The Tswana are a Bantu-speaking people who live in Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Namibia. For the Tswana, marriage is considered to be one of the most important institutions in the society, and in most instances, determines one’s status in the community. Below is a list of the rituals that are characteristic of the wedding traditions of the Tswana.
a. Age of Marriage
- Though most parents wished to marry off their daughters by a certain age, that would not always happen due to various reasons. Unfortunately, single women of age would often be shunned and referred to as ‘mafetwa’.
- Men who were of age but were yet to marry were also poorly regarded by the community and banned from attending events that were exclusive to married men. For example, they were not allowed to attend the ‘patlo’ ceremony where potential in-laws would visit the bride’s home to ask for her hand in marriage. Unmarried men of age would also refrain from speaking in public gatherings for fear of humiliation.
b. Arranged Marriages
- According to the wedding traditions of the Tswana, elders arranged the union between the boy and the girl. The young man’s paternal uncles would look for a good family and identify a beautiful girl for him to marry, with or without his consent. A good family here would refer to one that had no history of drunkenness, irresponsibility and witchcraft. A beautiful girl, on the other hand, would be one whose prudence outshone her physical beauty.
c. Preparation for Marriage
- As boys and girls approached manhood and womanhood, they would be sent to separate initiation schools to prepare them for adulthood. The boys would be sent to ‘bogwera’ where they would be schooled on manly duties, societal responsibility, marriage and how to be responsible heads of their families.
- The girls would be sent to ‘bojale’ where they would be taught how to be responsible women in society and coached on what marriage entailed.
- Patlo is one of the wedding traditions of the Tswana that is still practiced today. Once the desired woman is identified, the negotiation process begins. A delegation from the young man’s side is sent to the potential bride’s family to ask for the young lady’s hand in marriage.
- This part of the wedding process was long, but enjoyable. The young man’s family was expected to appease the girl’s family with a variety of gifts. They were also expected to display courtesy and humility towards the girl’s family through the negotiation process.
f. Bride Price (Bogadi)
- Bogadi was negotiated after the two families reached an agreement concerning the marriage of their children. Cattle was (and is) the standard unit of bride price. The value of the bride would depend on her beauty, educational background, family background and good behavior (botho).
- The actual wedding ceremony, referred to as lenyalo, would take place at both homesteads. Cattle would be slaughtered in plenty, and enough traditional beer would be brewed in preparation for the celebrations. The wedding celebrations would start at the bride’s home where all the guests would sing wedding songs, ululate and eat to their fill. After this would come a handover ceremony at the boy’s homestead, followed by another feast. According the wedding traditions of the Tswana, this celebration would signify the official beginning of the marriage.
h. Go Laya
- Just before the wedding ceremony began, elderly women from the local community would counsel (laya) the bride about her expectations as wife and potential mother.
i. Church/Civil Marriages
- At present, most young Tswana couples are opting to have church and civil weddings instead of traditional marriage ceremonies. They still retain some of the traditional rituals, however, like Patlo, Go Batla Mosadi and Bogadi.
The wedding traditions of the Tswana are unique, colorful and enjoyable for all who attend Tswana wedding celebrations – all the more reason to retain some of these important traditions even in modern times!