A few weeks ago I considered the matter of Setswana names and wrestled with the subject of why certain names are given. I then concluded that discussion with a discussion of kgotla names, which I argued that they demonstrated the centrality of the importance that Batswana place on the kgotla system. The kgotla system is flawed. The chief is not elected; he is born. But so are many things. One’s place of birth and one’s parentage are all accidents of birth. I however believe that the kgotla names are better considered at the same time with totenism and chieftaincy for the kgotla expresses leadership of a certain tribe whose members venerate a specific totem. A study of names that makes reference to chieftaincy is significant in that it will shed light into how different members of the society have thought about the institution of chieftaincy. In this column we will investigate names that have the structure kgosi so that we might hopefully be informed of the opinions of Batswana on the subject of dikgosi and the institution of bogosi. Let us consider the data: Gabaitsekgosi ‘they don’t know a chief’; Gabanakgosi ‘they don’t have a chief’, Gotsilekgosi ‘a chief has come’; Gotswakgosi ‘it is the chief who is leaving or coming out’, Kalayakgosi ‘the branch of a chief’ or ‘I instructed a chief’, Kebonyekgosi ‘I have seen a chief’, Kgosiyang ‘a chief of what?’, Kelebalekgosi ‘I do not forget a chief’, Kgosidialwa ‘chiefs are fighting’, Kgosidintsi‘ many chiefs’, Kgosiemang ‘who is the chief’, Kgosiesele ‘a different chief, Kgosietsile ‘a chief has arrived’, Kgosijang ‘how did he become a chief’, Kgosikhumo ‘a chief is wealth’, Kgosimore ‘a chief is a herb’, Kgosimotho ‘a chief is human’, Kgosinaga ‘a chief is the forest/wild’, Kgosingwe ‘one chief’, Kgosintwa ‘a chief is war’, Kgosipula ‘a chief is rain’, Kgositau ‘a chief is a lion’, Kgosithaba ‘a chief is a mountain/hill’, Kgosithebe ‘a chief is a shield’, Kgosiyabone ‘their chief’, Mokopakgosi ‘one who begs a chief’, Molaakgosi ‘one who instructs a chief’, Kgosiyarona ‘our chief’, Modisakgosi ‘one who guards the chief’, Setlalekgosi ‘that which comes with the chief, Tiroyakgosi ‘a chief’s job’, Thebekgosi ‘the shield is a chief’, Reetsakgosi ‘listen to the chief or we are imitating the chief’, Bogosi ‘chieftaincy and many others.
The above data covers a wide spectrum of opinion on chieftaincy. Kgosithebe, Kgosithaba, Thebekgosi, and Kgositau portray a chief as the defender of a tribe just as a shield would defend a warrior against the flaming spears in a battlefield or just like a tribe on a mountain sees its approaching enemies and therefore mount a defence before an attack. A chief is the lion that devours its enemies. In this sense the chief is portrayed as the defender of not only the tribe in a physical sense, but the chief defends and embodies the tribal values and norms. It is chieftaincy that is seen as the strongest defence against foreign elements. It epitomises the core of the culture of a people; their beliefs, strengths, and weaknesses. The defeat of chieftaincy translates into the defeat of the tribal system as we know it. You defeat the chief, you defeat a people.
In Kgosipula, Kgosimore, Kgosikhumo, the bountifulness associated with chieftaincy is expressed. The metaphor of the rain is seized to express many sides of the chief’s role and character. One could see the chief as the rain that cleanses the tribe of undesirable elements leaving the tribe healthy. The rain might signal life, just as rain brings life to the crops, the chief brings life to the tribe. A tribe with a chief is full of vigour and has a sense of direction. The chief is also seen as a herb that restores health to a sick tribe. He unites the fragmented tribe and restores order and discipline as he settles disputes and punishes misconduct. The chief also represents tribal wealth for he will defend the tribe against marauding bands of cattle thieves who raid villages and leave communities on the brink of poverty. Such names reflect a chief as an essential element in the life of a tribe.
Other names of kgosi comment on the lack of chieftaincy. Gabaitsekgosi, Gabanakgosi may be given to make reference to other people who do not place great respect on the institution of bogosi and therefore the names despise those whose culture does not value chieftaincy. The names could also be pointing to a tribe which hasn’t known a chief since its chief died or was banished for whatever reason.
Kgosiemang, Kgosidintsi, Kgosidialwa, Kgosiemang and Kgosijang articulate the wrangling for chieftaincy that is common in many tribes. The fight for the Bakwena chieftaincy of 2000-2002 with its roots deeply rooted in the colonial era is a case in point. Therefore names like Kgosiemang accurately articulates an existing uncertainty since it serves to interrogate who the true leader of the tribe is. Kgosidintsi expresses that there are too many claimants to the throne – a state that can be a source of tribal unrest. Kgosidialwa on the other hand expresses a conflict between members of the royal house or between tribal leaders. Kgosijang questions how a certain individual ascended to the leadership of a tribe. A case in point might be a situation where Chief Seepapitso IV was suspended from the leadership of the Bangwaketse by the government and his son Leema took over. This led to some villagers in Kanye wondering how Leema could agree to ascend to his father’s throne whilst his father was still alive. They therefore asked: E le gore o ka nna kgosi jang? ‘How could he become a chief?’ Therefore names about chiefs are not just praise names. They are also critical commentaries on the institution of bogosi.
Before leaving the discussion of names with kgosi, it is worth noting the ambiguity that usually exists in the use of the word ‘kgosi’. ‘Kgosi’ is not only used to refer to the leader of a tribe in Setswana discourse, but also to mean the eldest son, since he is usually seen as the one who takes care of the household in the absence of the father, ngwana wa ntlha molekane wa ga rraagwe. Therefore names like ‘Gotsilekgosi’ should not be taken necessarily to comment on the birth of a future tribal chief, but may as well be making a statement on the birth of the eldest son.