances to understand what is expected of her.
To show appreciation and strengthen the union, the bride’s place also slaughters “Mothakanelwa” – a cow to be shared equally between the two families. After the celebrations at the groom’s place, the bride is now ready to be delivered to her new home with her husband. But before that, the two families must share “sehuba” – brisket to solemnize the marriage. The intricate and culturally aligned marriage process of the Bangwaketse reaches its conclusion at this stage. Although the couple now has their own household, they are still accountable to their elders and must maintain a good relationship with their in-laws, known as “Bo Matsale.” In Bangwaketse culture, marriage extends beyond the couple and forms new alliances. That’s why the married couple is expected to participate in traditional celebrations or ceremonies on both sides of their families.
Dipina le Mmino wa Setso – Traditional Music & Dance
During the celebrations, various performances take place. The Bangwaketse have traditional dances called “Setapa” and “Phathisi,” which are performed to live Setswana songs sung by a choir arranged in the shape of a horseshoe. In modern weddings, choreographed wedding line dances called “Setepe sa lenyalo” are performed by the relatives of the bride and groom. During the wedding celebration, the bride and groom’s families engage in a sing-off after a clothing change takes place. The bride may change into tailor-made outfits multiple times, courtesy of her in-laws.
Dijo le Bojalwa jwa Setswana – Food & Beverages
The Bangwaketse enjoy an indigenous cuisine consisting of local staple foods. Sorghum is used to make sorghum meal and traditional beer. Samp, maize meal, and mealie meal are cooked alongside various relishes. Beef is cooked and pounded into “Seswaa” – small strips served with a combination of starches and gravy. Married men gather to enjoy “Mokoto” – tender beef in the “Kgotla,” a traditional structure where important meetings are held. The Bangwaketse build a Kgotla for every significant festival or ceremony, where the elders sit around a fire and make important decisions during the celebrations.
Notable Cultural Changes over the Years
In recent times, there have been significant cultural changes in Bangwaketse marriage practices. The widespread use of common law in modern civil society has led to many weddings being conducted in a combination of customary law and marriage by Act. While some marriages strictly adhere to customary law, most couples involve the district commissioner to be recognized under the Act (common law). These Western influences on Bangwaketse marriage practices have generated mixed responses within the community.
Moreover, Christianity, as a common religion among the Bangwaketse, has introduced the concept of a church reception known as “lenyalo la ko kerekeng.” This involves a priest officiating the marriage ceremony according to the Act. It is essential for the priest to hold a valid marriage license under the constitution of Botswana to perform such marriages.
In the past, intermarriage was not encouraged within the Bangwaketse community to avoid potential complications arising from cultural differences. However, due to the dynamic changes in Bangwaketse culture, intermarriage has become more normalized. Bangwaketse men and women are now able to marry individuals outside their tribe or even from other countries. Processes have been put in place to ensure mutual understanding of the requirements involved.
One specific change related to the traditional bride price, known as “Bogadi,” is that it used to be accepted only in the form of cows. However, due to intermarriage and evolving customs, money is now also accepted as part of Bogadi. Nevertheless, the sheep that is chosen to accompany Bogadi cannot be substituted; a live sheep must still be purchased for slaughter as lengwaelo.
Critics argue that some of these changes demean the customary marriage process. The Bangwaketse consider every aspect of their customary marriage proceedings as sacred. The symbolic practices and rituals make their marriage customs unique and uphold their cultural heritage. Despite these changes, the Bangwaketse continue to embrace many of their customs, which remain a critical part of their identity and cultural preservation.
- Bothoko, P., 2015. Standard price for Bogadi, Francistown, Botswana: Mmegi Press.
- Daily News, 2021. Lenyalo la Setswana le botlhokwa, Gaborone: Botswana Press.
- Otlogetswe, T. J., 2011. The History of The Bangwaketse. [Online]
Available at: https://otlogetswe.wordpress.com/2011/09/23/402/
[Accessed 26 May 2023].