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The Ba Tlokoa of Southern Africa

(Batlokwa - Ba Tlokwa - Tlokwe - Batlokoa - baTlôkwa)


Wild Cats of the Sotho -Tswana











The Ba Tlokoa


Batlokwa - Ba Tlokwa- Batlokoa

The Ba Tlokoa, or Wild Cats in Sesotho, are one of the many Sotho-Tswana clans who reside in Botswana, Lesotho and South Africa. They are also referred to as Ba Tlokwa, Batlokwa and Batlokoa. The clan was scattered over a vast area and are of historic significance to the Sotho-Tswana clans.



Photograph Circa 1960 - Barbara Tyrrell - Peter Jurgens


Recorded history of the Ba Tlokoa, is centered around the Mfecane, Lifaqane or Difaqane, which occurred during the early 19th century.



Click the link below to learn more about the .....


Mfecane - Lifaqane - Difaqane



During the Mfecane, stories were told of a Ba Tlokoa leader named Mantatisi "Mma-Ntatisi" and the horde she led. It was said she was a terrifying one-eyed woman who suckled her troops at her breast. Regent for her son Sikonyela, Mantatisi fought to keep the Ba Tlokoa intact.


Following Hlubi attacks on her people, Mantatisi marched west from Natal. Her mob of 50,000 people crossed the Drakensberg mountains, into present day Lesotho, leaving a path of destruction. They continued to the Orange River, which was in flood stage. Unable to cross, they travelled north and again besieged the Basotho.


Mantatisi drove Moshoeshoe from his fortress near the Caledon River. He found safety at Thaba Bosiu. While Moshoeshoe lead his people to this new home, Tlokoa cannibals among her army ate many stragglers.


Because of Mantatisi's notoriety, all Tswana-Sotho raiders became known as  "boo-Mma-Ntatisi", or "Mantatee Horde" by the English. Known also as the "Destroyer of Nations", she was only stopped from entering the Cape colony by British forces near Aliwal North. Eventually Mantatisi settled her people on Marabeng Mountain.


 Mantatese was succeeded by her son Sikonyela. It is said that when he became chief, Mantatese lived a lonely, drunken life.









Murder Murder Murder


Sikonyela pillaged for another twenty years and in the process, accumulated large herds of stolen Zulu cattle. Shaka had been murdered by his two half brothers Dingane and Mhlangana.  Dingane became King.


In 1837, under threat of war and without a fight, Sekonyela succumbed to Piet Retief, by returning Dingane's cattle to the voortrekkers. Retief took the cattle to Dingane, in exchange for a promised land grant in Natal. Retief and his men entered the kings kraal unarmed, where they were captured, taken up a hill and slaughtered.


The reverend J.C. Bryant reports the tale of Motsholi, who had reached Sikonyela after fleeing from Zululand. In his eagerness, Sikonyela chopped off Motsholi’s head so as to possess the mans neck ring.





    Nquthu Municipal Crest


Basotho and Batlokwa  Battle Axes - 19th Century


As the century drew to a close, a group of Ba Tlokwa aligned themselves with the British. During the 1870's, they were rewarded with land in Natal’s Vryheid district between Dundee and Nquthu at Witsieshoek, as were the Kwena. In 1926 the Orange Free State government placed the Tlokwa under the authority of the Kwena. In 1930 each group was given it's own regional authority.


Once settled, area specific beadwork developed, unique to the location. Beaded fashion differed to that of typical Basotho apparel. In relative isolation, Tlokwa preserved their cultural fashions far longer than most Basotho clans.











Ba Tlokoa Material Culture





Photographed by Lynn Acutt - Circa 1900 - Ivy Collection



The paintings which follow were drawn insito, amongst the Ba Tlokoa by Barbara Tyrrell in the 1960's. Later they were published her well-known book; "Tribal Peoples of Southern Africa". 



Barbara Tyrrell - Tribal Peoples of Southern Africa


The daily attire of young girls consisted of a number of beaded arm rings and an apron fringe of plant fibers called a titana. On special occasions, oversized beaded collars adorned the upper body.



Barbara Tyrrell - Tribal Peoples of Southern Africa

After initiation, a back skirt of animal skin was worn,  much the same as those of the Basotho "bale" initiation ceremonies.



Barbara Tyrrell - Tribal Peoples of Southern Africa

Young woman’s initiation capes were made of reversed ochre skins, with bead medallions sewn onto leather.



Click thumbnails below for larger resolution images.



The same medallion forms appear on this extremely rare calabash, which may have been the property of a traditional healer or Ngaka.




                      Barbara Tyrrell - Tribal Peoples of Southern Africa                            Private Collection


Copper neck rings and beaded garments  remained collectable in the field as late as the 1990's. Most interesting were flat brass collars worn by older girls to denote marriage and reflect beauty. Brass and copper were first introduced by Portuguese traders.

Click thumbnails below for larger resolution images.



Beaded blanket pins, hand panels, belts and tassels were popular fashion objects. Dangling loops are area specific to the Ba Tlokoa.



This rare bear vessel was obtained from the grandchild of Anna Dekenah, together with the beaded calabash above.




This Xhosa related pipe dates to the first portion of the 20th century. It is beaded in Tlokoa style, which confirms the interaction between Southern African tribal peoples. 


Contemporary Sotho-Tswana society has adapted to rapid urbanization. At the time of writing, beaded costume has vanished amongst the Tlokoa. In South African urban, cosmopolitan, multi-racial and multi-cultural areas, western cultural norms are predominant.





Like other Bantu peoples, the Sotho-Tswana peoples practiced traditional  Shamanist type religion, based on devotion to ancestors. Ancestors were intermediaries to the spirits. A person was said to exist for as long as his shadow was still “felt” on earth by living relatives. Each community had its traditional herbalist healers called Ngaka in Sesotho. They functioned as shamans, spiritual counselors and protectors against evil spirits and magic.



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