It is probably one of the worst insults one man can lay upon another. It is to call them a dog; ntša in our tongue. It is also a sign of great poverty to be considered one who eats a dog. Eating a dog is the lowest level of poverty. It is the mark of the worst kind of human depravity. And yet that is the imagery that is conjured by our people to mean one who is extremely poor. Motho o a bo a a ja ntša! The word ntša is used in other scenarios to capture a variety of despicable mannerisms amongst our people. One of such scenarios is the wedding environment. In Setswana if you go to an extremely successful event, it could be a wedding or a party, and in such an event there is an over abundance of food, there is an expression that uses the word ntša. The Batswana say: go ne go jewa thata e bile go fiwa le ntša di feta ka tsela. A loose translation is that there was so much food that even a passing dog was given a share. The truth of the matter is that when the Batswana use such an expression, they are not referring to canines that bark. They are actually referring to the self-inviting persons who are fed by the hosts of a wedding party – ke bone dintša tse di fiwang di feta ka tsela. This expression of reducing people to the level of dogs is not unique.
Additionally, during weddings, as guests are welcomed, especially by the uncles or boralekgotla, they usually assure their guests that dintša di golegilwe. By that they mean that the dogs are chained. The guests won’t be attacked by the vicious dogs. By dintša again the Batswana here do not mean real dogs. What they are referring to are persons of bad and unenviable mannerism; that such persons have been warned and removed from the domains from which they could cause much embarrassment to the guests. Again in this instance, humans of bad mannerisms have been equated to dogs.
When a man of means or influence is being attacked or criticised by lowlives, the funky lowlives, or persons of no significance; he can easily dismiss them by saying: ntša di bogola poo (dogs bark at a bull). By this he means that though he may be attacked by these nonentities; their attacks are of no significance, they are like mongrels barking at a bull. Were he to retaliate and attack them, he would crush them completely in the blink of an eye.
The imagery gets worse. In our tongue we also say: masepa a ntša a dujwa a sale metsi. A direct translation is that dog poo is better handled when still wet. That image may be conceived to be in very bad taste. What it means however is that problems are better handled when they are still fresh. Like dog poo which stinks and is better removed after it has been put in an area, problems are also better dealt with immediately and swiftly. Problems, conflicts and strife are compared to dog poo which though unpleasant, has to be dealt with immediately. If left in one place, people may step on it by mistake and make matters worse
Batswana also use the image of a dog when they declare in an idiom that ntša go fiwa teleki. This literally means that a dog that hunts is the one that is fed. This idiom means that it is an individual who takes part or who contributes who must be rewarded. In this instance, the image of a hunting dog is used to teach a very important lesson; that each person’s contribution matters; and that those who contribute must be rewarded for their contribution. Another proverb that would probably offend gender researchers or feminists is the proverb: mosadi ntša o okwa ka lesapo. It states that a woman is like a dog, she is wooed by a bone. The proverb claims that a woman is attracted to successful men or men of means compared to men who have are less successful. The idiom therefore refers to a woman as a dog that is attracted to a bone.
Other positive proverbs which use the imagery of a dog are: ntšanyana ya maitaya sebata e bonwa mabotobotong, this means that a child with a bright future is recognized at a very young age. Their efforts signal later life achievements. They can be seen from a very early age. In the proverb a good child is seen as a puppy whose early movements signal a successful future. The last idiom that we shall consider is setshwarwa ke ntša-pedi ga se thata. It speaks to the ease at which two dogs in a hunting chase can easily catch their prey. The use of the dog imagery in Setswana idioms and proverbs speaks to the centrality of dogs in Tswana life. For a long time Batswana have kept different breeds of dogs which they have used for hunting and for the protection of their livestock. The dog is therefore a part of Setswana life. It is no wonder it has made its way into Setswana idiomaticity.
*picture from trudog.com