Botswana Clan Names History and Origin

In 1957, Bahurutshe villages such as Dinokana and Gopane in South Africa revolted strongly against apartheid’s dehumanising “pass laws”, leading them to resist until its end. This sustained resistance proved invaluable in terms of national development.

The Bawumbe clan can be found in Tonota and throughout Botswana’s northeast corner, reverent a bird as their sacred totem – yet their reasons remain undocumented.

Botswana Clan Names

  • Totem: Crocodile (Kwena)Praise Names:
    • KwenaMmamokgatlaMohumagadi wa BahurutsheRramokgopaMokwena
  • Bangwato
  • Totem: Duiker (Phuti)Praise Names:
    • PhutiMorokaTawanaMaape
  • Balete
  • Totem: Eland (Phofu)Praise Names:
    • PhofuMohumagadiMmakgosiRamokgopa
  • Bakgatla
  • Totem: Blue Wildebeest (Kgabo)Praise Names:
    • KgaboMotshoaseleMorulengMmakau
  • Barolong
  • Totem: Calf (Tshukudu)Praise Names:
    • TshukuduMorolongMorokaTawana
  • Batawana
  • Totem: Lion (Tau)Praise Names:
    • TauTawanaKgaboMaape
  • Batlokwa
  • Totem: Tortoise (Kgabo)Praise Names:
    • KgaboMorakaneMohumagadiMmakau
  • Batswapong
  • Totem: None specificPraise Names:
    • MachabaMagweteMatlhagareMmapitse
  • Bakalanga
  • Totem: Various (some clans within the Bakalanga have different totems)Praise Names:
    • DombodemaPhangabanyaloTshweneMukani
  • Duiker

    The duiker antelope is an antelope with an amusing comical look due to its distinctive crest on its head, consisting of standing-up hairs. The name derives from Greek word lophos (“crest”) and New Latin cephalo (“head”).

    All except one species of duikers – the bush duiker – reside in forest habitat. This species earned its moniker due to its propensity to run into thickets when threatened and quickly hide out of sight in thickets or dense foliage at any sign of trouble.

    Duikers may be nocturnal animals, but they can still be easily observed during the day by those familiar with where to find them. Like other antelopes, duikers feed on fruit and leaves while their short horns can be used to jab at predators as well as smaller duikers. Furthermore, duikers are known to consume carrion and bird eggs.


    The Bahurutshe are an influential Black group in Botswana and South Africa who have long stood against apartheid policies that resulted in forced removals of land ownership from them. At that time they also struggled hard for autonomy as evidenced by purchasing Braklaagte from an original white farm owner for just R200 000 (this figure may differ in other regions).

    Conflict between the Bahurutshe and Kwena clans could explain why they have different totems. One allegory tells of a baboon being given as a present to Motebele by Kwena chief; upon receiving this gift it bit a forbidden melons that caused a crisis between these clans.

    Bahurutshe are widely respected within Botswana and this was evidenced during Lucas Mangope’s funeral early 2018. Vice-President Masisi was present, alongside many top leaders from Seboko.


    The Bawumbe (Otter) Clan are descendants of Embo hunters and share an otter as their totem animal and Muumba in Walukaga – one of Unkulunkintu’s sons. One of the first groups to return after Kgama had left Butua to support Ditaolane was this clan; their return was welcomed with open arms by Bangwaketse Chief who assigned a special ward, named Phuting in memory of them, at which they settled permanently at duiker’s residence.

    Clan Mambo is also linked with Mambo kings; their ancestor Chilisamhulu became Nichasike after usurping the Bukalanga throne from Madabhale Chibundule’s direct descendents by secretly moving with his people from Old Palapye towards Butua.

    Butua was known for being so peaceful during this era that they used milk as bathwater! Basimba families would come together at the Chishimba shrine regularly to pray for peace and prosperity of their clan, donning leopard skin garments before singing invocations to their spirits of ancestors.


    The Bamazebe clan honors one particular part of an animal’s anatomy – the heart. As one of Botswana’s main tribes, this clan can be found across Botswana including in Central District (Bangwato territory) and Northeast District (Bakalaka territory).

    As with other Kalanga clans, the Bamazebe have adopted an all-inclusive totem – crocodiles (kwena). According to legend, this totem originated during Mfecane wars when Bamazebe were fleeing an enemy force but were stuck at an impassable river that they couldn’t cross; to escape their pursuers a monkey helped them cross using an improvised bridge made of tree branches; ever since this momentous event they revere the monkey as their totem.


    The Bamakulukusa Clan are located in Tonota and surrounding areas south east of Francistown and represent one of Botswana’s main tribes, honoring their totem animal of pig. As their clan name derives from this totem animal’s name they also revere that animal’s totem as part of their tribal identity.

    They may have been part of one of the early Bakalanga chiefdoms which emerged around Mapungubwe and controlled trade in gold from Vumba Schist near Francistown; copper, salt and animal furs from Shashe Limpopo Valley; as well as Makgadikgadi pans. Balilima (Kame) and Butua built during this time may have been constructed specifically to house Bakalanga rulers.

    At the time of Great Zimbabwe’s collapse in 1450, Chibundule family became an influential force that ruled Butua state from Kame at Khami. Later these rulers brought their followers into modern day Botswana under the name Bawumbe (Makulukusa), becoming ancestors to Bakhurutshe today.


    Botswana is home to various tribes, each of which possessing their own distinctive totem animal. For instance, the Bangwato tribe honors and reveres the duiker (a small nondescript antelope species), perhaps because it saved many people during an expedition from starvation.

    Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela tribe also have a totem animal: the monkey. This symbolism stems from their involvement in Mfecane wars and being at an impassable river during which time one day, when suddenly, out of nowhere appeared a monkey and helped them cross it using a tree-like bridge made from their totem animal’s branches!

    The Batlokwa are one of the more intriguing tribes when it comes to clan names and totems, reverent of the hippopotamus due to living near rivers with large populations. Furthermore, they’re widely credited with giving space for Gaborone’s construction before independence was achieved.

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