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  • Mapping Shekgalagari in Southern Africa: A Sociohistorical and Linguistic Study
  • A. M. Chebanne and K. C. Monaka


The Bakgalagari were classified by Guthrie (1948) as S30 and by Cole (1954) as 60/2/5. They incorporate ethnic groups such as Bangologa, Bashaga, Babolaongwe, Balala, Bakhena, Baritjhauba, and Bakgwatheng and Baphaleng, the latter of which do not speak Shekgalagari any more. At the moment, Bakgalagari are only found in Botswana. They are thought to have arrived in southern Africa more than 2000 years ago, together with other Bantu groups (Tlou/Campbell 1997:33), and were the earliest Sotho-Tswana group to inhabit the Madikwe and Limpopo river basins (Figure 1) around 900 and 1000 CE (Tlou/Campbell, 1997).


Around 1200 CE, the Bakgalagari were already inhabiting the peripheries of this area as they migrated into Botswana, where they are estimated to have arrived around 1000 CE, as Figure 2 illustrates (cf. Tlou/Campbell, 1997:90). They would later be pushed into the Kgalagadi desert, which reinforced the peripheral and distant location of some of them from the rest of the Sotho-Tswana groups that subsequently inhabited the country.

History suggests that there were ethnic rivalries amongst the Bakgalagari, and they consequently split into various ethnic groups (Tlou/Campbell, 1997:90). These ethnic groups were dispersed in various directions in the country at different times as shown in Figure 3. Figure 3 shows the historical [End Page 133] base and the subsequent movements of the Bakgalagari starting earlier than 1400 CE. It is possible that these movements might have been reversed at various times, and also that some people at a later stage took the same directions to find their ethic counterparts (e.g., Babolaongwe at around 1650 CE).

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Figure 1.

Early Sotho-Tswana Settlements, 1000 CE, adapted from Tlou/Campbell (1997).

First, two major groups emerged: the Bakgwatheng and the Babolaongwe. The Babolaongwe moved to inhabit much of what is now southeastern Botswana, and were found by the Bakwena around 1550, west of Marikwe (Madikwe) in the area that is now Mochudi and Molepolole. While it can be deduced that most of them were brought under the domination and the influence of the Bakwena, a large group moved further west to Letlhakeng area, [End Page 134] some even going in the direction of Baphaleng, and yet others in the direction of Matsheng. Today the Babolaongwe can be found in the following districts of Botswana and the associated (representative) villages; Kweneng West District: Motokwe, Tshwaane, Tsetseng, Takatokwane, Dutlwe, Ditshegwane, Sesung, Saljwe, Khaudwane, Shorilatholo, Molepolole, Sojwe; The Central District: Boteti: Rakops, !Xere, Mopipi, Mosu, Makalamabedi, Mmashoro, Shoshong, Mosolotshane, Kodibeleng, Otse, Sojwe, Shadishadi, Serowe, Moiyabana, Mabeleapudi; Ghanzi District: New Xade. Figure 4 maps the distribution of the Babolaongwe in Botswana today. The maps give sample villages in each area. All the towns, villages and settlement where the Bakgalagari reside could not be slotted in the maps because of congestion.

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Figure 2.

Early Sotho-Tswana positions before major movements, i.e. 1200 CE, adapted from Tlou/Campbell (1997).

[End Page 135]

In some cases, like in the Central District e.g., Mmashoro, Moiyabana, and Boteti area, e.g. Rakops, Mopipi and !Xere, the Babolaongwe (and indeed the Bakgalagari of any ethnic group) in the area, are now Babolaongwe by ethnicity only and, because of the assimilationistic language policy of the country and ethnic absorption by powerful ethnic groups, have shifted completely to Setswana and speak it as their first, ‘mother tongue’ language, and are very proficient in it. They have been monolingual since birth.

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Figure 3.

Regional dispersions of the Bakgalagari peoples from 1400 CE (Tlou/Campbell 1997).

The Babolaongwe also experienced some intra-ethnic splits and broke down into two groups, the new group being the Bangologa. Later, the Bashaga also emerged from the Babaloaongwe. (Tlou/Campbell, 1997). The Bangologa may be found in the following areas of Botswana: Kgalagadi North: Hukuntsi, Lokgwabe, Lehututu, Tshane, Zutshwa, Monong, Hunhukwe, Ngwatle, Ukhwi, Ncaang; Kgalagadi South: Gakhibana, Bray, Maubelo, Khisa, Phepheng, Draaihoek, Tsabong; Ghanzi: Ncojane, Charles [End Page 136] Hill, Xanagas, Karakubis, D’Kar...


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