The Tswana people
Did you know?
Sol Plaatjie, a famed novelist and founding member of the ANC, was a Tswana.
The Tswana people emerged from the larger Sotho tribe and today number over two million people spread throughout the Northern Cape, Gauteng and North West provinces.
No one is sure where the name Tswana originated or what it means. Nonetheless, it is known that when the Tswana moved into the southern African region in the 14th century as herders and farmers.
The Tswana people entered South Africa across the Limpopo River in several migrations, often forming clans that mixed people of different cultures and languages. No one clan was typically tied to another and people could easily move between the different clans.
The spirit world plays an important role in Tswana culture. The ancestral spirits are often invoked, through various rituals and ceremonies, to provide healing, give fortune, or cleanse a household. The history books record a famous debate between the missionary-explorer David Livingstone and a Tswana rain doctor in 1853. Livingstone said he prayed for rain. The rain doctor had his own methods. That particular season, neither format worked.
Tswana tradition measures wealth and status in cattle. This also determines the size of households as cattle is the currency for paying a bride price and are necessary for feeding the family.
In typical Tswana culture, a family consists of the husband, his wife (or wives) and their unmarried children. The man is regarded as the head of the house and is afforded immense respect.
It is predominantly in the rural countryside where divisions between men and women are still upheld for the Tswana people. This often means women are excluded from political and religious meetings. Certain places in the village are reserved for the use of men only, while at social gatherings women and men sit apart.
A Tswana woman's traditional dress, which has evolved over the centuries, indicates her position. It is usually a voluminous outfit of dull colour over which she wears a multi-coloured apron tied at the back. This is finished off with a head scarf.