Pregnancy: Botswana Culture (Setswana)

BEING AFRICAN- AFRICAN CULTURE EXPLAINED

Pregnancy: Botswana Culture (Setswana)

The Batswana, just like any other people of the world, attach great significance to pregnancy and childbirth for their role in building families and future generations. Coupled with the concept of “Botho,” the people of Botswana are awake (traditionally) to the fact that pregnancy is critical to the growth and development of any clan. Childbearing is treated with a lot of dignity and respect, and it focuses more on the woman’s family.  Dignified marriages and healthy pregnancies ensure some order.  In the Batswana community, pregnancy involves several stages. 

It is also imperative to note that approaches and interpretations to pregnancy will differ depending on whether one is married or single. This write-up will explain the distinct differences

 

STEP 1 EARLY STAGES OF PREGNANCY

  1. Reporting the marriage
  2. Bokopano ja bo Malome (The Uncles’ Meeting)
  3. Go itatola kana go Dumela (Denial or Acceptance)
  4. Kea Nyala (Declaration of commitment to marry)
  5. Ga ke Nyale (Declaration of intent not to marry)
  6. Go diga lebele (Loosening of the Breast)

 

STEP 2. MID TO LAST STAGES OF PREGNANCY

  1. Tshidilo (Massage)
  2. Dijo tsa moimana (Diet for Pregnant women)

                 Mae (Eggs)

                 Telele (Large intestines)

STEP 3. DELIVERY STAGE

  1. Pelegi/Tsholo (Delivery)
  2. Botsetse (Post Natal Incubation)
  3. Go tlhola ngwana (Visiting the newborn)

 

STEP 1 EARLY STAGES OF PREGNANCY

  1. Go bega Tshenyo (Reporting the Pregnancy).
  2. The daughter is unmarried and presumed to be a virgin.
  3. As soon as the mother or “other parents” recognize signs of pregnancy, the first stage is to summon their daughter to confirm.  The daughter is supposed to tell them about the man who is responsible for the pregnancy. Upon explanation, the mother (parents) will call all the uncles, aunts, and grandparents through the senior uncle to inform them of the pregnancy.
  4. Malome (the pregnant lady’s uncle) will then inform the man’s family of their son’s deed.  He will also explain the ways of his clan or tribe in case they come from cross-cultural backgrounds. Malome (Man’s uncle), in the company of the other uncles, will leave very early in the morning to meet with the pregnant lady’s uncle to officially report the pregnancy. (it is traditionally interpreted as destruction or tshenyo in the vernacular
  5. Bokopano ja bo Malome (The Uncles’ Meeting): The next stage is the most important in determining the future of the pregnant couple. 
  6. The man’s uncles (who can also be accompanied by Rakgadi/aunt) meet the pregnant lady’s senior uncle ( who can also be accompanied by Rakgadi/aunt). They will report the pregnancy as tshenyo (a form of destruction/ damage) to the man’s uncle. 
  7. It is interpreted as a form of “destruction” mainly because their son would have broken their daughter’s virginity (out of wedlock, and therefore without permission).  Since the daughter was never married (as far as the parents know), the man is presumed to have snuck illegally into the parents’ homestead. He is thus said to have ‘destroyed’ the fence and somehow even disrespected the family’s homestead by sneaking in to see their daughter without permission (marriage).
  8. In short, the uncles’ meeting will achieve the following.
    • The expectant father’s uncle will know what his nephew did and call him to chat and map the way forward before the next meeting. Note, however, that in most cases, the nephew would have told his uncle before the call, but he has to pretend he is hearing it for the first time.
    • An explanation of the ‘charges’ for the damages (which will only be paid if the expectant father declines to marry the pregnant mother).
    • A date for the next, more formal, and detailed meeting will be set and agreed upon.
  9. Go itatola kana go Dumela (Denial or Acceptance): After the meeting of the uncles, the next and most important stage is the ‘Denial or Acceptance’ stage. At the “denial and acceptance” meeting, all the interested parties will be present; the pregnant lady and her family, as well as the expectant father and his family. Note here that the meeting is chaired and directed by the pregnant lady’s senior uncle and aunt (Malome and Rakgadi).
    • At this meeting:
    • The lady’s uncle will formally announce the pregnancy of his niece.
    • The pregnant lady’s uncle will inform the meeting attendees that their ‘daughter’ directed them to that particular yard. The informing of the attendees will mark the formal ‘accusation’ by the lady’s family. Batswana interprets pregnancy as a blessing and a responsibility to the entire family bloodline.
    • The man’s uncle will then give an acknowledgment speech but will not comment until his nephew confirms or denies the ‘accusations.
    • The responsible man makes the announcement: 
    • This announcement means the expectant man will speak in front of the lady’s parents for the first time. He will then publicly declare whether he accepts the ‘accusation’ or not.
    • If he accepts the responsibility for the pregnancy, his malome will then interject and order him to sit down as the uncle has more serious questions. 
    • The questions: The man’s uncle will then ask his nephew; “Now that you have accepted impregnating the lady, what are your intentions? Are you getting married or not?” These two questions are very important in the Batswana context because they determine the next course of pregnancy.

 

Kea Nyala (Declaration of commitment to marry): Upon accepting responsibility for the pregnancy, the man will then have to decide and declare whether he intends to marry the mother of the child. If he commits to marry, the uncles will meet to start marriage processes and negotiations. The meeting will only take place after the ‘damages’ have been paid. Note, however, that the ‘damages’ referred to here are not associated with the pregnancy per se but are damages to the lady’s parents’ fence.  The man will be sentenced to have disrespected their homestead.  Therefore, he is required to return the dignity and respect to the family in the form of a ‘charge.’ The charge is usually a female cow.

 

Ga ke Nyale (Declaration of intent not to marry): There are, however, instances where the man responsible for the pregnancy might not be interested in getting married to the pregnant lady. In this case, the man will have to pay a charge and commit to provide for the child. In most Tswana cultures, after the child is born and the breastfeeding period is over, the child is taken to the paternal grandmother.  Both families will raise the child.  The child is brought back to the mother at agreed intervals. This arrangement is also made to help the child know, appreciate and understand his bloodline (in Botswana, a child adopts their father’s totem). Moreover, it is a way the Batswana used to make unmarried fathers responsible for the children they bore out of wedlock. 

Note: declaration of intent NOT to marry will attract two types of charges:

 

Go diga lebele (Loosening of the Breast): It is a fact (even medically) that a lady’s breast will never be as tight as it was before giving birth after breastfeeding.  Breastfeeding supposedly reduces the quality of the breasts and therefore reduces the woman’s attractiveness to the males. So, for this reason, the Batswana believe that by not marrying the lady he impregnated, the man has reduced the lady’s chances of getting another man interested in her. The man must therefore pay for ‘reducing her worth’ and not getting married to her. 

 

In the event, however, that the pregnant lady already had a child (from a different relationship) and is still unmarried, the charge becomes less even when one doesn’t want to get married. The man responsible for the pregnancy is charged far less than he would have been charged if he was the first to impregnate the lady (supposedly a virgin)

 

STEP 2. MID TO LAST STAGES OF PREGNANCY

From the beginning of the pregnancy, the expecting mother has to undergo a series of counselling and massage sessions to prepare her mentally and physically for the impending childbirth.  She is given special care, which is usually the responsibility of an experienced traditional midwife or masseur. Over and above this, the expecting mother’s diet is also closely monitored.

 

  1. Tshidilo (Massage): The expectant mother would have to go for massage sessions during the entire pregnancy period. The massage sessions were done by a designated, experienced old lady, who was usually responsible for all the pregnant ladies in the neighborhood. Her primary duty was to monitor the health of the expecting mother and the baby’s growth and even sitting position (general development) (note that these ‘experts’ are still there though most people now prefer to alternate between the clinic and the old ladies). The frequency and length of the massage increased as the pregnancy grew. It is important to note that these masseurs also played an essential role in helping ‘turn’ the baby as needed to prepare it for delivery. They also gave the expectant mother some stretching exercises for them to do at home, especially in the morning.
  2.  Dijo tsa moimana (Diet for Pregnant women): As noted in the introduction, diet is taken very seriously. The Batswana have always been particular and clear regarding the importance of food in developing both the mother and the child. Therefore, the expectant mother is expected to eat many fruits and vegetables and food rich in roughage to help the digestive system. The Tswana midwifery has long discovered types of foods that are not good and therefore must not be eaten by a pregnant woman:

 

BATSWANA FOOD BELIEFS

  1. Sebete (Liver): According to the Tswana midwives, the liver is one of the many food types that help boost the production of blood in the human body. It plays a part due to its high content of blood cells and veins. So, for this reason, the expectant mother was barred from eating the liver to avoid over-bleeding during delivery. Note that this was a deliberate move by the Batswana because they did not have the resources to stop over-bleeding back then. And therefore, one would say barring pregnant ladies from eating the liver was more of a precautionary measure to save the lives of both the mother and the newborn.
  2. Mae (Eggs): Another food type that they are barred from eating (especially after the third month) is eggs. Traditionally, Batswana believed that eggs play a significant role in stimulating the development of the sexual organs of the human body. For example, kids under sixteen were not allowed to eat eggs to avoid stimulating their sexual desires. As for pregnant mothers, however, it was believed that eggs were not good, especially for the child’s development. They made the child bigger and, therefore, delivery very difficult and risky.  Traditionally Batswana did not have scissorian procedures.  Another belief with eggs was that they interfered with the uterus walls and, therefore, affected, if not stopped, the baby from turning: which, according to midwives, resulted in a complicated birth, where the feet instead of the head would come out first.
  3. Telele (Large intestines): There are more cattle in Botswana than people, so there is a lot of beef consumption.  People eat the insides like heart, liver, intestines, tripe, and so on. It is, however, considered very risky for a pregnant mother to partake in the eating of the large intestines. These intestines have a plastic-like outer layer, which is elastic and not easily digestible. For this reason, pregnant mothers are not allowed to eat telele since it is believed that the plastic outline can strangle the fetus or interfere with its breathing, among other reasons.
  1. STEP 3 DELIVERY STAGE
  • Pelegi/Tsholo (Delivery): Only elderly women (no men) are allowed in the house during delivery. Note, however, that ‘elderly women’ in this context refers strictly to those who are no longer sexually active. The senior, most experienced midwife will be in charge of the delivery while the other (not more than two) are there to learn midwifery. 
    • It is traditionally considered taboo for men, even the father of the newborn, to be present, and there are reasons:
    • It is culturally believed and permitted that a man travels a lot and meets many people, some of whom they may engage sexually. For this reason, any sexually active person is barred from seeing a newborn child for fear of bringing in infections that can affect the child’s health.
    • It is also believed that they will bring in ‘bad spirits,’ which they would have gotten from outside, and these are thought to be capable of affecting the growth and development of the child both mentally and physically.

It is important to note that as many citizens now live in cities, most deliveries are done in hospitals. The traditional midwives are now primarily assigned to duties of taking care of the mother post-delivery.

 

  1. Botsetse (Post Natal Incubation): After the newborn’s delivery, there is postnatal care for the mother and the child.  The mother is given time and  to recover and recoup from the labor pain, and this incubation period can further be divided into two:
    • The first two weeks after delivery: during this period, the mother and the child will be kept in complete isolation from all members of the family who are still sexually active. This period is treated as the most sensitive in the health and development of the newborn. During this period, even the child’s father will not be allowed to enter the room but can see the mother with the supervision of designated elderly women. 
    • The new mother’s cooking utensils and washing basins are kept in isolation and cleaned frequently; she does not share these with anybody else. Even the left-overs from her plate are given strictly to juveniles who are not sexually inactive.
    • Go tlhola ngwana (Visiting the newborn): It is traditionally appropriate for the child to be seen after two weeks.  However, only a few people will be allowed; the father, mother’s siblings, and other uncles and aunties. Please note tradition dictates that at this exact time, the elder brother to the father of the newborn (who is the child’s senior uncle) must bring along clothes for the infant and foodstuff for the mother to help the production of milk. The uncle providing the food and baby clothes follows and reinforces the traditional role of an uncle in the growth, development, and marriage of his nephew or niece. 

This postnatal incubation is traditionally six months, after which there will be a grand celebration meant to avail the child for the community to hold, admire and give blessings.

  1. Mantsho a ngwana (End of Post Natal incubation): The Batswana believe the mother and child are safe at this stage. Mantsho a ngwana is a celebration sponsored solely by the father (sometimes with the help and support of his own father and senior uncle). The father to the newborn must provide a cow to be slaughtered while women contribute food ingredients and work together in the brewing of traditional beer. There will be a big celebration where the child will also be made ‘to touch the ground for the first time,’ which assignment is reserved for the grandmothers. This ceremony declares both mother and child ready and strong enough to mix with the ordinary people. It also represents the last stage in the traditional pregnancy of Batswana.  

       

 

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