One of the baSotho tribes, Mapulana are the Eastern Sotho tribe who nobody wants to acknowledge their existence today. It's amazing how
South Africa will explain the marginalization of more than a million people to the point that their language is not recognized in this
new democracy. Mapulana are a tribe found on the north eastern part of Mpumalanga and south eastern Limpopo provinces.
Geographic Areas of Mapulana
They occupy the area now commonly known as Mapulaneng, the present day Bushbuckridge and environs. Their ancestral lands historically, however
stretched from Shakwaneng in the Kruger Park, Mbombela area to Moholoholo, Hoedspruit, including present day Graskop, Sabie and Ohrigstad.
History has it that before settling in Shakwaneng on the banks of Lepunama (White River), they had stayed in Phageng near the Mokwena (Crocodile)
river. Other accounts are that they have also stayed at Motshiteng in the Barberton area. Mapulana have been displaced by white settlers during the
1800's and early 1900's from their tribal lands to make way for cultivation of Forestry plantations and winter fruits. Mapulaneng is near the Kruger
Park with some gates of the park being within 40 km of the area.
Mapulana speak SePulana, a language that forms part of the Northern Sotho. SePulana, though very rich and robust it is not written nor is it taught
at schools. The name of the tribe apparently comes from their rain making capabilities. Others say that they got the name from the Lepunama (White)
River. Like all South African languages there is a smattering of words from other languages in SePulana, mainly Tsonga and Swazi, given their proximity
to these tribes, this is quite natural. SePulana has its unique words thus differentiating it from other languages. Linguists classify SePulana as a
belonging to the group South-eastern and the subgroup Sotho in the family of Bantu languages which all the indigenous languages of Southern Africa
falls. The language is so divergent that others called it Eastern Sotho.
Others classify it as a dialect of the Northern Sotho.
The totem of Mapulana is a lion.
Thus they are also referred to as Batau stemming from their totem ba bina Tau. A totem is an emblem of a tribe. The totem is held in high esteem and
it is revered by all within the tribe. The tribal praise poem goes as follows:
Re Batau a phaga a Malala a moenyane
Batho ba ba boyang Phageng, ba ba boyang Shakwaneng
Shakwana la kgomo le motho go phalang?
Go phala motho gobane kgomo re lla re djia
Meaning; We are the people of the lion, of the wild cat of Malala of moenyane
We are people from Phageng, we are people from Shakwaneng
Which is more important, the reeds of a cow and a human?
A human is better since with a cow we cry while we eat the meat.
The tribe commonly refers to itself as Basotho, not to be confused with Basotho in Lesotho, the term Basotho means "those who speak Sotho languages".
There is no recorded historical account of Mapulana ever staying in Lesotho. It is interesting to note that their neighbouring tribes also refer to
them as Basotho. Though the tribe is commonly said to be BaPedi, it is in fact incorrect as BaPedi are also a tribe making up what is known Northern
Sotho's. This perception arises because Sepedi heavily influenced the Northern Sotho that is learned at schools. There are however unverified accounts
that they have stayed in Botswana before their trek to the east of South Africa.
Within the core of Mapulana, there are subgroups of Mapulana namely: Bakutswe and Mambayi/Mampaye. It is said that the subgroups are descendant from
the same family tree. The distinction between the core Mapulana and the subgroups is not so common any more. The language or dialect of HiPaye (spoken
by Mambayi) is becoming extinct in South Africa. I have not heard anybody that can still speak Hipaye since one my great grannies, Kokwane MaMokwena
passed away. Bakutse speak what I consider to be a dialect of SePulana influenced by Sekone. The emergence of Bakutswe and Mambayi is recent phenomenon
in historical terms. The Bakutse where formed when Mokwena, the Chief of the group, fought with his kinsmen, Marule and Mashego and he had to flee from
Mapulaneng and he started calling himself a "Mokutswe" disassociating himself from Mapulana. When reconciliation between them was reached his group was
already known as Bakutswe. Of the the other group, Mambayi I was not able to get clear historical accounts of their lineage. There are those who say
that they are the offspring of Mapulana and AmaSwazi. This does not make sense as the offspring of either group will choose the language of their
dominant parent or the tribe they grow within, they could not have a dialect of their own. In western parts of Mapulaneng, where Mapulana stay with
Bakone, some Mapulana call themselves Bakone and vice versa.
Besides the AmaSwazi to the south, Mahlanganu/Tsongas to the east, Mapulana have other neighbours to the west, known as Bapedi baSekhukhune and Bakone,
to the North their neighbours are Banareng and Batokwa.
The oral history of Mapulana speaks of gallant wars against other tribes, mostly Swazis and Shangaans. The history has stories of expeditions to
capture other tribes (Baronga, Machopi, Darakope) in ancient Mozambique. Their war heroes include Maripe and Sekakole. Another legendary figure is
Marangrang, who was a Mopulana by birth but stayed amongst Bakone and later became their leader. Mapulana think of themselves as batho ba botho (kind
and humane people) not as warriors.
The area of Mapulaneng has got villages and townships with English names suggesting missionary work in the 1800's by the English missionaries. Whereas
most rural towns in Limpopo and Mpumalanga have Afrikaans names, in place of their traditional names, villages in Mapulaneng have names like Oakley,
Arthur' Seat, Cunningmore, London, Violet-bank, Brooklyn, Greenvalley, Dingledale etc. There are also places with traditional names like Matibidi,
Shatale, Thabokgolo, Marite, Khokhobela, Kapama etc.
Traditions of Mapulana
Like most African tribes, Mapulana believe in Badimo (ancestors). When theye perform our ancestral worship (go phasa badimo) we face the direction of
Shakwaneng, which is towards the east. There is no single god but all the ancestors or spirits are venerated. To appease the spirits you occasionally
need to make sacrifices. During the sacrifices traditional beer is made and an animal (goat/chicken/cow) has to be a slaughtered. Some blood of the
slaughtered animal together with some beer is poured on the legandelo (sacrificial platform) as offering to the spirits. The senior most member of the
clan present at the sacrifice calls out the names of the ancestors according to hierarchy accompanied by the clapping of hands of the other members of
the clan. The Mmalo (Coral) tree is usually planted on the sacrificial platform.
Traditional medicine has been and still is a specialty of Mapulana. This could be attributed to the rich sub tropical climate of Mapulaneng making
herbs to grow in abundance. Traditional medicine is dispensed by dingaka (traditional doctors). To become a traditional doctor one has to undergo
rigorous and lengthy training under a Gobela (Guru). A traditional doctor-in-training is called a letwasane (Sangoma).
Mapulana initiate their youth into womanhood and manhood. The initiation school (koma) is held in winter. The practices of initiation schools are marked
by secrecy. Boys who have undergone initiation together will belong to the same mphato/moroto (regiment). An elaborate system is in place to distinguish
a regiment from another based on when the regiment was initiated. The uninitiated cannot "visit" an initiation school when it is in session. The names of
Mephato ya badika are Matuba, Mangana, Magakwa, Madingwane, Mankwe, Maakwa, .Madisha, Makgola, Madikwa, Manala, Magolopo. As can be expected women do not
Mapulana have a class system, known as dikgoro (kraals). There are those who come from kgorong- e- kgolo (higher kraal) or kgorong-ea-nyana (lower kraal).
Those from kgorong-e-kgolo are of royal blood or are born from the senior wife and are expected to be dikata-pele (leaders) during initiation ceremonies.
This system is also used in the go loma maraka (festival of first harvest) and during the planting season.
The Chiefs of Mapulana are baga Mashego, baga Malele, bagaMogane*, baga Chilwane, baga Nonyane. Their seniority depends on which kgoro they come from, none
can claim to be paramount chief over the others. Both Mashego and Malele are chiefs in the Bushbuckridge area, Chilwane is the chief in the Acornhoek and
Pilgrem's Rest area and Mogane and Nonyane in the Graskop and Sabie area.
A boy's family used to identify a family from which a boy was supposed to marry. The boy then wooed the girl who meets his fancy in that chosen family. In
some cases the boy identified his own girl. For all purposes, the marriage was arranged as the families gave their blessings behind the scenes. The boy's
family negotiated on dikgomo tsa bogadi which had to be paid to the girl's family. Polygamy was practiced. The first wife and her offspring held a higher
status. The inheritance passed through the first wife before being passed to the junior wife and her offspring.
When children are born ba ya relela (they get the name of their ancestor). When somebody's name is Thadishe, for instance, he may well be Thadishe the 6th!
The paternal grandmothers and aunts know which name to grant a child. This was usually done after consulting with the Ngaka who will tell them who is being
reincarnated by the child's birth. When a baby is sleepless or sickly, he/she is pointed to the moon by his grandmother or aunt. The grandmother will chant
out: mogwera wa go ke yela, gola o reme diphate,o tshware lerumo or lwe dintwa! (There is your friend/Your friend is the moon, grow and cut trees (for wood),
grow, pick up the spears and fight wars!) In essence, grow and be strong.
Leruo (livestock) and mashemo (land under cultivation) used to distinguish a rich man from a poor man. Land belonged to all the residents of an area and the
Chief allocated the cultivation space. Grazing land was communal. The land tenure system of Mapulana was that land could not be bought or sold. Dipholwane
(game) was hunted for food, medicinal or ceremonial purposes.
The calender of Mapulana works in lunar months, with the dawning of the full moon being the first day of the month. In SePulana the word kgwedi (moon) also
means month. The shape and brightness of the moon can be read to determine when rains are going to fall. The year starts when the first rains start in
September or when plants start to bloom. Therefore September is the New Year.
The New Year heralds the start of planting season for crops that yield the staple foods of Mapulana. Planting used to be done according to the family's
seniority, dikgoro tse kgolo starting first and others junior clans follow. Mabele (maize and millet) get planted first, dintlu (jugobeans) last. Other crops
like Mjumbula(cassava), mathape(colocasia), matlapala etc being planted at any time of the year.
When plants are ready for harvesting, the elder of a clan will pick a small selection of the harvest. He or she will call out the names of the ancestors and
dedicate the harvest to them. Every member of that clan will be made to nibble from the small pickings. This will be the festival of the first harvest. It is
strongly forbidden to eat any picking unless these processes called go loma (to nibble) was done.
Research shows that about eighteen years ago in Rwanda more than a million Tutsis were killed in one hundred days of genocide while the whole world watched.
Ten years later commentators were quick to blame diplomats like erstwhile United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan for having stood by and watched as a whole
ethnic group and its sympathisers were butchered. It's always easy to point fingers after a disaster. Where will the fingers be pointed if the same tragedy
happened in the Mpumalanga?
Some years ago, the then Deputy President Jacob Zuma was a guest of honour during the KaMuhlava Royal ceremony held on KaMuhlava Day, September 27th at KaMuhlava
next to Nkowankowa in Limpopo Province. KaMuhlava Day is a progressive day since it celebrates an important maShangaan dynasty founded 104 years ago by Chief Muhlava.
Observing the festivities with lots of interest were the maPulana tribe, who thirteen years into a new order were still waiting for honour to be bestowed upon them.
The maPulana, who according to Ms Angie Malope, a researcher at the University of Limpopo's Anthropology Department, number a staggering million people believe that
there is a national conspiracy to exterminate them from the face of Africa. They claim that a semi-developed country like South Africa would not resort to a systematic
machete solution to wipe out a tribe, but intellectual oppression, whereby the language and culture of more than a million people are not part of the education
curriculum in any part of the country or in any form. A master thesis by Mawela (2010) entitled "the impact of language registers on sepulana: a case of mapulana aga
mogane" confirms these findings.
MaPulana historian Mr Moses Chilwane attributes the absence of a well-defined maPulana chieftainship to the breaking of ranks that took place after the tribe crossed
the Crocodile River from Swaziland and settled at their ancestral land of Shakwaneng, which he claims covered an area nearly the size of the entire today's Mpumalanga
From Waterval-Boven to Hendrina in the east and Mashishing in the west. They had two kings, Mashego and Chilwane, the rest were subjects and chiefs. They fought many
battles and conquered many tribes, including the Bakone, mainly to replenish cattle or capture girls for themselves. At this stage they already modeled themselves as
Batau ba Bohlabatsatsi after they killed a lion at great human cost", Chilwane relates.
When they moved up north and settled between Pilgrim's Rest and Manyeleti they named the place Mapulaneng. Today, maPulana are nowhere to be found as an organised
tribe. Wits University' s Anthropology Department's Professor David Copeland put the blame squarely at cultural optimists' flirtation with treating maPulana as an
offshoot of BaPedi. "They are not Pedi but rather closer to the Bakgaga," he cautioned.
His sentiments were echoed by Malope, "They are scattered now, they can however be traced to Pilgrim's Rest, Graskop, Hlabekisa, Mphato, Leroro Township, Matibidi,
Bushbuckridge and Acornhoek. Their language is not a dialect of Sepedi". She emphasised the need for the existing maPulana chiefs to write a memorandum demanding
recognition and representation in existing traditional bodies as stipulated in Chapter 12 of the Constitution. She also voiced the need for sePulana to be written
and adopted by the Provincial Language Boards
of both Mpumalanga and Limpopo as one of their official languages.
History is, in hegemonic societies mostly written by the conquerors. In the eventual collapse of the maPulana empire there was no conquered or conqueror, thus nobody
captured the sad tale of bravery and treachery in ink. Maybe the fact that there was no clear victor between Malele, Mashego, Mogane, Mashile and Chilwane, who are
two kings and two chiefs contributed to nobody finding any enterprise in a book. Probably if one king or chief won the showdown maPulana history would have been well
documented instead of existing in aging brains of living libraries.
Nobody ever valued their history a heritage worth passing to future generations so they can position themselves within the maPulana tribe and hierarchy.
The story of maPulana and their subsequent almost extinct pedigree justifies a serious indictment on claims by South Africa's political leadership that it is committed
to the protection of minority rights and preservation of South Africa's cultural heritage. It raises a question of whether the present predicament of sePulana, a
language spoken by so many people not being afforded official recognition, even in the provinces where they evolved is another form of ethnic cleansing, conducted from
behind the correctness of the country's constitution?
There is allegedly a conspiracy to deal a final blow to the dwindling maPulana popularity with an allegation that their tribal land Mapulaneng will in the near future be
renamed Mhala or Mopani. Mapulaneng Hospital is also reported to be facing the same fate. With such attempts of ethnic cleansing proportions being presumably perpetrated,
it calls for a presidential intervention. Only President Thabo Mbeki can offer assurance that maPulana, their culture, language and heritage will be protected and not allowed
to fade away.
When names like Soshangane and Hoxane stay intact while sePulana names like Mphato and Hlabekisa are swooped for either Xitsonga or Sepedi ones, what maPulana see is amaShangaan
and BaPedi tribes trying to re-write a distorted version of their history. A version that is meant to push tribal boundaries of BaPedi and amaShangaan kingdoms. The maPulana watch
in awe as the descendants of Chief Nxumalo, who according to Chilwane, "was granted passage on his way to KaMuhlava where he failed to secure the chieftainship and was later given
land in Manyeleti by the maPulana to live with his people", try to annihilate them by renaming institutions that celebrate maPulana history.
Unlike with vhaVenda's Mphephu tribe, the maPulana struggle is not about a battle for chieftainship but recognition and equal protection of their heritage in a country that is
celebrated for having the best constitution in the world. A constitution that is hailed for protecting the rights of the Khoi San clan but which, either by design or ignorance is
failing to win the respect of maPulana who feel it is intentionally used to marginalise them.
The historical inaccuracy about the maPulana is even reflected in the Government Communication and Information Services produced South Africa Yearbook 2003/2004. It wrongly stipulates
that, "In Limpopo, 5 273 642 million people live on about 123 910 km2 of land. The main languages spoken are Sepedi (52,1%), Xitsonga (22,4%) and Tshivenda (15,9%)". What happened to
the million strong maPulana who speak their own language as well?
Based on information contained in the Mpumalanga government website, the one military defeat suffered by ever-conquering King Mswati II was at the hands of maPulana. They afflicted
heavy losses on his warriors by hurling rocks at them from the summit of Moholoholo Mountain. Sadly, such acts of bravery are allowed to pass uncelebrated because it makes sense to
some authoritarian to assume that such a battle never took place. The area of the battle is not even a protected heritage site.
MaPulana hope that someday South Africa, especially BaPedi and maShangaan, who are allegedly busy changing maPulana heritage names (Hlabekisa to Dinkie 1 and Leroro to Dinkie 2) to suit
their present hegemonic relevance will take collective blame for having allowed themselves to be used by invisible forces to exterminate a people. They find solace in the adage, "what goes
around comes around" and that if one tribe can be deleted without a bang, nothing will stop the same faceless enemy from dealing the same blow to its next target, whatever tribe shall be.
If there is one thing South Africans collectively inherited, it is selective amnesia since even though they remembered to bestow honour on Saartjie Baartman after many years of humiliation;
they however choose to forget a people humiliated by the homeland system and apartheid historians.
According to most maPulana interviewed, every year on Heritage Day, South Africa celebrates its collective ignorance and conspiracy to cleanse its society of minorities by committing
intellectual genocide of the maPulana tribe.
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