Batswana: A New Perspective on the Origin of the Stem -tswana in the Name

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HM Batibo


The history of ethnic Batswana and their migration through the Eastern Bantu stream from present day
Cameroun, the Great Lakes, the Zambezi valley and Limpopo River into what is now Botswana has been
written on extensively. There have been many research studies on Botswana, as a country, and Setswana, the
main vernacular and national language of Botswana. However, little attempt has been made to investigate
the origin of the stem -tswana, the root of the ethnic name. There have only been a few speculative attempts
by some scholars. This study re-examined and re-interpreted data from the earlier studies, using a historical
and comparative linguistics approach. This method traces the likely historical or evolutionary path that
this stem might have taken. The main argument of this study was that names are usually not given by the
speakers themselves, but by their neighbours. Another important argument was that there was a shared
culture and identity among many of the people in the interior of the Southern African region, despite
the various names that have been given to those cultures and peoples over time. This study widened the
scope of the investigation to explore the possible origin and development of the stem -tswana. One of its
premises was that names are not always in congruence with reality.

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