Oral history vs. archaeology

One of the interesting challenges of working with traditional communities and leaders is how to represent oral traditions when they are contradicted by archaeology or historiography. When doing research for the Bafokeng archive, book and film, we consulted with a number of archaeologists and historians. It became clear that one of the dominant views was that the Bafokeng belonged to a conglomeration of different groups known as the Fokeng. According to archaeologists like Tom Huffman, the archaeological evidence points to the fact that this conglomeration has Nguni origins. They adopted Tswana culture over time and eventually split into the Bapo, the Batlokwa and the Bafokeng. Before the 19th century concepts such as ‘Sotho’, ‘Tswana’, ‘Pedi’, ‘Ndebele’, etc. did not exist as group identities.

According to their own oral traditions, the Bafokeng see themselves as firmly grounded within the Sotho-Tswana group. Their oral traditions make a link between the Bafokeng and the Bakwena in Botswana – with whom they share the crocodile totem. Some older members of the community still use the terms Bafokeng and Bakwena interchangeably. The idea that they may be Nguni in origin is foreign to them.

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