Proudly Botswana – tribes and totems
By Naima Tseladikae
Intro The occurrence of totems is common throughout Africa. The totem serves as a symbolic representation of a strong association with a specific animal, and with the natural world in general.
In Botswana totems are conceived and intended as an instrument of conservation to protect wildlife and natural resources. Totems are also followed for their strong animalistic characteristics, aesthetic beauty and tough nature of the object like a heart. It was either as a refuge or to camaflouge a specific tribe’s chief from his enemies.
A totem is given respect, usually because of a specific event that has occurred in a group's history, or more generally because of the nature of the interaction between the tribe and their particular totem animal or object. Totems are given extraordinary respect, so much so a particular tribe that follows that totem can’t under any circumstances kill, eat or harm that particular animal. It is believed you will get sick or have some disease in your body.
The word ‘go bina’ (literally translated to 'to dance'however it means a solemn allegiance because of spiritual significance) is commonly associated with totems. A common question asked to know a tribes’ totem is “o tswa kae? O bina eng?” (which tribe do you belong to? What totem do you follow?”) It is common to have different tribes following the same totem.
Examples of reasons of following totems
As oral traditions and history books report, it is believed that the Batlokwa tribe follow thakadu (ant bear) because it’s an animal that is hard to find with its good hiding skills. Thakadu is difficult to see especially during the day. The tribe associate themselves with this animal because during tribal wars they would not be easily seen by their enemies.
Kalanga tribe’s totem is pelo (heart). Their reason for choosing this totem is that the heart is a strong organ and it is hard to reach and be touched. They are untouchable in strength.
Kwena (crocodile) is the totem for Bakwena. Kwena is their totem because it is a strong animal. Their totem is also Kwena because of conservation for water areas and Kwena.
Batswapong tribe’s name Tswapong, is derived from Letswapo, a Sengwato expression of the foot of a hill. The name was relevant in that Batswapong settled at the hills as a defence strategy during the civil war era. Their totem is mmutla (rabbit) for its aesthetic values and survival skills.
In the Southern district of Botswana where the Barolong tribe are located, their totem is tshipi (wire) because of their exceptional blacksmith skills.
Phala (Impala) is the Basubiya’s totem because of its aesthetic characteristics. Their tribe is known for their beautiful cultural attire and much like the Phala with its physical beauty.
A common trait found in the history of these animals is that it saved the particular tribe’s chief during wars in Southern Africa also known as Difaqane wars.
Below are some the tribes found in Botswana and their totems.
There are tribes that have similar totems:
TRIBE TOTEM LOCATION OF TRIBE
Balete Nare (Buffalo) South East district
Batlaro Tshwene (baboon) Kgalagadi district
Bakwena Kwena ( Crocodile) Kweneng district
Batswapong Mmutla (rabbit) Central district
Batalaote Tlhapi ( Fish) Central district
Bakgatla Kgabo (monkey) Kgatleng district
Batlokwa Thakadu (ant bear) South east district
Batawana Phuti (Duiker) Ngamiland district
Babirwa Nare (Buffalo) Central district
Bangwato Phuti (Duiker) Central district
Basubiya Phala (Impala) / Tlou (elephant) Chobe district
Bahurutse Tshwene (Baboon) Central district
Barolong Tholo / Tshipi (wire) Southern district