Culture and Traditions of Botswana | Religious Traditions

The Batswana are an extremely spiritual society and religion plays a leading role in their daily lives.
The Batswana are an extremely spiritual society and religion plays a leading role in their daily lives.

Before the arrival of the colonial missionaries, the people worshipped Modimo, a greater God or Supreme Being who was also representative of the ancestors.

Ian Michler


A culture of ceremony

They believed that a supernatural being was responsible for the creation of both humankind and the other animals and plants. For this reason, their cosmology reflects a strong connection between people and the natural environment.

For those that still follow a traditional belief system, ancestral worship is central to their daily religious practice, as it is believed that, if appeased, the ancestors will protect the family, strengthen the community and keep away ill omens.

Ancestors are also invoked to promote auspicious seasonal events, such as the well-timed onset of the rains and a good-quality harvest. The traditional healer always plays a strong role in these belief systems, as the ancestral spirits are often contacted through them. The family head may also be the medium for contact.

In the early 1800s, the London Missionary Society became the first group to start operating in Botswana. They established the first educational institutions and, with these, the Christian word began to spread. This was the beginning of the disintegration of many traditional practices and beliefs.

Today, approximately 30 percent of Batswana belong to one of the Christian churches (most are Catholic or Anglican), while over 65 percent adhere to the practices of the African Religion or still follow traditional beliefs.

The African Religion comprises a variety of churches: the Healing Church of Botswana, the Zionist Christian Church and the Apostolic Faith Mission, for example, and these belong to two main movements: the African Independent and Pentecostal churches.

These are indigenous religions that practise an integrated form of worship, combining the Christian liturgy with the more ritualistic elements of traditional ancestral worship. Very popular in the rural areas, the African Religion has a strong sense of community worship, rather than the more individualistic routine of modern Christianity.

Marriage Customs

Traditionally, the Batswana were polygynous, with marriages mostly pre-arranged and taking place shortly after men and women complete their initiation rites into adulthood. Today, with the exception of the Baherero, most Batswana choose their own partners and the marriage ceremony has become an expression of the more contemporary nature of society

The arrangements are the responsibility of the groom's uncle, rather than the parents, and are negotiated over the course of a number of meetings between the respective families. The traditional custom of the groom paying a bogadi to the bride's family still exists amongst rural families.

The price differs between groups, but it is often seven cows – one for each day of the week – or it may consist of a combination of cows, other livestock and money. Festivities usually take place over three days and, in the rural communities, everyone is entitled to attend. Each family will prepare a feast where livestock are slaughtered, providing food for the respective family members and friends.

Above:Tiny Sebadietla, from the village of Etsha 13, on her wedding day.

Once the groom and his uncle have delivered the bride price, then the ceremony may take place, after which there will be plenty of song and dance. The different groups have different lines of inheritance, with some (the Mbukushu and certain groups within the Baherero, for example) being matri-lineal. In a polygynous marriage, the children born to a man's head wife inherit the family estate.

Ritual Botwana Ceremony

Song and dance are integral to the Sunday services conducted by the Healing Church of Botswana.

When the annual flood waters reach Maun, the various denominations from the African Religion take to the river to carry out baptisms.

Cultural Issues Series

Art For All
Learn to Speak Setswana
Life and Soil
Old and New
Religious Traditions
The Food of Botswana



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