The Batswana, a term also used to denote all citizens of Botswana, refers to the country's major ethnic group (called the "Tswana" in South Africa). Prior to European contact, the Batswana lived as herders and farmers under tribal rule.
Before European contact
Sometime between 200-500 AD, Bantu speaking peoples, who originated in the Katanga area (today part of the DRC and Zambia), and had been expanding across sub-Saharan Africa, crossed the Limpopo River, entering the area today known as South Africa.
There were 2 broad waves of immigration to South Africa; Nguni and Sotho-Tswana. The former settled in the eastern coastal regions, while the latter settled primarily in the area known today as the Highveld — the large, relatively high central plateau of southern Africa.
By 1000AD the Bantu colonization of most of South Africa had been completed, with the possible exception of what is now the Western Cape and the Northern Cape, which are believed to have been inhabited by Khoisan people until Dutch colonisation. The Bantu-speaking society was highly a decentralized feudal society organized on a basis of kraals (an enlarged clan), headed by a chief, who owed a very hazy allegiance to the nation's head chief. According to Neil Parsons's online "Brief History of Botswana":
“In east-central Botswana, the area within 80 or 100 kilometres of Serowe (but west of the railway line) saw a thriving farming culture, dominated by rulers living on Toutswe hill, between about 600-700AD and 1200-1300AD. The prosperity of the state was based on cattle herding, with large corrals in the capital town and in scores of smaller hill-top villages. (Ancient cattleandsheep/goatcorrals are today revealed by characteristic grassgrowing on them.) The Toutswe people were also hunting westwards into the Kalahari and trading eastwards with the Limpopo. East coast shells, used as trade currency, were already being traded as far west as Tsodilo by 700AD.
“The Toutswe state appears to have been conquered by its Mapungubwe state neighbour, centred on a hill at the Limpopo-Shashe confluence, between 1200AD and 1300AD. Mapungubwe had been developing since about 1050 AD because of its control of the early gold trade coming down the Shashe, which was passed on for sale to sea traders on the Indian Ocean. The site of Toutswe town was abandoned, but the new rulers kept other settlements going - notably Bosutswe, a hill-top town in the west, which supplied the state with hunting products, caught by Khoean hunters, and with Khoesan cattle given in trade or tribute from the Boteti River. But Mapungubwe's triumph was short-lived, as it was superseded by the new state of Great Zimbabwe, north of the Limpopo River, which flourished in control of the gold trade from the 13th to the 15th centuries. It is not known how far west the power of Great Zimbabwe extended. Certainly its successor state, the Butua state based at Kame near Bulawayo in western Zimbabwe from about 1450 onwards, controlled trade in salt and hunting dogs from the eastern Makgadikgadi pans, around which it built stone- walled command posts."
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