Bakgomong: The Babirwa’s transboundary pastoralist identity and social change in late 19th century Botswana
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To follow is a critical narrative on the intersection between identity production and transformations in the indigenous herding systems of the Babirwa of pre-colonial Botswana. The production of the Babirwa’s pastoralist identity rested on the adaptability of their cultural practices, language and social systems to socio-ecological influences. This emerging pastoralist identity was embedded in organic or loan words and concepts, which were continually reconstituted to negotiate social and environmental change. From the 1850s, the Babirwa of the eastern Botswana gradually transformed into cattle herders. The assimilation of cattle led to a symbolic shift in the Babirwa’s social identity from the Banareng (people of the buffalo) to the Bakgomong (people of the cow). This shift was crucial in the production of a cattle-based identity in an area where crop production, hunting and the herding of caprines (goats and sheep) had been the primary ways of life since the first settlement of the Babirwa in the eastern Botswana a century earlier.