IndexAfricaSouth Africa → Tswana


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Bogwera is the puberty initiation rite of the Tswana men who live in Botswana and South Africa. It marks the transition from boyhood to manhood, and it is considered that the uninitiated will remain a boy all his life. Christianity was introduced to the Tswana people nearly 200 years ago by Western missionaries who considered participation in initiation ceremonies a sign of paganism. Largely due to the influence of Western Christian missions, initiation ceremonies of men have been discontinued. The loss of initiation, which formerly socialized boys to adulthood, created a cultural void that is marked by disorientation and a loss of identity among Tswana male youths.”[1]



“Girls were given instruction in matters concerning womanhood, domestic and agricultural activities, reproduction and behaviour towards men (Parsons, 1984)[[3]]. Although female circumcision was not practised, ritual defloration and scarring along the inside of the thigh with a hot stick served to declare the women ‘ready’ for responsible procreation (Comaroff, 1985)[[4]]. It seems as if the Tswana cosmology views all persons as both incomplete and female at birth, with boys becoming men and therefore ‘complete’, while girls remaining ‘incomplete’ even as women. While the male foreskin resembles a vagina before circumcision and a placenta when it is removed, the girls are already ‘finished’ in their comparative incompleteness as females, with little technological, i.e. surgical, alteration applied to make them ‘women’. The ceremonial acquisition of domestic wisdom was tied directly to responsible sexual behaviour and physical maturity”.


Schapera (1955:p128-9)[5] found that the former custom of prenatal betrothal of girls was replaced by marriage based on mutual consent. “The shepherd-boys of the Tswana frequently have intercourse with their flocks, but are punished if caught in the act” (De Rachewiltz (1963 [1964:p283]). Girls received “extensive sex role training” (particularly including “passive obedience”) at ages 10-13 when they attended initiation (boyale) (Kinsman, 1983:p48-9)[6]. The girl was internally inspected, after which her hymen was pierced with a tuber[7]. Thereafter, the initiates were “explicitly taught about sex by their tutor-by custom a widow[8]. The girls learned “licentious” songs, which missionaries believed were corrupting the soul. Boys of the age-group after 8 are “allowed considerable freedom in conduct, especially in matters of sex” (Schapera, [1991:p32][9]).


The male Mochuana (Becwana tribes) “is warned that sexual intercourse among the uncircumcised has the same connecting effect as when dogs indulge in it- that the internal organs of the woman are drawn out of her and many similar things too disgusting to mention” (Brown, 1921:p421)[10]. Willoughby (1909) stated that, for boys and girls, one of the requirements for officiating in the initiation ceremony was chastity for the previous four years; also, they had to adhere to a four-year period of chastity after the rites.









Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. Volume I. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Sept 2004


[1]Shmidt, Lynn D. (2002) An adaptation of the Tswana initiation rites as a Christian discipleship ministry. DMiss ASBURY THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY

[2] Tournas, S. A. (1996) From Sacred Initiation to Bureaucratic Apostasy: Junior Secondary School-Leavers and the Secularisation of Education in Southern AfricaComparative Educ 32,1

[3] Parsons, Q. N. (1984) Education and development in pre-colonial and colonial Botswana to 1965, in Crowder, M. (Ed.) Education for Development: proceedings of a symposium held by the Botswana Society at the National Museum and Art Gallery, Gaborone, 15-19 August, 1983, p22 (Gaborone, Macmillan Botswana Publishing Co. (Pty) Ltd for The Botswana Society

[4] Comaroff, J. (1985) Body of Power Spirit of Resistance: The Culture and History of a South African People. Chicago, The University of Chicago Press

[5] Schapera, I. (1955) Handbook of Tswana Law and Custom. 2nd ed. London: Oxford University Press. Cited by Hannigan, A. St. J. (1961) The Imposition of Western Law Forms upon Primitive Societies, Comparat Stud Soc & Hist 4,1:1-9, see p2

[6] Kinsman, M. (1983) “Beasts of burden”: the subordination of southern Tswana women, ca. 1800-1840, J Southern Afr Stud 10,1:39-54

[7] Jennings, A. E. (1933) Bogadi. Tigerkloof: London Missionary Society, p18

[8] Smith, A. (1939) The Diary of Andrew Smith. Vol. I. Cape Town: Van Riebeeck Society, p400

[9] Schapera, I. & Comaroff, J. L. ([1991]) The Tswana. Rev.ed. London & New York: Kagan Paul Int.

[10] Brown, J. T. (1921) Circumcision Rites of the Becwana Tribes, J Royal Anthropol Instit Great Britain & Ireland 51:419-27