Belifes, Values and Practices

Botho (Humanity)

Setswana society expects and requires its members to have "botho", which is derived from "motho" (a human being). Botho refers to the possession of the good attributes associated with a good human being, in other words, qualifying one to be called a human being.

Any person, regardless of his/her social standing, who is found wanting in any of those positive attributes that constitute a motho, is regarded as having 'no botho'.

The yardstick for botho is a package of positive human attributes, including good-manners (maitseo), kindness, compassion, humility, respect, and living up to the expectations of society and one's particular role.

In short, botho can be referred to as a yardstick for good behaviour which is consistent with the expectations and cultural norms of Setswana society. That code of behaviour includes good manners, helpfulness, politeness, humility and consideration for others, respect for older people and many more positive attributes expected of a human being.

Morero (Consultation and Consensus Building)

Batswana strongly believe in the value of consultations within society. The process of morero (consultation) at inter-personal, family, and community levels is considered an invaluable asset in the ability to reach and sustain agreements.

At the national level, public service officials and politicians, including the President, regularly travel throughout the country to consult ordinary citizens on various government programmes and other issues of national or local concern. In this way, most citizens do not feel left out of the decision-making process of their country.

Failure to consult tends to generate negative responses since people interpret it as an indirect statement that either they do not matter, are inferior, or in the case of the family unit, not significant enough to be worth consulting. Although consultations tend to be time consuming, the consensus they bring about creates a lot of harmony both within families and in society as a whole. The modern system of government in Botswana has benefited greatly from this culture of morero.

Tumelo (Religion)

The traditional Tswana society had wide-ranging religious practices because of the diversity of tribes and their origins. There was generally a strong belief that ancestors always watched over one's daily activities. There were therefore various religious practices intended to honour and appease the ancestors, for example, after the harvest, a portion of the crop would be offered to the ancestors as a 'thank you' or to ask them for assistance, such as bringing the rains.

Christian Missionary groups such as The London Missionary Society, The Dutch Reformed Church and, much later, The Roman Catholic Church, set up their churches in early Botswana and gained converts into the Christian faith. To-date Christianity accounts for around 80% of the religions practised in Botswana, although many people still maintain dual religious practices, between Christianity and traditional religious worship.

Dingaka and Bongaka (Traditional Doctors and Traditional Medicine)


Traditional DoctorThe dingaka (traditional doctors) have a very extensive knowledge of medicinal herbs and plants. Botswana's diverse vegetation provides a rich source of medicinal plants, which are exploited for traditional healing purposes and, to a limited extent, herbs for commercial uses.

The various herbs, roots, leaves, barks and so forth are known to cure a range of illnesses including snake bites, pain, common flu, impotence and many more. Other plants are believed to be excellent aphrodisiacs. The medicinal herbs have been used over the centuries by dingaka, whom the Missionaries called 'witch doctors', to heal and cure diseases for which there were no modern medicines. Their practice is called bongaka.

In addition to their knowledge of medicinal plants, the traditional doctors claim to have extraordinary powers, ranging from the power to order lightening to strike someone, providing lucky charms for job promotion, fixing unsteady marriages, etc. Using their divining bones (bola), the traditional doctors claim to be able to detect their client's problems and even give protective medicines to solve them.

There is a general recognition of the importance of traditional medicine within the health delivery system of Botswana. Those who wish to practice are required to register with the Botswana Dingaka Association and their practice is regulated. With more exposure to other foreign beliefs and education, however, a growing number of citizens dismiss this type of medicine and its practitioners as quacks and cheats. Nonetheless, there are others, even amongst the educated, who use the services of the traditional doctors and keep it a closely guarded personal secret.

Botlhodi (Ill-omen)

Like many societies, Botswana has its fair share of superstitious beliefs. Unusual occurrences are interpreted by some people as a sign that something bad is going to happen. A nocturnal animal which suddenly ran through a village in broad day light, for example, would most certainly send some people into a panic over what would happen in the village.

There are, however, other occurrences which have very positive interpretations, such as a chicken that broods all-day long, signalling the unexpected arrival of guests.

Moila (Taboo)

In the Tswana society, there is an interesting range of "do's" and " don'ts" which have been passed on from generation to generation and are based on mere superstition. Some of the beliefs appear to have been deliberately crafted by the originators to serve a useful purpose in society.

Under the traditional set-up, for example, a lady who has just delivered a baby is housed separately, closely looked after, and pampered for at least three months. During the latter period, her food, utensils, clothing, etc. are completely separated from those of the rest of the household. The consequences for contravening these prohibitions include imbecility, bed-wetting, etc. Out of fear of such consequences, the rest of the family usually co-operates and, of course, the child and its mother have an obvious benefit.

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