Setswana - Widely Spoken in the North

Although Setswana, generally known as Tswana, is the national language of Botswana, a large number of Tswana speakers are located in South Africa, with the Northern Cape being predominantly Afrikaans and Setswana. Hence Setswana is one of South Africa's eleven official languages. Setswana speakers are also found in Namibia and Zimbabwe. Tswana is a Bantu language, and is therefore closely related to the other two Sotho languages, namely Sotho (Southern Sotho) and Northern Sotho (Sesotho sa Leboa). Tswana has also been known previously as Beetjuans, Chuana (Bechuanaland relating), Coana, Cuana and Sechuana.

Speaking Setswana proves to have its own obstacles, as all the Sotho languages are related, and different dialects are found in various parts of Africa. But generally, “Dumela” remains hello, wherever you go. As in most languages, Setswana also has it’s own form of slang. “O a re eng” (pronounced wah-reng) means How’s it going? Or the even shorter version, “Go jwang” is a simple, curt How’s it.

Wealth amongst the Setswana speakers is still measured by cattle ownership. The more cattle you own, the closer you are to making the “Setswana Forbes” list of the most wealthy. There is a distinct division between the rich and poor, and the divide keeps getting bigger.

Although the western ways of the world have infiltrated this culture, leading to the abolishment of traditional clothing, as in so many cultures, some traditions have survived. Music and consulting traditional healers, better known as sangomas, are a large part of the culture.

Setswana music consists of the human voice and string instruments only. Drums are generally not used, not surprisingly there is only one musical group that has had some commercial success. Kgwanyape Band released an album in 1993 called “Mepatho ya Malobe”.

If wanting to consult a sangoma during your travels, be sure to know that time and travel involved in sourcing certain herbs will be added to your fee. And as most Setswana sangomas consult with their ancestors in regard to their fees, you better hope that the ancestors are smiling on you, on that particular day!


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