Tag Archives: Setswana

The Stone and the Chiefs Daughter


[originally in Setswana, translated to English]

“This story is about three girls. One of the girls is the Chief’s daughter. The three girls were very good friends however the chiefs daughter was a petulant child because she had lived a life of entitlement. She believed she was better than everyone and everything else because of her important status in the village. Her entitled attitude went on for her entire life and no one could ever get her to change.

One day, all three girls were sent to go collect firewood through a narrow road filled with rocks and stones. Nthediane, the princess [chiefs daughter], tripped on a rock. After falling, she began to cuss out the rock to no end, spewing every insult under the sun until her anger subsided and the girls continued on along the road to collect all the firewood.

On the way back to the village there was suddenly a giant boulder blocking the path that was not there before. The stone from before had turned into this boulder and there was no way past. This made Nthediane angry once more so she began to yell at the boulder. She went on and on about how the Chief will hear about this and she can’t believe this rock is disrespecting her.

One of her friends began to apologize to rock with a song. The song went: “Please rock, I’m not the one who cursed you, let me pass.” After this song, the rock made a small opening and let the girl through and then closed behind her.

Now it was just two girls left. The second girl asked Nthediane to apologize so that they could all go home, but the princess refused. So the second girl apologized to the rock with the same song her friend sang, and once again a small opening let her through. Now just Nthediane was left and still she wouldn’t apologize.

The two girls ran to get the chief to tell him what happened. The chief and the entire village went back along the path to go and get the princess and bring her home, However, when the horde arrived, the boulder had become a mountain and buried Nthediane underneath.”


This story was told by K who is a middle aged woman who has lived in Botswana her entire life. K first heard this from her father as a child after he would get home from work. At that time parents didn’t really sit down and talk with kids like parents do now, so sharing stories was how they passed down information and gave advice. This story stayed with K because she believes to this day in the importance of respecting everything in the universe.

“Setswana tales are always to teach us something as children. In the villages we did not have TV therefore these stories were told around the fire as dinner was cooking as a bonding time with the parents and entertainment to the kids while teaching the kids a life lesson aswell. This story specifically teaches us to live in balance with nature. That not only is respecting adults, parents, and peers important, but also the world around you, no matter how seemingly insignificant. If you don’t respect the universe there are consequences.”


A major purpose of a tale is to have some sort of lesson or moral. This story is aiming to teach children to always be kind and humble regardless of how much power and importance you have, or how little power and importance the other person has. As is the culture in Botswana, one must always treat everything with respect whether they are poor, or the chief, or an animal in the bush, or a rock on the road. Additionally, the anthropomorphism of the rock aims to teach that respect does not only go for people, but everything around you. This legend, like many in traditional children’s stories, includes a song which makes it more appealing to a wider range of children. If a child is disinterested in the storytelling itself, they may be interested in the song, either way, they learn the tale and are in turn taught the lesson of the story. The parallels between this story from year and years ago is still relevant today with the issue of climate change, perhaps if this tale was told more widely around the would people would have greater respect for the planet we inhabit.

Sedibala pele ga se ikangwe

Text: “Sedibala pele ga se ikangwe”

Translation: “The well down the road [or in the next village, or down the path] cannot be relied on”


This phrase is a favorite of my informant, B, because of its many nuances. B is a middle aged man who lives and was raised in Gaborone, Botswana. This is a common phrase in Setswana —the national language of Botswana— used as a metaphor to relay that the future is unpredictable. B first learned this phrase from his parents in his childhood (1970s/80s). 

The phrase is often used to remind others of the unpredictability of the future. For example, if B’s and his wife were to set off on a road trip B has the option to fill up the gas tank before they leave but instead chooses to fill up in the next town over. Unfortunately the gas station in the next town is busy, and the next town is shut down and they are unable to find a working one before the car runs out of gas, the wife could say “Sedibala pele”. The phrase is so common, people often don’t finish the entire sentence, and the other party will still understand what is trying to be portrayed. 

B cites this phrase as a personal philosophy that has stuck with him since he was a young child, reminding him to focus on things in the present that he can control, and to not rely on the future because it is never guaranteed.


From what I know, the sentiment of this phrase is a common one throughout most cultures. It reminds me of the saying “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” which has origins in western agricultural communities, however it gives a similar message; not to rely on the future because it is not guaranteed. The phrase serves as a reminder of the inescapable uncontrollable nature of luck and chance in life. It speaks to the nature of humans to predict the future, see patterns in the past and assume they know what will happen next, as we know, that is not always accurate.

Bana ba motho ba kgaogana tlhogo ya tshoswane

Text: “Bana ba motho ba kgaogana tlhogo ya tshoswane”

Translation: The people of a family are to share the head of an ant.


B is a middle aged man who was born and raised in Gaborone, Botswana and lives there currently. This is a common phrase in Setswana —the national language of Botswana— used as a metaphor to express the importance of family, sharing, and putting others before yourself. 

B first learned this metaphor from his wife who came from a large single parent household (7 children) It was their reality that the only means through which to prosper is for them all to share and be giving, despite not having much to give. Caring for the entire family is more important than one single individual.


This metaphor is very representative of the greater Botswana community and its cultural norms. It is highly valued in Botswana culture to be selfless and to give freely. This metaphor emphasizes that it is easy to give when you are in abundance, however, even when you only have something as small as an ant’s head, you must still find it in you to share that with the family (or community). This is a distinctly non-western philosophy and way of living. In the US, it is the norm to be extraordinarily individualistic. In Botswana, however, as exemplified by this phrase, the only option is for everyone to prosper, going directly against holding one person above the rest.

Botlhale jwa phaka bo tswa phalaneng

Text: “Botlhale jwa phaka bo tswa phalaneng.”

Translation: The intelligence of the antelope comes from the calf.


B: “This saying symbolizes that the future belongs to the next generation. Young people are the future of the world. It tells us to look to the younger generation to solve the problems of today. We [his generation] can’t solve them because it was created by our paradigm. To solve community issues, we need young people to approach to find a solution through their unencumbered paradigm.”

B is a middle aged man who was born and raised in Gaborone, Botswana and lives there currently. This is a common phrase in Setswana —the national language of Botswana— used as a metaphor to express that it is not only the old that have the capability to be wise, but the young do as well. B first learned this phrase from his parents in his childhood (1970s/80s). 

B claims to refer back to this phrase often in his consultancy work, often looking to his younger employees to offer a completely different perspective and experience to his own. Additionally, he relates this phrase to Africa as an entity. With around 60% of the population being under 25, B believes that it is the youth —with their unencumbered creativity, talent, energy, and problem solving— that will spearhead growth into the African continent. 


This metaphor encapsulates the characteristics of the people of Botswana. Traditionally, respect is an incredibly important attribute to have and show to all others in the community regardless of age or status. This phrase highlights the calf —youth— as being just as important and capable of contributing something of worth —intelligence— to its elders and community. It is representative of the importance not to dismiss others because they are seemingly “less” than you.