Botswana / Namibia:
Cultural Sojourn

Bicycle Africa / Ibike Tours


Dispatch 5 - Sangwali


Linyanti school, NamibiaLinyanti clinicNamibia schools are on break during May so we didn't have any opportunity to visit a classroom, but there is a school (left) and clinic (right) in Linyanti so we took a morning stroll with Emil, a student, to look at the buildings and peek in the windows.  The school has a computer lab.

Lilac Breasted Roller, NamibiaThe road is paved most of the way to Linyanti.  Beyond it is soil, but generally a very smooth and high quality surface, similar to hard, smooth composition used in rural America called soil cement.  These roads may not be formulated exactly the same way, but through using the right clay, wetting, smoothing and packing the road during construction, they seem to achieve the same results. [The picture of the Lilac Breasted Roller has absolutely nothing to do with road construction, but they are beautiful birds and they aren't usually easy to photograph. It is also interesting to ponder where they perched before man built telephone and power lines across Africa.]

Pounding sorghum off the stock, Sangwali NamibiaOur destination for the day was Sangwali.  In addition to what was becoming a pattern of afternoon socializing, we also made the rounds of the "town."  Similar to Linyanti, Sangwali was more of an area than a center.  At one end, on the outskirts, was the police station, down the road from that was the tribal court (per custom, in the course of the afternoon we formally presented ourselves to the Headman of the town and the Chief of Police), further on a few stores were scattered with several hundred meters between them, next came a sign-less church, and another walk brought you to the offices of the local administration.  Beyond that the main road split.  One road lead to the schools and clinic on the opposite outskirts of "town".  The other road led to the site of the future Sheshe Crafts Center, the Sangwali Museum (4 km) and Mamili National Park (12 km). (The Sheshe Crafts Center used to have a building but now it has been relegated to a closet in the administration building.) Along the way people were carrying things and working at various activities. fixing gas motor,Sangwali namibiacollecting water, Sangwali NamibiaAs we walk around people did various kinds of work; carrying thatch, pounding sorghum off the stock, hitching a ride on a sled as the ox team hauled it home, collecting fire wood and water, fixing a motor, etc.  While access to universal electric power is still a ways off here (maybe only a few months), there was access to safe drinking water throughout the town and it seemed that everyone had a cell phone.  You could see the tower with the cell antennas from almost every place in town.

Sangwali Clinic, NamibiaSangwali Clinic, NamibiaThe health clinic is a clean and well maintained building.  We arrived during the siesta so it was very quite. One member of our group went in to have an abrasion dressed (incurred while walking, not bicycling) and was treated very generously.  Other than that we didn't snoop aroundVillage map, Sangwali Namibia and learn anything about local health care Posters on the wall, Sangwali Clinic, Namibiaand health care delivery, but the walls were informative with posters (several on safe sex and alcohol, and family planning) (left) and a map of all of the villages in the district, with some population information (right).


Curator, Sangwali Museum, NamibiaMarch of the Makololo, Sangwali Museum, NamibiaThe Sangwali Museum is a little big museum.  The one room (one man) museum has informative exhibits on the explorations through the area by David Livingston, the plight of the Helmore missionaries that settled near Sangwali, the history of the traditional people in the area, the Makololo, and information on basketry .  The museum itself is not easy to find and you will need to find the curator to get in.  The curator, Linus Makwato, is a treasure himself with his knowledge of local history, enthusiasm for his endeavors and generosity to answer questions and share it all.  He has other initiatives and enterprises underway, as well, to develop the area.

Livingston travels, Sangwali Museum, Namibia Road to Sangwali Museum, Namibia Road to museum, built by Linus

We passed a lot of the afternoon sitting under a large tree, meeting and talking to people who came by; school teachers, local businessmen, farmers, etc.

Accommodation in Sangwali, NamibiaBreakfast with family in Sangwali, NamibiaAccommodations for the night were on the porch of Ravens and his family.  You know your reality tour to an Africa village is real when the roosters wake you up crowing at 4 AM.  That's reality. Get use to it.  For the local residence it is background noise that they have long since gotten used to.  For the visitors, it makes them cranky, but fortunately the tour only lasts two-weeks and then they can go back home where all they have to deal with are the sounds of traffic, emergency vehicle sirens and airplane noise.

As you might have come to expect, there is yet another language spoken in Sangwali. The dominate ethnic group here is the Mayeyi or Biyeyi who speak Shiyeyi or Maiyeyi: Good morning is "natombuka', good afternoon is "narashara" and thank you is "takambiri."  The Mayeyi are now known as the river people, as in the Okavongo River (and tributaries), and the dominate ethnic group in the northern and eastern sides of the delta.  After you get up on dry land additional ethnic groups are present.

From description in the Sangwali Museum, we learn the following history:

The Mayeyi are believed to be originally from Congo or north-west Zambia. The language contains a series of clicks indicating an associate with the Khoe-khoe. But it is commonly classified as close to Otjiherero (Herero), and less frequently as close to Sisubiya and Thimbukushu, all Niger-Congo languages. Culturally, the Mayeyi share many customs with the Mbukushu and architecture with the Subiya and Mbukushu.

The Mayeyi, after migrating south to the area of the Chobe River and Linyanti River, end up being pushed further south and west by the Mbukushu and Masubiya, who were on the move west and south, respectively, in about 1750 to avoid the wrath of the expansionist Lozi.  As the Mayeyi moved southwest, along the west side of the Okavango, they encountered and clashed with the Herero.  Possibly to minimize this conflict the Mayeyi largely settled along the rivers in the delta. David Livingstone called them river people. He described the Mayeyi as the 'Quakers of Africa,' because of their peace-loving nature.

The capital for the Mayeyi of this region is Sangwali. The chieftaincy is hereditary and can be traced back to before the Lozi (a.k.a. Aluyi) and Makolo (or Sotho) expansion and control of the area.

The Bamangwato, who are a branch of the Tswana (named after Ngwato, one of three sons of Malope who went their separate ways to avoid conflict in early 1700), lived here for a short time from about 1834.  Their chief Moremi, also made his capital where Sangwali now stands, calling it Tshoroga. They had fled north from Lake Ngami when Sebetoane and his Makololo reached the area.  When the Makololo came to the Sangwali in about 1838, they ambushed and defeated the Bamangwato and Sebetoane made it his capital, calling it Linyanti, or Dinyanti.  They controled the region until 1864.

For a while Moremi continued to live south of here as a subject of Sebetoane, before he fled back to Lake Ngami with his people.  That region is still dominated by the Bamangwato.

One of the saddest chapters of Sangwali involved the Helmore mission: (Source Sangwali Museum)

When David Livingstone departed from Linyanti in September 1855 to follow the Zambezi to the east coast, he promised Chief Sekeletu of the Makololo that he would return with his wife to set up a missionary station amongst them.  However, he changed his plans and the London Missionary Society asked Holloway Helmore to go instead.  Helmore had already been a missionary in southern Africa for 17 years. 

In July 1859 Holloway Helmore with his wife Anne, together with a second missionary Roger Price and his wife Isabella, set off from Kuruman in the Cape, for the long journey of approximately 6,000 km through the Kalahari to Linyanti.  They traveled in four ox wagons. The party of 21 people included the four youngest Helmore children, a Tlhaping teacher, Thabi and some drivers and herdsmen. 

They had a terrible journey.  It was the dry season and most of the water holes had already dried up.  They suffered severely from thirst and the wagons kept breaking down in the deep, soft sand.  The oxen kept wandering away in search of water.  At a water hole in Letlkane, Isabella Price gave birth to a baby girl.  At one stage, on the Mababe Plain, for four nights in a row, Helmore walked 30 km to get water for the stranded party. 

Seven months later, on 14 February 1860, they arrived at Linyanti, expecting to meet Livingstone.  He had planned to make his way towards Linyanti from the east coast, along the Zambezi River.  However, he had not yet arrived, nor had he sent word that he had been delayed.  Sekeletu was not happy to accept Helmore and Price as substitute missionaries.  He was still waiting for Livingstone and his wife to come. 

Sekeletu insisted that the party remain there, in the unhealthy swamps, until Livingstone arrived.  They had made their camp near Sekeletu’s capital, which he also called Linyanti.  This was where Malengalenga is now, about 20 km east of Sangwali. 

It was not long before all the people in the party fell ill, and the first death occurred in 2 March 1860.  Within seven weeks, eight people in the missionary party had died at Linyanti and were buried there, including Holloway and Anne Helmore.  After Helmore’s death, Roger and Isabella Price decided to abandon the mission and return to the Cape.  Soon afterwards, on the Mababe Plain, Isabella Price also died.  The survivors, Roger Price, the two orphaned Helmore children and eight helpers eventually arrived back at Kuruman in February, 1861. 

It is still uncertain as to what caused their deaths.  The members of the party had been plagued by mosquitoes on their journey and most had been ill with fever.  It was not until forty years after these events that scientists discovered that malaria was carried by mosquitoes. 

However, there are strong grounds for suspecting that Sekeletu had tried to poison them.  He did not welcome this missionary party from the south.  He felt that Livingstone and his wife Mary would be a protection against his enemy the formidable Mzilikazi, who with his Ndebele people had settled nearby.  Mary Livingstone’s father was the famous missionary Robert Moffat, who was greatly admired and respected by Mzilikazi. 

To this day the local people say that Sekeletu put poison from the toxic Euphorbia ingens into the beer that he gave to the party and that he poisoned the oxen he gave them in the same way.  Price also insisted that they had been poisoned.  Perhaps we will never know the true cause of death, but most of those who died appear to have suffered from fever and poisoning.

In 1864, the Makololo were ambushed in a surprise raid by the Lozi under Sipopa, one of the sons of their former king, Mulambwa.  The Makololo power was completely destroyed. The Lozi then became rulers.  In 1865, they appointed a headman or induna, Kabende Simata, over the Mayeyi, Mafwe, Mbukushu and Matotela. King Sipopa was succeeded by Lewanika, who was king from 1884 to 1916.

In the late 19th century, the British South Africa Company took control of the region, placing it under British protection, though Lewanika retained the right to rule the people according to Lozi custom.

In 1909 the German Colonial Administration appointed the Lozi Kabende Simata Mamili as chief over these people and apart from the Mayeyi, this situation prevails to the present.  Most of the Lozi now live north of the Zambezi, in Zambia. 

The most unique items at the Sheshe Crafts Shop were a couple of piece of woven cloth (see the border for this section of the website) that initially no one we talked to seem to know much about.
As I gathered information it seemed to be conflicting: One explanation was it is from Angola (which probably make it Mbukushu) and is worn by woman during traditional occasions.  It is tied around the waist so that it sits on their buttocks and bounces up and down when they dance. Later I was told that the cloth has the Siyeyi name "mashamba."

(Source Sangwali Museum)
   Basket making among the people of southern Africa is a long-established art in transition.  An art typically handed down from one generation to the next by the women. There is a standard of form and technique distinctive to each ethnic group. Inter-tribally variations of design and construction distinguish the work of one group from that of another.
   The people use baskets for storage of liquids or dry foods, agricultural activities, and transportation of food or fuel.  Each of these functions requires baskets of different shapes and construction.
   Both the Bayei and the Hambukushu produce designs featuring large, geometric patterns which are predominantly asymmetrical.
   The Bayei, unlike the Hambukushu, Basotho, and Zulu weavers, have evolved a series of symbolic patterns which are not confined to specific families but are shared within the Bayei community.  These patterns, are called by specific names by the weavers.  These names all relate to nature.  The Bayei’s constant contact with nature and perception of animal life provided the stimulus to imitate and express those observations in an art-form.
   Perhaps the most striking design among the Bayei is the ‘Forehead of the Zebra’ (Phatla ya Pitsa).  The careful observation of the zebra with its characteristic pattern of black stripes on a whitish background has been effectively portrayed in several pieces.  The use of heavy and thin zigzag lines, creating a pattern of movement, fills the entire space of the containers.  Each artisan, by infusing her own ideas and imagination into the basic design, alters the pattern to some degree.
   Another popular design of the region is the ‘Tail of the Swallow’ (Sentila ya Pelwana).  The deeply curved triangular form resembling the deeply forked tail of the swallow is arranged in a circular pattern in the inner section of the basket.  The same shape is repeated as an ornamental border.  The addition of curved lines in some of the baskets gives an illusion of movement like the graceful swift flight of the swallow.
   One of the distinct design woven by the Bayei is the ‘Knees of the Tortoise’ (Manole a Khudu), in which bold angular lines point towards the centers of the baskets.  The acute and obtuse angles of the ‘knees’ represent joints that permit movement.
   A design symbolizing an aspect of animal life is the ‘Tears of the Giraffe’ (Dikelede ya Thutlwa) ‘Long ago the hunters would chase and shoot giraffes.  The giraffe cries before he dies and leaves a trail of tears’, weaver Digang Rasevete explains.  The jagged lines of a typical representation represent the spilt tears of the giraffe.
   A simple Bayei design is referred to as ‘Urine of the Bull’ (Moroto wa Makaba).  Here, irregular, wandering lines follow the contour of the basket in an upward direction to depict the imprinted trail of the spilt fluid as it is left on the dry desert.



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