Yeyi people

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Yeyi people (described as Bayeye), 1861

The Yeyi, or Bayei, are Bantu-speaking people of Ngamiland, Botswana. The Yei immigrated to the area in the 18th century from the north, and lived in close cooperation with the San people, or Basarwa, who had lived in the area previously. The Yeyi language has been influenced by San languages.


According to oral tradition, the baYei emigrated from the kingdom of the Lozi people in the 18th century, and were led into Ngamiland by the skilled fisherman and hunter Hankuzi. When the baYei met the baKhakwe people, Hankuzi married one of their women, possibly as a guarantee of peace. A number of immigration waves followed. The baYei learned many of the baKhakwes survival skills, including new fishing techniques, while the baYei are credited with bringing the canoe buildning technology to Ngamiland.

The baYei also had connections to the Lozi in the north, and traded tobacco for iron with them. Iron was important in the baYei economy for producing spearheads and tools.

In the early 19th century the baTswana tribe known as baTawana arrived in the Ngamiland. After the arrival, many of the baYei became serfs, or batlhanka, of the baTawana. Initially the servitude was voluntary in many cases, as it offered protection to attach oneself to a powerful household.


The baYei had a matrilineal succession, i.e. the inheritor of a kingdom is the son of a sister to the king.

The baYei believed in a creator god who lived among the humans. One day the god became angry with the humans for their wickedness and went to heaven. He does not interfere much in the world, except for throwing down the occasional thunderbolt. The baYei also venerate ancestor spirits.

Crops that are important for the baYei culture includes sorghum and tobacco.