Creating connections through the arts and across cultures

“Bahto”: Setswana’s Poetic Window into Batswana Culture

Map of BotswanaOne of the rewards of learning other languages is that they are gateways into another culture and other ways of looking at the world. I lived and worked in Botswana for three years during the 1970s and grew somewhat fluent in Setswana, one of the two official languages, with English as the other. This poem is a homage to one of the most versatile words in Setswana: "Bahto" which translates as "people". It's pronounced BA-toe. It's used as a multi-purpose "Land Sakes!" expression.

Setswana = language of Botswana
Batswana = culture and people of Botswana
Motswana = one Botswana citizen
Botswana = South African country, size of Texas, above the Republic of South Africa

BAHTO!

In Botswana, there's a one-size-fits-all word.
Bahto!
It means "People!"
But, so much more.

Each situation shades it.
Bahto!
People! What trouble they do.
Bahto!

Shame. I'm so sorry this thing happened to you.
Bahto!
Lordy, Lordy, What will happen next?
Bahto!

I wish the world would slow down and give us a rest.
Bahto!

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3 Responses »

  1. Hi Janet,

    This is interesting! We learned Mandinka, one of the many languages of The Gambia when we were there 1979 - 1981. This is the tribe of Alex Haley's "Roots."

    Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    Mary Trimble, author young adult and mainstream fiction "Rosemount" and "McLellan's Bluff"

  2. Bathong Janet! (expressing pleased suprise)

    Ke lebogela fa o ne o nketetse. Le ka moso. (Thank you for your visit. Please come again)

  3. Yeah I agree learning a different kind of language helps you be connected to that place and with its Bahto.

    Visions

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