The BaHananwa People

History

Originating from the Bahurutshe branch of Botswana’s Batswana nation, the Hananwa have lived around the Blouberg Mountains of northwest Limpopo for at least the last 200 years. Over time the Hananwa have exhibited both Tswana and Pedi cultural traits. The most publicised episode of Hananwa history was the war they fought against the Boers of the ZAR (Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek) in 1894, in which their chief – Kgalushi Rashatsha Lebogo, also a rainmaker and traditional healer – was forced to surrender and then sent along with his councillors to prison in Pretoria. The war and Lebogo’s capture was recorded for posterity in a shelter in the Makgabeng Plateau, in a giant finger painting comprising an early form of protest art.

More Recent History

Today, there’s still a community called Hananwa high up on Blouberg Mountain, otherwise known as Lenare; roughly only 20 families reside there. Local Hananwa guides are proud to take you to the magnificent Makgabeng Plateau to show you Hananwa paintings, along with San/Bushman, Khoikhoi and Northern Sotho rock art. There you can visit a variety of rock shelters and terrain traditionally used for Hananwa initiation ceremonies, and during the war for defence and refuge.

Culture

Writings on the Hananwa are not widely publicised, but it’s clear that this ‘war narrative’ has shaped their identity for more than a century. It’s ultimately a bittersweet story for the Hananwa. On 31 July, 1894, after defending his people for three months against the Boers’ siege intended to subjugate them, Lebogo surrendered to Boer general Piet Joubert. He and his councillors were taken by train to Pretoria, found guilty by a military court and imprisoned for six years. Without their chief, the Hananwa women and children were sent to work as indentured labourers for various burghers across the Transvaal; many, though, escaped and returned to their homes in Blouberg. When Lebogo was freed in 1900 with the British takeover of Pretoria, he returned to Blouberg to guide and rule his people until his death in 1939. The Hananwa stronghold in Blouberg, though small in numbers, remains till this day. The Great Train painting at the Makgabeng Plateau is a tribute to their leader’s courage and a cry against injustice.