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The term baTlôkwa (also baThlokoa, or Mantatees after queen Manthatisi) refers to several Sotho-Tswana communities that reside in Botswana, Lesotho and South Africa, comprising both the followings of Tlôkwa chiefs and more particularly members of clans identified as Tlôkwa, or to individuals who identify themselves as of Tlôkwa descent. Members of baTlôkwa clans are found in all the three Sotho-Tswana language grouping i.e. Sesotho, Setswana and Northern Sotho. Most of the Batlôkwa clans trace their royal lineages to Queen Manthatisi and her son Chief Sekonyela, and have the wild-cat as their original totem.
The baTlôkwa chiefdoms form part of the larger group of Sotho-Tswana peoples, which itself is one of sub-divisions of the Bantu-speaking peoples. In addition to the Batswana or 'Western Sotho', the Sotho-Tswana group includes the Basotho of Lesotho and the Orange Free State, to whom the term 'Sotho' has come to be more specifically and almost exclusively applied. This group sometimes also is referred to as the 'Southern Sotho' in connection with linguistic distinctions. A third group comprises the Northern Sotho, a term sometimes incorrectly reduced to one prominent Northern Sotho people, the baPedi. These different groups together are often classified for convenience as 'Sotho-Tswana'. From an early stage of their history, they shared a number of linguistic and cultural characteristics that distinguished them from other Bantu-speakers of southern Africa. Most prominent was mutually intelligible dialects. Other features included totemism, preferential marriage of maternal cousins, and an architectural style characterised by a round hut with a conical thatch roof supported by wooden pillars on the outside. Other commonalities included a style skin cloaks called dikobo, dense and close village settlements larger than those of 'Nguni' peoples, and a tradition of building in stone in less grassy or wooded regions.
The history of the Sotho-Tswana people is one of continual dissension and fission where disputes, sometimes over chieftain ascendancy, resulted in a section of the clan breaking away from the main clan, under the leadership of a dissatisfied chief's relative, and settling elsewhere. Often the name of the man who led the splinter group was taken as the new tribe's name.
The traditions of the Sotho-Tswana people point to a northward origin, and indicate that their southward movement was part of the great migrations of the Bantu-speaking iron-age peoples. Usually the theory asserts that the Sotho-Tswana separated from other Bantu-speaking peoples in the vicinity of the Great Lakes of East Africa, and that they proceeded downwards along the western part of present-day Zimbabwe.
The traditions of the Sotho-Tswana chiefdoms indicate that at some time in the past they were all under the same ruling line of kings which claim descent from a common ancestor, Masilo. Following the death of Masilo there was a leadership crisis that resulted in the formation of the Hurutshe and Kwena clans. The baTlôkwa claim lineage from the Hurutshe clan and trace their early ancestry to Mokgatla (c1430) and Tabane (c1550).
Tabane fathered five sons, Diale (Matlaisane), Kgetsi, Kgwadi (moTlôkwa), Matsibolo, and Mosia. Each broke away to form Bapedi, Makgolokwe, baTlôkwa, Baphuti and Basia respectively. Eight generations later, from Kgwadi, Makoro fathered Mokotjo. Chief Mokotjo the father to Sekonyela died at an early age, so his mother, Manthatisi, was regent during his minority.
Queen Mantatisi (ca. 1781–1836) was one of the best known, and most feared, women military and political leaders of the early 19th century. In the years of the wars related to Zulu expansion and the southern African slave trade, often referred to as the Mfecane or Difaqane, the Tlôkwa people were first known in English as the Mantatees, after Manthatisi's name, in the literature of exploration, missions and empire.
Manthatisi, the daughter of Chief Mothaba of the Basia people in what later became the Harrismith district of the Free State province of South Africa, was reportedly a tall, attractive woman. She married Mokotjo, the chief of the neighboring baTlôkwa, in a typical dynastic alliance, and is said to have borne him four sons. Mokotjo died while the heir, Sekonyela, was still too young to assume the chieftaincy, so Manthatisi acted as regent for Sekonyela.
After Mokotjo's death the Tlôkwa faced military encroachments by the amaHlubi people who were fleeing their homes in neighboring Natal. Made refugees themselves, Manthatisi commanded the Tlôkwa into the Caledon valley, driving out other Sotho communities living there. Her troops seized the crops and cattle of the people they attacked, leaving a trail of destruction and devastation.
Her reign of military conquest extended as far as central modern day Botswana. At the height of her military and political power her army was estimated to contain forty thousand fighters. However, she eventually suffered a series of defeats beginning in Bechuanaland in January 1823. Peter Becker describes the developments during this period when he states that:
"Meanwhile Mmanthatisi was approaching with forty thousand men, women and children. It was January 1823, the time of the year crops were ripening and food was usually plentiful. But the Wild Cat People were compelled to live frugally, for so great had been the chaos brought about by lifaqane in general and the plundering of Mmanthatisi, Mpangazita and Matiwane in particular that entire tribes had vanished from their settlements even before they had tilled their fields in preparation for planting. Indeed, the Central Plateau swarmed with hunger-stricken stragglers and small, detached parties of bandits. Apart from roots, bulbs and berries, there was little food to be found in the veld, certainly not enough to feed so large a horde as that of Mmanthatisi."
Nonetheless, the most prosperous of the Bechuana chiefs, Makaba of the Bangwaketsi, made a firm decision not to surrender to Mmanthatisi without a struggle. The same above-mentioned author, Peter Becker, continues by saying that:
"Meanwhile, the old Chief had decided not to surrender to Mmanthatisi without a fight. He called up every available warrior, garrisoned every pass leading to his capital, and with the guile for which he was famous, prepared traps into which he planned to lead his aggressors.
"Since her flight from the Harrismith district Mmanthatisi had managed to brush aside all opposition in the territories she traversed, but now in the stifling bushveld of Bechuanaland she was to come face to face with a foe whose fighting forces were as numerous as, and also better fed than, those of the Wild Cat People. The vanguard of Mmanthatisi's army strode into ambuscades; large groups of men topped headlong into concealed pitfalls and met their death beneath volleys of barbed javelins. A battle broke out, in the course of which hundreds of the invaders were massacred. Before the situation could develop into a rout Mmanthatisi suddenly disengaged her armies and retreated with her hordes to the east. Thus Makaba became the first Sotho chief to repulse the formidable Wild Cat Army, and to this day he is spoken of as the 'Man of Conquest.'"
Because Of Manthatisi’s notoriety, all Sotho-Tswana raiders became known as “boo-Mmanthatisi”, or “Mantatee Horde” by the English. Known also as the “Destroyer of Nations”, she was only stopped from entering the Cape Colony by British Forces near Aliwal North. Eventually Manthatisi settled her people on the Marabeng Mountains.
Although portrayed as an evil woman by some contemporary Europeans, she was a strong, capable and popular leader, both in war and peace. Her popularity is clearly indicated by the fact that instead of her people being known as Tlôkwa, they became known as ‘Manthatisi’. Unlike other chiefs who fell victim to the Difaqane wars, she successfully kept her people together in the midst of frequent raids by Nguni groups to the south.
After Mmanthatisi's son Sekonyela reached maturity he took control of the baTlôkoa social structures and military.
Sekonyela was born in 1804 near Harrismith next to the Wilge River. When Sekonyela was still a minor, with his mother, Mmathatisi, acting as regency, she sent him away from the Tlôkwa to protect him from political rivals. He rejoined the Tlôkwa in C1824, after his mother had led the baTlôkwa during the early Difaqane wars. Amidst the social and political chaos which gripped the present Free State and Lesotho regions Sekonyela continued to build the Tlôkwa into a major military power. When the worst phase of the wars ended in the early 1830s he settled on the naturally fortified mountains near the Caledon River.
Sekonyela’s major rival for control of northern Lesotho was Moshweshwe, the founder of the Sotho kingdom. For twenty years the two rivals raided each other and competed for adherents from among the many refugee bands in the region. Moshweshwe – much the better diplomatist-gradually outstripped Sekonyela in numbers of supporters. In November, 1853 Moshweshwe attacked and defeated baTlôkwa after which Sekonyela fled to Winburg. After this defeat the people under Sekonyela disintegrated, some went to Lesotho where they were absorbed into Moshweshwe’s state, others to Eastern Cape with a substation portion fleeing north to present Tshwane region in Gauteng.
Sekonyela later obtained land in the Herschel district of the Eastern Cape where he died in 1856.
Sekonyela's downfall is commonly attributed to his personal defects-to the love of war by which he alienated his neighbours, and to the rough treatment by which he alienated his own people, Conversely, Moshweshwe's rise to power is commonly attributed to his love of peace and to his benevolence. Basically Sekonyela was not able to become successful as well as Moshweshwe, because, after 1829, he was poorer than Moshweshwe. The Tlôkwa had to kill and consume many of their cattle during the early years of the difaqane, and it seems that they never fully recovered their former prosperity. Moreover, they suffered further heavy losses in the war with the Korana and their allies in the early 1840s. Sekonyela, therefore, was not in a position to attract and blind thousands of followers to himself by sustaining them. Hence, to a large extent, his raids on his neighbours' herds, and his unpopularity among his own people. Moshweshwe, however, retained most of his cattle during the difaqane, and in 1829 conducted two richly rewarding raids against the Thembu. Thereafter his wealth far surpassed Sekonyela's, and it was mainly because of this that he was able to attract and hold so many followers. The territorial expansion of the Sotho naturally brought them into conflict with the Tlôkwa, and in 1853, after the British had indicated that they were not prepared to interfere in this dispute, Sekonyela was overwhelmed by Moshweshwe's superior forces.
The baTlôkwa clans reside in Botswana, Lesotho & South Africa, it is not known how many baTlôkoa are there as a specific census has not being done.
In South Africa, the baTlôkwa are found in significant numbers in the four of the mainland provinces, namely North West, Gauteng, Limpopo and the Free State. In the North West the baTlôkwa settled in the region called Tlôkwe near the Potchefstroom, they are part of the Setswana language grouping portion of the Sotho–Tswana. They arrived in the area in 1820’s and are not part of the baTlôkwa who had been led by Chief Sekonyela, as they had seceded at an earlier period. There is also scattering of the baTlôkwa found all over the North-West.
In the Limpopo province, they are found in a place called boTlôkwa, north of Polokwane. Here the baTlôkwa are part of the North-Sotho language grouping. They arrived in the region after separating from the baTlôkwa who had fled to the Tshwane region after the defeat of Sekonyela by Moshweshwe. The main Tlôkwa clan in the area is the baTlôkwa Ba Ga Machaka and Ramokgopa. The two had separated in a quarell for chieftaincy, with Ramokgopa ultimately residing in the eastern regions called Mokomene, Mount Fletcher. Another grouping under Kgosi Manthata was moved to Mohodi next to Senwabarwana in 1977 also as a result of chieftaincy quarrels with baTlôkwa ba Mphakane under Kgosi Machaka.
These areas produced important people such as: -Collins Ramusi, -Hugh Masekela, -Gwen Ramokgopa, -Kgosiyentsho Ramokgopa, -Matome Zakea Seima, a writer,publisher and lawyer -Kgalamadi Ramusi, -Babsy Selela -Mamphela Ramphele, Lehotlo Moshokoa, Caiphus Semenya
In the Sesotho language grouping, the baTlôkwa are mainly in the found in the former QwaQwa region near Harrismith with five distinct baTlôkwa branches in the area, namely
- baTlôkwa ba Mota
- baTlôkwa ba Mokgalong
- baTlôkwa ba Morakadu
- baTlôkwa ba Makalakeng
- baTlôkwa ba Nasatse Patso
- baTlôkwa ba Lehana
- baTlôkwa ba Masene
The above mentioned branches of baTlôkwa still share similar cultural and linguistic elements in their respective areas.
In Lesotho the baTlôkwa are one of the three main Sotho-Tswana clans who speak Sesotho, the other three being Bakwena, Bataung and Sebiloane
BaTlôkwa arrived in Botswana in 1887, settling in Moshwaneng on the Notwane River, after being led by Kgosi Gaborone from the Tshwane area in South Africa following the split with another Tlôkwa clan that went to settle in baTlôkwa north of Polokwane-Pietersburg. The land they settled in was given to them by Kgosi Sechele after they acknowledged the overlordship of the Bakwena. The capital of Botswana Gaborone is named after Kgosi Gaborone.
The baTlôkwa in Botswana are unique from the other Tlôkwa clans in that their totem is the thakadu (ant-bear). This totem was chosen after the baTlôkwa where in the wilderness and became thirsty and hungry. They found a catch of the daywater from the many holes dug by thakadu, the totem since. BaTlôkwa then started drinking from such holes and since then they decided that nobody should harm the ant bear and it must be protected at all costs.
During this time in the wilderness, Mmakgosi was expecting and after drinking water from one of the dugout holes, she gave birth to a son who was named Marakadu. He said that Marakadu was named after the thakadu - the saviour, adding that since then baTlôkwa agreed to change their totem from nkwe to thakadu and that is how they became dithakadu as they are known today. Marakadu then begot a son called Mosima, a hole dug by thakadu from which they obtained water. Mosima then begot a son called Motlhabane - who begot Mokgwa - a savanna shrub under which Mmakgosi delivered. Mokgwa then begot Taukobong. The name was chosen because there were no blankets and they opted for animal skins to keep warm. According to Kgosintwa, Taukobong had three sons from different wives named Makaba, Molefe, and Tshekiso. He said that this was the time when baTlôkwa were at Itlholanoga - the snake eye, near Rustenburg. While Makaba died without children, however he had engaged a woman called Nkae and to keep the royal lineage growing, Molefe from the second wife was called in to father children for Nkae. Molefe then bore three sons in the house of Makaba, namely Bogatsu, Phiri and Semele. Traditionally, the children were not his but his elder brothers Makaba. Molefe became the regent chief because Taukobong died while they were still young. However, when they had matured, Phiri suggested to his brother Bogatsu that they should take over the chieftainship from Molefe, this created enmity between the two with Phiri constantly plotting to kill Molefe. He said that sensing danger, Bogatsu then instructed Molefe to choose two of his favourite wards and ran away. In his determination to kill Molefe, he said, Phiri pursued and attacked Molefe but it was Phiri who was defeated and killed. Molefe did not return to Itlholanoga but continued with the journey until they arrived in Botswana where they asked for land to settle on from Kgosi Sechele of the Bakwena.
The baTlôkwa share similar customs and tradition as other Sotho-Tswana clans. Depending on the area that they live in the speak normally one three languages which are Setswana, Sesotho or Northern Sotho. Sesotho, Northern Sotho and Setswana are largely mutually intelligible. Like most Sotho-Tswana society, the baTlôkwa are adapting to a rapidly urbanising population and culture. In rural areas, traditional culture remains an important force in daily life. In each region's urban areas, which are cosmopolitan, multi-racial and multi-cultural, western cultural norms are predominant.
Under European influence, most Sotho-Tswana adopted Christianity. BaTlôkwa living in Lesotho and the Free State are predominantly Catholic, while those in the Tswana and Northern Sotho language groupings are of Protestant denomination. Contemporary Sotho-Tswana society is adapting to a rapidly urbanising population and culture. In rural areas, traditional culture remains an important force in daily life. In the region's urban areas, which are cosmopolitan, multi-racial and multi-cultural, western cultural norms are predominant.
1 Military History Journal - Vol 1 No 3 A comparative study of strategy in bantu tribal warfare during the 19th century by Dr. PETER BECKER
2. Interview with one of the Ba-tswana elders Gaborone sheds light on baTlôkwa history 29 March 2006
3. Popular Politics in the History of South Africa, 1400-1948, Paul S. Landau, Cambridge University Press
4. Botswana's search for autonomy in southern Africa By Richard Dale
5. Dictionary of African historical Biography - By Mark R. Lipschutz, R. Kent Rasmussen pg 210