By Ian Michler
Because of their high protein and fat content, reproductive termites are a sought-after food source in the rural areas of Botswana.
The village heads or chiefs (kgosi) are responsible for looking after the affairs of the community. The kgotla, or traditional meeting place, is the most significant spot within any village. Recognised by all as a place of respect, it is always to be found in the middle of the village or under the largest tree.
Cellular phone beacon. Nata This is where all social, judicial and political affairs of the community are discussed and dealt with. Today, while most of the homesteads in the rural villages are built using modern fabricated materials of some sort, the kgotla and cattle posts remain integral to the stability of these communities. Maize porridge (papa, to the locals) and boiled fish are the staple foods in and around the Okavango Delta.
Cattle, and to a lesser extent goats and sheep, have always played an important social and economic role within Batswana society. Animal husbandry was central to the survival and success of most groups, other than the Basarwa and Bayei. Cattle in particular are kept, not only for food and clothing, but also as a measure of wealth.
The larger their herd's size the greater the influence an individual or family has within the community. Cattle are also traditionally used as the primary means of exchange. Disputes and punishments handed down by the kgotla were settled with payments of cattle, and men paying their bogadi (bride price) would deliver cattle to the woman's family. Cattle still retain a prominent place in rural Botswana, and for many the herd remains the preferred store of wealth.
The occurrence of totems is common throughout Africa, and indeed the world. While some groups have non-animal totems, most within Botswana have animals as their group or community totem. The totem serves as a symbolic representation of a strong association with a specific animal, and with the natural world in general.
The totem is given extraordinary 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 group and their particular totem animal.
The Basubiya live along the waterways of the Chobe River, which has always had a large population of hippopotamus, and so this species is their totem. For the Bakwena it is the crocodile, and for the Batawana the lion. Two more interesting associations concern the Bangwato and a community of Banoka, known as the Xaniqwee.
The Bangwato totem is the duiker, a small nondescript antelope species, which is revered in their mythology for saving the life of a chief. The aardvark serves as the Xaniqwee totem, because when the group first trekked up to the Okavango region hundreds of years ago they had to cross the parched lands of the Kalahari.
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.