The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Bechuana

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The American Cyclopædia
Bechuana
Edition of 1879. See also Tswana people on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

BECHUANA (singular, Mochuana, from chuana, free, and a personal prefix), a people of S. Africa, inhabiting an extensive territory on both sides of the tropic of Capricorn, divided into numerous tribes. Their complexion is a coffee-colored brown, that of the Barolong tribe being the lightest. They are of medium size, symmetrically built, and have the crisped woolly hair of the negro. They are of a gentle disposition. Slavery hardly exists among them. They are rich in sheep and goats, but less so in horned cattle. They have some notion of deity, but have no religions rites, though monkeys, snakes, and crocodiles are sometimes worshipped. They affirm that they originally sprang from a cave, which is still pointed out in the Bakoni country, and where the footmarks of the first man may be still seen in the rocks. Their faith in the supernatural power of a class of wizards termed rain-makers, one of whom at least is found in every tribe, they share with the other peoples of southern Africa. Polygamy exists to an unlimited extent, and circumcision is a general practice. Missionaries have obtained access to several of the most western tribes, and by their influence the women, who formerly performed all the agricultural work, have been relieved from the heavier tasks. The government of the Bechuana is both monarchical and patriarchal, and of a mild character. Every tribe has its chief or king, who resides in the largest town, and is held sacred by reason of his hereditary authority. Under these chiefs are the heads of particular districts and villages, and again under these are the cosi, or wealthy men, who form the aristocracy. Tho power of the princes is very great, but is limited by the general assembly, called the picho, of the subordinate chiefs. — The Bechuana formerly extended S. as far as the Orange river, but were driven back by the Hottentots. At a recent period the Caffres made an incursion from the east deep into the Bechuana territory, and devastated the country, destroying cities, many of which had a population of 20,000. More recently the Boers have founded establishments, including the Orange River Republic, within the Bechuana territory. Among the most important and best known of the Bechuana tribes are the Bassuto, which is the most southerly of them, occupying a table land to the west of the Drakenberg mountains, partially civilized and Christianized; the Batlapi, among whom missionaries have had the greatest success, dwelling in a parched region, almost destitute both of wood and water, on the borders of the Kalahari desert; the Barolong, dwelling to the north of the preceding, formerly powerful, but now scattered and almost extirpated by the Caffres; the Bangwaketse, dwelling still further to the north, in a fine and fertile valley, who were formerly wealthy, but have suffered severely from the incursions of the Caffres; the Bahurutse, dwelling in the vicinity of the foregoing, in one of the finest districts of S. Africa, who had considerable industry in agriculture and raising cattle, till they were driven by the Caffres from their country, which in 1837 was seized by the Boers; the Batoana, dwelling on the N. coast of Lake Ngami, the remnant of the former powerful tribe of Bamangwato; the Bakwains, who occupy the fine hilly regions along the rivers Notuani and Mariqua; and the Balaka, who are not of Bechuana stock, but, like the Bushmen, live scattered among various tribes, and are generally despised. Under the name of Bakalahari, the Balaka dwell in great numbers in the Kalahari desert. The Bayeye, who dwell upon the borders of Lake Ngami, are also to be distinguished from the Bechuana. — The fullest information concerning the tribes of southern Africa is contained in the “Travels and Researches” of Livingstone.