We know that an entity (that’s an intelligent way of saying “a thing”) is an important part of a people’s life by the way it is expressed in their language. If an object or a living entity is central to a community, the amount of lexicalization, i.e. the formation of terms to refer to that object’s permutations in the society, will be high. The English have a great fascination with dogs. They therefore have a large collection of terms that refer to dogs. Specifically, the terms refer to the different breeds of dogs. These include Cocker Spaniel, Foxhound, Mastiff, Setter, Springer Spaniel, Water Spaniel, White Terrier, English Bulldog, Staffordshire Terrier, German Shepherd, Basset hound, Beagle, Bearded Collie, Bloodhound, Rhodesian Ridgeback and many many others.
It was the linguist, Franz Boas who first noted that the Eskimos have multiple words that refer to snow, a matter that has been a subject of much debate in linguistics circle. For the Batswana, for many years nothing has been definitive of the social life as kgomo (a generic term for cow. In this column we use the term cow, not to identify a female beast, but we use it generically to refer to all cattle, male and female). Kgomo has defined a man. A man with many cattle has been defined as smart, intelligent, wise, influential and rich. A man without cattle has been a perfect symbol of poverty. This is because with cattle a man can feed his family. He can get milk from his cows for tea, for drinking, for making logala, also known as sekholo, nthiane, sengana and lephintshatshwene. The milk can be used for madila (sour milk) that can be added to bogobe before or after cooking. Lobebe (the thick milk crust that forms on top of boiled milk) was eaten or applied on the face of girls and women for personal beautification. The importance of milk amongst the Tswana has led to a variety of expressions that relate to milk. Amongst these are kgwa mashi, kgomo ya mashi, mashi a kgomo ke tswa thobeng ke le phepa, selabe se tla le motsayakgamelo. Milk that has just gone bad, is known as mageri. A cow that is a source of milk is called legangwa or leradu. Go lala digobo is when a cow goes a day without being milked, or skips a day without feeding its young. A cow that produces much milk is called segamo while the one that produces little is called motete. Lephusa is a cow that has been producing much milk but now has started producing little because it recently fell pregnant. If a cow cannot become pregnant it is known as moreba or setwatwa.
The significance of kgomo can also be seen in the terms that are used to refer to the different types of dikgomo amongst the Batswana. Kgongwana is a term that means a smaller cow, usually slightly older than a calf, which in Setswana is lexicalized as namane. There are also terms that refer to a calf. If a pregnant cow dies before giving birth, the dead calf found inside it is known as mohungwana/mohumana. Its meat is usually cooked and fed to toothless old men and women! A calf that was born recently is called lebotlana. An older calf that is fit, healthy and beautiful to behold, is called lesole. Some call it lesolemotlhabana. Moalolelo is a calf that has been separated from its mother, especially to allow its mother to mate with bulls. In terms of size, there are cows that are mature but not fully developed to be called cows, bulls or heifers. At this size, they are called meroba (pl); moroba (sng). An un-castrated male adult cow is a poo (a bull). A castrated male cow is called a pelesa. A pelesa was used in the past as a beast of burden. E ne e belesa dithoto. During travel, it would be loaded with all manner goods on its back. Pelesa was also used during the ploughing season to pull a plough. If a bull was castrated as an adult it was called tshikela. Tshikela therefore refers to a poo that has been castrated in its adult life. In the past Batswana used to ride male castrated cattle just like horses. Such a cow was called lekaba. It is from this cow that the idiom mogwe lekaba ga a tsofale has been derived. If a cow has no horns we say e chochwa.
During a wedding ceremony cattle that function a variety of roles are lexicalized differently. The cattle that are given as bride-price to the family of the bride are called bogadi. After the delivery of bogadi in some Setswana cultures, such as the Bangwaketse, there is an adult cow that is given to the family of the groom by the family of the bride. Such a cow is given alive, e perepetshega. It is known as perepetsha. I have only scratched the surface on the different names that cattle can receive because of the function they perform in the various Tswana cultures. There are also numerous idioms and proverbs which have been derived from kgomo which I give below for evidence without comment. If you wish to know what they mean, consult a good Setswana dictionary like the one I wrote: “Tlhalosi ya Medi ya Setswana”. Nnete ga e jelwe kgomo, lentswe la maabanyane ga le tlhabe kgomo, kgomo mogobeng e wetswa ke namane; lebitla la kgomo ke molomo; mmatla kgomo kolomela o etse mhata sediba; kgomo ga nke e ntsha boloko jotlhe; kgomo ga e nke e tlhaba mong wa yone; kgomo ga e latswe namane e se ya yone; kgomo ga e imelwe ke dinaka e le tsa yone; ka e tlhoka ka tlhoka boroko ka nna le yone ka nna ka bo tlhoka; mokoduwe go tsoswa o o itsosang; kgomo go tlhabana tsa lesaka le le lengwe; makuku a naka tsa kgomo; mashi a kgomo ke tswa thobeng ke le phepa, selabe se tla le motsayakgamelo; mmala wa kgomo o gola namaneng; go baya motho mabele a kgomo; go opa kgomo lonaka; go bopa kgomo ya mmopa; phitlhela kgomo ya serotswana; go se na kgomo ya boroko; go jela motho kgomo; kgomo ya lefisa re e gama re lebile tsela; Kgomo e tshwarwa ka dinaka, motho o tshwarwa ka mafoko; kgomo e e mashi ga e itsale; mosima o duleng kgomo ga o thijwe ka bobi; mahube a naka tsa kgomo; Go jela motho kgomo; Go ema kgomo mogoja; Go se na kgomo ya boroko; Itaya kgomo lonaka; (Dithoto) di ja kgomo le namane; Kgomo e e mashi ga e itsale; Kgomo e tsentse tlhako kgamelong; Kgomo e tsewa ka namane; kgomo e tsoga ka tlhogo; kgomo ga e imelwe ke dinaka e le tsa yone; kgomo mogala tshwara ka thata e se re o utlwa sebodu wa kgaoga; mahube a naka tsa kgomo; makuku a naka tsa kgomo; mabele a kgomo; mmala wa kgomo o gola namaneng; poo go bewa ya kgomo, ya motho e a ipaya; se beetswe kgomo se retetse; tlogatloga e tloga gale, modisa wa kgomo o bolola nayo; ga le ke le feta kgomo le tlhaba motho