Finding the good life in the family and society


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Finding the good life in the family and society the Tswana aged of Botswana
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xii, 303 leaves : ; 28 cm.
Guillette, Elizabeth A
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Subjects / Keywords:
Tswana (African people) -- Botswana   ( lcsh )
Older people -- Botswana   ( lcsh )
bibliography   ( marcgt )
theses   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )


Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 1992.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 293-302).
Statement of Responsibility:
by Elizabeth A. Guillette.
General Note:
General Note:

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University of Florida
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oclc - 29176622
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Full Text







Copyright 1992


Elizabeth A. Guillette


Becoming old. It is something we all think about, including our own personal

securities and insecurities that accompany the individual process of aging. People see

themselves as being old in a setting similar to the one they know, without marked

alterations in the way the family incorporates its aged members or radical change in the

social and political environment. We have been socialized to expectations of how

individuals and groups will accept us as old people, who will provide for our needs, what

our roles will be, and the strategies we will use. These lessons provide a passageway to

a satisfactory old age, and cast a light over this final phase of life.

But what happens to the passageway when rapid social change associated with

the modernization of developing countries means that perceptions of life are topsy-turvy

and life's expectations are remodeled? Which elements from the past can be utilized?

Which are broken or lost? Can the resulting combination of new social and materialistic

advances combine with traditional ideology to create a secure life for the aged? Or do

the old face a barricade that prevents the finding of security and happiness.

This dissertation deals with social change and cultural continuity and how these

factors block or encourage the aged of Botswana in their quest for a good life. Like all

ethnographies, a specific cultural group is involved. In this case, the people are the

Malete, a Tswana cultural group of southern Africa. The setting is an old, established

Botswana village experiencing rapid development as the country becomes modernized.

Both the "old" and the "new" are embodied in the decorum of life. The scene involves

riches for a few and poverty for many. One also finds the repeated calamities of

drought, as created by nature.


The actors are the aged involved with two underlying social processes. Foremost

is the interplay between traditional beliefs and behaviors and a new world view

generated from modern technology, education, medicine, and mass media. Second is the

resulting social conflict as individuals, in their attempt to gain status and acceptance, rely

on abstract and material resources that have unequal value between generations.

A common proposition is that modernization promotes youth and is deleterious

to the old. One must not to be too quick in assuming that development automatically

reduces the quality of life for the aged. Modernization can provide goods, services, and

new avenues of opportunity, which improve life for the old as well as the young.

Neither must one assume that traditional culture automatically provided a high quality of

life for the aged. A better understanding of the traditional ways in which communities

defined and responded to the aging process is necessary before reasons for fault can be

assigned to moderizations and avenues for betterment in the future can be identified.

Old age is multi-dimensional, involving a multitude of factors reflecting the past,

present and future. Too often we think only of immediate and the negative: the

cessation of work, alterations in the family constellation, illness and progressive

decrepitude, as well as the increased realization that possibly one may be disliked solely

because of advanced years. Therefore, the study of aging is often thought of as

synonymous with investigations into crises that adversely modify or even inhibit the

ability to function in the social realm. Concentration on the impact of lack of

productive activities, the disappearance of roles and increasing senescence does a

disservice to the aged and society alike. It is equally important to recognize cultural and

individual strengths. Unification of the calamities and joyful provides new perspectives

for determining whether events are defined as problems or challenges, social burdens or

conquerable responsibilities. Thus, this dissertation addresses two aspects of aging: the

liabilities and the advantages with growing old.

A standard approach in gerontological studies is to emphasize diversity within the

group to provide ideas about how problems are defined and addressed. Equally relevant

are the similarities that stimulate group identity, which can then provide previously

unrecognized depth and breadth to social policy. The same is true across groups and

across cultures. Within the diversity spectrum, concepts too often include only overt

behaviors and responses. One must go beyond this to identify that which is covertly

universal to all aged, and distinguish those factors generated by specific cultural and

linguistic responses. I have accepted this challenge, as world aging is gaining in import.

By the turn of the century, developing nations will contain 61% of the world's

aged (Hoover and Siegel, 1986). The largest increase in number of old will occur in

Africa, where individuals 60 years and over are already the fastest growing age group

(United Nations, 1985:98). In southern Africa, an increase of 76% in the older

population is predicted between 1980 and 2000 (United Nations, 1985:99). Declining

fertility rates and the loss of adults through AIDS will have some impact on the relative

increase in the numbers of aged. More importantly, increased survival rates from

childhood infections, and longer life expectancy among the healthy, will account for the

generalized aging of the population (Hoover and Siegel, 1986). Therefore, it is to be

expected that not only will there be more aged, but the old will become older.

In 1980, the United Nations stressed ignorance of potential problems and the

lack of factual data as the main deficits in planning for the aged. Ten years later it is

safe to say that consciousness of the imminence of an aging population has become

widespread, although the present level of knowledge regarding the intricacies of African

aging is no more than minimal. In part, this may be due to the emphasis placed on

maternal child health by social scientists, as birth rates continue to far exceed death

rates in developing countries. The needs of the African aged should carry equal weight,

as it is the aged who provide much of the supportive care and teaching to the young

(LeVine and LeVine, 1985; Guillette, 1990; Biesele and Howell, 1981). Care-giving, as

well as care-receiving, is an integral part of aging in Africa.

For some years, the main models for gerontological social programs available to

developing countries have been provided by established, economically secure nations.

These established programs for the aged include guaranteed income, government

supported group housing, and long term health care facilities. While social security and

long-term care facilities may seem easy solutions to increasing problems with the

increased numbers of aged, these solutions may not be best on the national, community

or individual level. As a rule, developing nations do not have the monetary resources to

invest in such problem-solving approaches. On the community level, the transference of

such programs tends to discourage rather than encourage already existing beneficial

moral and social ties that provide support to the aged. For the individual, other salient

solutions available within the geo-political and sociocultural settings are overlooked in

favor of what is known.

I want to stress, that while the theoretical physical and social aspects of aging in

a modem society may have catholic implications, the approaches and solutions to the

aging process should not be universal. Local factors that support the aged, as shaped

by each unique sociocultural system, need to be incorporated into specific program

development. Thus, qualitative identification of local systems that influence the

socioeconomic and humanitarian aspects of aging warrant as much consideration as

qualitative evaluation of the aged as old people.

The contents consist of four parts. The first three chapters deal with the

research study itself, explaining how gerontological thought in combination with

anthropological theory and methods were used to investigate human actions and

reactions regarding the process of aging in a dynamic environment. Chapters 4 and 5

explain the evolution of the village and the determinants of who is considered old.

Chapters 6 through 8 present what it is like to be old in the village: living conditions,

family, and community life. The last three chapters (9, 10 and 11) delve into what the

aged desire and need in the present context, with suggestions on meeting old age goals

within the community and nation. The realisms involved with aging, social change, and

cultural continuity in the one village are also considered on a national and international


None of this work would have been possible without the help of many people.

It all began with my parents, Caroline and R. C. Arnold, who taught me the value of

adaptability and creativity. Dr. Gordon Streib encouraged this creativity and provided

much direction for gerontological thought. Drs. Allen Burns and Tony Oliver-Smith

opened windows for thinking beyond the obvious and for challenging old assumptions.

Great appreciation is extended to Dr. Leslie Sue Lieberman, who went beyond academic

guidance to encourage a healthy mix of motherhood and personhood with professional

duties. Dr. Art Hansen deserves special and warm merit for extending my view beyond

the aged to include a "back-door" approach toward culture and society, and for always

encouraging me to take advantage of the serendipitous and unknown.

The people of Ramotswa, both young and old, deserve more than a simple thank

you, especially those who became Mma (mother) and Rra (father), grannies, and sisters.

I have changed all names, but all are very real people. There are also unknown people

whose financial assistance is appreciated. The Social Science Research Council provided

a Predissertation Fellowship. The University of Florida Foundation provided post-

research funds.

Above all is my appreciation for my own nuclear family: Kaiya, Tammy, and

John, who provided constant encouragement and expression of faith, Matt, who

experienced and explained Africa with the wise eyes of a ten year old, and my husband,

Lou. It was his willingness to participate in African life and his warm understanding of


the trials and tribulations associated with research that allowed for my own growth and




PR EFA C E ........... .... .. ... .. ........... ... .... ..................................... iii

ABSTRACT ................. .............. ..................................... xi


1 INTRODUCTION ......................................................................
Overview of The Study................................................................ 3
The Good Life............................................................................... 15

2 THEORY................................................................................ 20
Early Gerontological Theories........................... ............................. 20
Modernization Theory .................................................... ............ 23
Social Environmental Theory ........ ......... .................................... 27
Research Hypothesis................................... .................................. 37

3 ORGANIZATION OF THE STUDY.................................. ........... .. 42
Formal Permission For Research ......................................................... 42
Research Design........................................................................... 50
Becoming a Village Member.................................................. ...... ...... 59
Village Demographics .................................................................... 61

4 THE EVOLUTION OF THE VILLAGE...................................... ............ 69
History of the Malete Prior to 1885................................... .................... 69
Early Colonization: 1885-1935................................................................ 71
"Becoming Civilized": 1936-1966....................................................... 85
"Being Modem": Post-1966 .............................................................. 97

5 GROWING OLD: THE LIFE CYCLE ................................................. 102
The Attributes of Aging................................................................... 102
The Life Cycle................................................... ..... .............. 105
Variables Underlying The Life-Cycle Phases............................................ 121

6 THE INDIVIDUAL: ASSETS FOR USE IN DAILY LIFE..... .................... 130
Priscilla and Alfred........................................................................ 130
Maria and Martha.......................................................................... 132
The G erontic Fund........................................................................... 133
A Comprehensive Look at The Gerontic Fund ........................................... 167

7 THE AGED AND THEIR FAMILIES ................................................... 170
The K erengs .................. ..... ... ....... ............... .. ..... ...... .............. 172
T he M osokos ......................................................... ........................ 179


The Family as a Setting for Exchange................................................... 189

8 THE AGED AND THE COMMUNITY .............................................. 208
Social Interactions............................................................................ 210
Social Concurrence and Collision..................................................... 240

9 FINDING THE GOOD LIFE ............................................................. 242
Core Elements in The Good Life......................................... ..... ... .. 242
Finding The Specifics of The Good Life...................................... .......... 246

10 AGED CHILDREN: SOCIAL ELDERS ................................................ 261
The Demand for Innovation................................................................. 261
Aged Children Become Wise Elders................. ........ ........................ 265

11 CO N CLU SIO N S .............................. ............................................ 270
The Aged................. ......... ... .............................. 271
The Context for Exchange................................. ................................... 272
A Comparison to World Aging....................................... ................ 277


APPENDIX B: THE LADDER INSTRUMENT ................................................ 291

REFEREN CES ........................................................................................ 293

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ............................ ........................... ...... 303

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Elizabeth A. Guillette

August 1992

Chairman: Dr. Art Hansen
Major Department: Anthropology

This quantitative and ethnographic study involved the Tswana aged of Botswana.

The setting was an established rural village experiencing rapid development. A variety

of interviewing tools were used to promote abstract thought and obtain statistical data

for 105 individuals, age sixty and above.

Traditionally, gerontocratic principles placed the elders of Botswana in a favored

position. The indigenous life cycle separated the elder from the helpless aged. The

helpless aged were regarded as children, incapable of meaningful thought and

judgement. Contemporary life has advanced the assignment of childhood to encompass

the active old, resulting in premature social disenfranchisement and denial of worth.

The aged attempt to maintain elder status with the use of personal/physiological,

social/familial, and fiduciary assets. Many experience an additional age-induced poverty

in conjunction with generalized village poverty. Cultural continuity and social change

create generational conflicts in the value and use of remaining assets. Those without

valued assets frequently fail to obtain care, security, and respect as an elder. Some

aged, with adequate resources, could not manipulate the setting to their benefit

Traditional ideology continues to influence expressions of thought and behavior.

Social change alters the directions flow of benefits from the aged to the younger

members of the village. Families, which continue to be thought of as insurance against

old age, usually provide basic physical care but most aged are excluded from roles of

authority and self-expression. A community disregard of the social contributions made

by the aged adds to their disenfranchisement from a meaningful life.



One must always "be doing" as the process of achieving gives meaning to
life. (79 year old man)

How can I do things? The door to my house is broken and my son does
not obey the laws to fix it. To toss aside the Tswana laws is to toss aside
the value of living. (60 year old woman)

This is a study of broken doors. A door controls a passageway. It has two

functions. It lets people into our homes and lives, and keeps the unwanted and

undesirable out. We tend to think of the door to our house as something that should

be closed and locked. We use it selectively at our own discretion, opening it to others

when sound reasoning and knowledge provide good reason.

In the Botswana village of Ramotswa the door to the Tswana home is usually

ajar. The open door is a signal that one is home, and the passerby is welcome into their

homes and life. It also means that the person inside wants to be included in the large

and small events happening outside.

There were no true doors when the present day aged were younger. A stick

placed across the entrance indicated no one was at home to provide company or assist

you if you were in need (Schapera, 1944; 1953). Actual doors were introduced during

British colonization (Schapera, 1953:26). In contemporary rural Botswana, all homes

have wooden doors. Many are imperfect. The people say it is because of "nature,"

external to the way the door has been used. The people overlook small cracks, as these

are considered normal. Other doors have larger gaps and deficient hinges. They do not

swing properly. This is more serious as the occupant and visitor have to pause and

expend unnecessary work to open the door wider. At times the passerby will keep on

walking, or the occupant will stay indoors. Both know the door is broken and question

if the extra work is worth the visit. Occasionally one sees a door so damaged that it has

been sealed shut. The house has nothing to offer, and the past occupant is said to have

moved or "disappeared." No one exits and no one visits.

To Americans, the closed door provides a safe haven. To the Tswana, an open

door provides access to a safe haven. It shows that people are part of life and have a

respected place in it. The open door is more than a passageway. It is a giver-of-life in

itself. The Tswana use many doors in their movement through old age.

I use the Tswana meaning of door as an analogy for a continuing access to

opportunities to maximize potential as a person. The small cracks are those that affect

the process of "being someone." They may be disliked but are an integral part of life.

As the cracks enlarge and the door refuses to swing properly, access to personhood and

the good things in life becomes more difficult. Additional breakage creates barriers in

bringing others into one's life, and in entering the lives of others. Some obstacles are

more difficult to overcome than others, depending on the type of damage. Extra effort

is always needed to use the door. The door so damaged that it is permanently sealed

shut severs access to a full and meaningful life.

Two things will be highlighted in this study. First are the many doors that the

Tswana aged use for a rewarding life, and the fact that many no longer work properly.

Cultural continuity provides both strength and imperfections in their structure. Social

change can provide new doors. Usually, social change misshapes the old doors so that

additional effort is needed for use. Sometimes the old cracks and new imperfections

combine to form a deadlock. The door is inoperable from either side. No one can pass

through it Both the Tswana aged and society must deal with these various damaged

and broken doors in finding access to the things they hold dear.

Secondly, just as there are cultural differences in the meaning of a door's use,

there are cultural differences in interpretation of the meaning of aging. I present

contrasts between aging in Botswana and developed nations, and contrasts between

concepts of what old age should be like. This is the sort of thing that may provide

additional information for opening new approaches to cross-cultural gerontology.

In this introduction, I will present the generalized salient elements of the study.

Following this overview, I will discuss the aged and their physical and ideological setting.

The chapter ends with an interpretation of success as delineated by sociocultural values.

This information provides the foundation for understanding how the Tswana doors have

been broken, and why our own should be unlocked in the interpretation of cross-cultural


Overview of the Study

The study involved 105 aged (age 60 or greater) of the Malete tribe of the

Tswana ethnic group of southern Africa. The setting was an established, moderate

sized, rural village in Botswana. The village presented a typical mix of traditional and

modern thought, social rites, and technology. The investigation was done during two

research periods, each involving separate steps. The first was a two month period

during 1988, looking at society as a whole to extract specifics for gerontological research.

The second was a seven month period extending from the end of 1989 through March

1990. At this time an in-depth study of the aged was undertaken. At both times

research methodologies of formal and ethnographic interviewing, oral histories and

participant observation were used. Visual aids were added as interviewing tools with the

intensive research on the lives of 30 individuals. These tools encouraged abstract

thought, which is difficult for the Tswana to express and promoted discussion to include

that which others were hesitant to mention or considered irrelevant.

The study was based on a gerontological adoption of social exchange theory, in

which the aged trade personal/physiological, social/familial and fiduciary resources in

exchange for the services and support needed for a good life (Gubrium, 1973). It was

my belief that the elements of a good life are present in the transitional village

environment, and that those who control goods and labor wanted by others find

satisfaction. It was anticipated that aspects of tradition and modernization both

promote and hinder the process of exchange.

Little was previously known about the definition, let alone the acceptance, of the

Tswana aged as a unique population within traditional Tswana society. The commonly

held assumption that high status and power were automatic for all aged was investigated.

Central goals were to learn how definitions of old age traditionally affected application

of the eldership principle, and if supportive behaviors were withdrawn with advanced

aging. Cultural change and continuity in these social processes were seen as affecting

the present as much as the social and material changes associated with modernization.

The intent was to evaluate the assumption that the process of modernization is the sole

agent in the devaluation and degradation of old people.

The main unit of analysis was the individual. Cultural continuity and social

change set the stage for the use of their resources. Access to the good life was

hypothesized as difficult for those who are poor in resources. I found that most people

lived with broken doors. The poverty of old age superimposed upon widespread

economic deprivation, and the fact that traditional attributes of childhood with a lack of

social value were no longer limited to the extremely decrepit, were barriers too strong to


My research includes the similarities and differences found between the aging

process in a developing country and the developed nations. Much of the theory of

social gerontology comes from the modern world. I apply Western-based theoretical

concepts to aging in a transitional peasant agricultural setting. This necessitates looking

at aging from two perspectives: the outsider's theoretical and experiential view of

gerontology and the Tswana view of ideals and reality. Identification and understanding

of the grass root desires and yearnings of the Tswana aged, as based on their approach

to life, is necessary. I assume that hidden behind the overt behaviors and values one

can find universals in the goals of the aged and the processes used to obtain them.

Research design purposely reflects the inclusion of possible universal components.

The Setting

Botswana, slightly larger than France, is a land-locked country in southern Africa.

(See Figure 1.1.) The Kalahari desert occupies two-thirds of the country but sand is

found everywhere. Sand is a main component of the soil in the flood plains of the

Okavango Delta to the north and the low rocky hills in the east. Only the east is

hospitable for agriculture, concentrating the population within this area. Even there one

finds environmental risks with crops and livestock. Droughts and erratic rainfall, varying

from year to year and site to site within a given area, have caused repeated withdrawal

and resettlement (Campbell, 1982:20-22).

The eastern area of Botswana and the South African Transvaal were sparsely

populated by Sotho-Tswana groups by 1200 AD (Tlou and Campbell, 1984:32).

Pastoralism and peasant agriculture provided subsistence (Campbell, 1982:20-22).

Gradually the Tswana culture emerged, encompassing various tribal groups and resulting

in the seven Tswana nations found in the country today. The Malete were first

identified as a tribal nation near the turn of the eighteenth century (Ngcongco, 1982:25).

Botswana, known as Bechuanaland, was claimed by the British in 1885. The

Protectorate served as a "labor reserve"' for South Africa, providing workers for mines,

farms, and later, industry. At the turn of the twentieth century, a railway was built in

the eastern corridor to interconnect the wealth of South Africa and Rhodesia (Tlou and

Campbell, 1984:156, 161). Other development was directed toward supporting the cost


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Figure 1.1: Map of Botswana

of Protectorate administration (Parson, 1984).

National independence came on September 30, 1966. Seretse Khama, a

Bamangwala tribal chieftain, became the first president. He and his Anglo-European

wife served Botswana until his death in 1980 (Tlou and Campbell, 1984:213-228). Quett

Masire was elevated from vice president to president at that time, and has been

constantly re-elected in the multiparty elections, held every five years.

The national flag was designed to represent the interracial policy of Botswana.

A thick black band in the center represents the African majority. Thin white stripes on

either side stand for the non-Africans. A blue background represents Pula (rainwater),

which is the source of all life and blessings (Tlou and Campbell, 1984:228). A non-racial

policy that permeates central and local government, and urban and village life, has

existed since the country's beginning. In addition there is freedom of speech and open

access to the media (Parson, 1984).

At Independence, Botswana was one of the poorest countries in the world.

Today it is among the richest of the developing countries. The discovery of diamonds at

Orapa and the development of copper-nickle mining at Selegi Phikwa, an increase in

beef exports, and successful negotiations with South Africa for more balanced trade

contributed to national economic growth. This allowed Botswana to develop social and

economic infrastructures that now bring health care, education and employment to many

of its people. The traditional peasant subsistence system has become a "Peasantariat"

subsistence system, incorporating a peasant type of agriculture and society with the

proletarian attributes resulting from wage labor (Parson, 1984:123). There is still much

to be done in raising the standard of living, as poverty and unemployment dominate in

rural areas (Tlou and Campbell, 1984:238-255).

In 1981, 941,027 people lived in Botswana (Republic of Botswana, 1981). The

population is a young one, growing at a rate of 3.48% a year (Knudsen, 1988). Slightly

less than 80% of the people live rurally, with others living in the relatively new urban

centers (Picard, 1987:4). There is only one true city, as defined by a population of

100,000. That is Gaborone, the capital.

The village of Ramotswa, located near the country's southeastern juncture with

South Africa, had an early history of intermittent settlement. It became a permanent

village near the turn of the twentieth century, when entered by the Ba-Ga-Malete. The

tribal name was shortened to Ba-Malete during the period of colonization (Ellenberger,

1937). Today, the people prefer to be known as Malete, the most modern name of alL

Most village inhabitants are Malete, with the others having a Tswana heritage.

Approximately 4- to 5,000 of the 13,000 area inhabitants do not live in the village itself.

Some are migrant workers returning home for weekends, either frequently or irregularly.

Others reside on a more permanent basis at their agricultural lands, returning briefly for

a change of clothes or purchased foods. There are almost no technological advantages

pressing for a return home. Almost every household is without running water, electricity

and telephones. Weekend entertainment is limited to funerals, weddings and trips to

the bars.

Social hierarchy is now based on economic elitism rather than kinship. About

10% of the population can be considered upper class (Parson, 1984:34). The majority

live in rural poverty, relying on agriculture, livestock, and remittances from employed

emigrated family members for household support. The scarcity of rural employment and

harsh environment contribute to the lack of a rural middle class (Hudson, 1977;

Hitchcock, 1989).

Poverty is widespread in the village. What do I mean by poverty? Absolute

poverty is a comparison of each household's income with a Poverty Datum line (PDL), a

line below which a household is unable to meet the minimum needs for life. A 1977

survey, which included Ramotswa, found that about 45% of the households had incomes

below the PDL (Hudson, 1977). Since that time, rural poverty has been increasing, with

estimates of households in absolute poverty always ranging well over 50% (Knudsen,

1988:17). The number of impoverished households reflects the fact that the richest 10%

of Botswana families control 42% of national household income. That leaves 58% of

household income to support 90% of the people (Botswana Central Statistics Office,


Rural household income, whatever the amount, must be considered in

conjunction with dependency ratios, or the numbers of economically dependent. The

1981 national census for Ramotswa reported a population of 13,000 with 2,845 actively

employed (Republic of Botswana, 1981). Thus, 20% of the village population supports

the others. The employed include those in agriculture, but most are migratory workers

who claim Ramotswa as their home. The majority of households are without a locally

employed adult. Remittances from migratory family members are a must in order to

survive. Many grow the majority of their own food to ease expenditures. (These

individuals are included in the employed if any food is sold.) Even this attempt at

survival does not always guarantee food, as rainfall is erratic and drought is common.

Deprivation is rampant, according to the outsider's view. There is a lack of food

and lack of what we consider necessities for normal living. To the Tswana, the situation

is reality. It is real not to be sated after a meal, to be cold in the winter and to have

the roof leak during rain. Life could be better, just as yours and mine. Like us, they

strive to improve life, only their expectations are placed in village reality.

Members of the household work to maintain a status quo, as gain is improbable

and loss pushes people further into poverty. Families who wants to survive cannot

afford to be lazy or stupid, for then they will lose what they have (Chambers, 1983:107).

Chambers (1983) calls this situation a "deprivation trap." Poverty unites with a loss of

power to increase physical weakness, vulnerability, and isolation that cannot be

overcome. Any additional loss serves to pull the household into deeper poverty

(Chambers, 1983:108-113).

The extensive poverty does not deter the villagers from seeking modernization.

The progressive modernization of the tribal name parallels progression from "the days

before civilization" to "being modern." Modernization is an important quest in village

development. The inhabitants are proud of the one paved road. Many approve of the

installation of a village sewer system but do not understand water pollution and

ecological degradation. The village boasts of its hospital and two churches. The South-

East District Headquarters, the federal building for local district government, is on the

outskirts of town. Ramotswa is also the site of the Malete Tribal Administration, for the

Malete chief has always lived in the village. These are unique structures for any

medium sized village. They affect the process of growing-up and of aging.

Traditional African Elders

A common assumption is that the characteristics of agrarian African societies,

with their interpersonal relationships reflecting a positive value for increasing age,

promote status and power for all aged. The loyalty to the seniority principle by children

and kin provides respected personal and social old age identities and functions

(Schapera, 1953; LeVine and LeVine, 1985; Cohen, 1986; Rosenmayr, 1989). The

longer one lives, the more highly one is valued (LeVine and LeVine, 1985:30-33). These

characteristics, as presented in ethnographies, imply that old age is the pinnacle of life.

A difficulty lies in the fact that ethnographies do not separate "elders" from the

"aged." The same is true with the extensive writings on the Tswana by Isaac Schapera.

Only once does he refer to the aged, who are those who must be supported (Schapera,

1955:179). He discusses elders freely. Deference, honor and respect are given to an

elder. The elder has authority and controls the power in relationships (Schapera, 1944,

1953, 1955). One must be careful in delineating who are the elders, as an elder is

anyone who is older than the speaker (Schapera, 1953:38). Such a definition does not

limit elderhood to the chronologically aged. There has been a tendency to unite the

two, resulting in a mix of truth and myth (Diouf, 1985).

Schapera only hints at a division between the socially defined aged and the elder.

This division can be very strong, with a removal of status and supportive care when

decrepitude occurs (Glascock and Feinman, 1981).

The Aged

In contrast to developed nations, old age occurs earlier in developing countries.

Harsh environments and working conditions, limited health care and malnutrition result

in a physiologically aged body long before age 65 (Diouf, 1984; Tout, 1989). The

United Nations (1985:98), in recognition of premature aging, demarcates old age as

beginning at age 60. Although chronological age alone does not present an undisputable

representation of biological and social age, it is used in this research to provide

consistency, and for cross cultural comparisons.

Chronological aging is distinct from social aging. Some of the Malete are socially

old, or designated as "children," before the chronologically assigned date. Other

chronologically old are perceived as modern "adults." Imposed social labeling does not

remove the cherished traditional values and behaviors held by the aged, which previously

promoted them as elders. Some are treated as elders in the true spirit of the word,

leaders with meaningful family and social roles. The majority of aged are regarded as


I questioned the aged about their own parents. Once an old person could no

longer function as an active social elder in society, status and power were taken away

and replaced with the care and supervision needed by a child. They were treated as a

child incapable of meaningful thought and action. The same is true today, except the

timing of childhood occurs much earlier. Any contributions are seen as valueless. Their

advisement is seen as based on uncomprehending thought. Even the chronologically

old who are recognized as active and valuable social elders, with multiple resources and

vigor, are constantly and actively working against the label of "child."

Tradition and Cultural Continuity

Modernization of village structure has not supplanted tradition and cultural

beliefs in the varied aspects of daily life. Even the most modern of people exhibit

actions and thoughts reflecting cultural continuity. Traditional ideology still dominates,

although frequently in a modified manner. Underlying all behaviors are two cultural

traits: the continuous "process of achieving" and a following of what the Tswana refer to

as "the laws." These will be defined and discussed separately.

The Process of Achieving

Achieving is an on-going, perpetual process. One never achieves, as there is

always a need for continuing participation in the "'Great Works" of supplying food,

building a family and keeping community commitments. The person is not judged by

past achievements, but the continuation of them (Alverson, 1978). The focus is on the

present. The past is completed and to be forgotten. The future is unpredictable and

should not be the foundation for worry. There is no such concept as self-caused

personal failure with achieving. It is external circumstances that get the upper hand and

prevent progress within the on-going process. It is the failure to strive for betterment

under hardship makes one useless, for it is the "doing" that provides social value, plus

contentment and fulfillment in life.

In today's world, the process of achieving continues to emphasize family

corporacy, generational symbiosis and social solidarity. Actions are important in that

they not only accentuate one's own welfare but help others. Family roles and a

meaningful place in society are paramount. These attributes direct the group-centered

approach to achieving. The process should involve interdependency between family

members and with society. Great importance continues to be placed on the extended

family as a social and economic unit. Achieving for women is in the realm of raising

children and producing food, either through agriculture or employment. Men are the

family administrators, controlling the income of self and others, and overseeing family

activity and welfare. As a rule, family interdependence reigns over individual

independence. Individual independence usually involves "the breaking of the law."

The Laws

The "doing" in the process of achieving is regulated by a traditional system of

cultural rules for behavior, which the Tswana call "the laws." The laws are more than

norms for behavior as they define and regulate moral obligations to others and society.

They are a system to insure rights, safety and cooperation. All further references to the

laws refer to these unwritten codes of behaviors unless explicitly stated otherwise.

The laws cover all aspects of daily life, regulating what can and cannot be said

and done, including proper voice and steps for action. Laws are explicitly taught to

children. "One must always obey an elder." "The son must fix the parent's roof." "The

daughter must cook for her parents." The laws are numerous and varied: one must not

raise one's voice in anger; to loan is to give; one should seek the advice of others before

making a decision. As times have changed, some of the lesser laws have been dropped

by the old and young alike, such as prohibitions against washing during darkness. Other

laws regulating personal behavior are still followed by the aged, but the young have

permission to discontinue their observance, such as the ban on drawing water during

darkness. Most laws concern interpersonal behavior. These laws should never be

broken by any age at any time.

There is almost no diversity in the interpretation of the law. Obedience is

through social and family sanctions. The desire to comply is propelled by outside

forces. Neither Alverson (1978) nor I found any indication of self-guilt with

misbehavior. One follows the law because of possible punishment. The punishment is

infliction of shame. Beating, as a painful method of shame, is no longer permissible

under federal law. Today, shame is placed on the disobedient individual either verbally

or by avoidance. Shame is made public when there is chronic or severe breaking of the

law. Public shame is the worst shame possible as it also brings shame to the family.

The defiant individual is teased, belittled or ignored. The family is pitied as they could

not influence kin behavior.

I observed great heterogeneity among individuals in the effectiveness with which

shame controls obedience. There is more variation found between generations than

within them. Attempts by elders, either parents or grandparents, to place shame on the

young tend to be ignored. In contrast, the youth are quick to notice deviation from the

laws by elders and encourage the placement of shame on them.

The old carry out the law as well as direct others in its use. Law enforcement,

by right of seniority, is part of the process of achieving. Age seniority brings the

privilege of being treated as an elder, being obeyed and respected according to the law.

The enhanced authority of the Tswana elder should not be equated with Western style

autonomy in decision making. By law, decision making involves consideration of others

with group input.

Seniority laws dictate that the very old will receive care-provisioning and

economic support. According to the laws, no old person should be deprived, always

having an adequate, safe environment. These laws, like others, are specific. "The very

old must be washed and kept clean." "The very old must be given food." Thus, through

laws and the process of achieving, the individual Tswana abstracts qualities of

positiveness that make for a good life throughout the phases of old age.

The Good Life

The "good life" concept was initially used by Lawton (1983:349) to incorporate

both the process and the goals of success that all individuals strive to meet. It is

essential to understand the ways in which the Tswana conceive success in life. This

differs considerably from Western concepts.

Theoretical Components of The Universal Good Life

The components of the good life are assumed to be legitimate goals. Behavioral

competency, psychological well-being, and life satisfaction are based on individual

behaviors within the physical, personal and social environment. Lawton (1983) insists

that each individual defines the idiosyncratic goals that have personal importance in the

quest for the good life. This implies that the good life ceases with an inability to make

rational independent decisions or with a lack of orientation to the future.

In contrast, Keith, Fry and Ikels (1990) place success or life satisfaction in a

community context. The environment rather than the individual defines the

determinants of success. The nature of the local society directs the individual in making

choices and determining strategies for the meeting of goals that create a good life.

Both the individual and society are united, giving the theoretical possibility that the good

life can continue in some way with loss of control over the environment, or the good life

can be an impossibility in a negative environment regardless of the strengths of the aged.

I will use the term "a good life" to reflect a positive quality in life that can

theoretically continue until death. The individual has personalized goals based on

idiosyncratic definitions of what is desired. The environment is the framework for

determining what the goals should be, their timing, and rules for fulfillment. The

degree of satisfaction with old age is dependent on the present attainment of a

rewarding blend between individual goals and social standards.

The aged Tswana have expectations and desires of things to come, but believe

that very limited control over the future is possible. Conceptually, the future is blurry at

best. "Nature" (the interrelationship between self and outside forces) determines the

future and the potential meeting of goals. It is the present, with involvement in the

process of achieving, which is the central issue, not the long range outcome or the

future. Thus, old age goals are synonymous with everyday behaviors involving self, family

and community.

One must ponder whether there is a theoretically universal uniformity regarding

the goals of all aged, or whether the cross-cultural context differs too radically to be

bridged. Differing cultural value systems and socialization processes produce varying

roles and behaviors expected of the aged (Sokolovsky, 1990). It is logical that the

positive social outcomes of these expectations produce culturally specific old age goals.

Do culturally specific variables transcend differences to produce a higher level of

uniformity? It is vital to answer this question, using data from a variety of cultures from

both developed and developing nations to produce sound theory and to plan

prophylactically for the increase in world aging.

The goals of old age in America are usually described abstractly as

independence, autonomy, good morale, health and peace of mind. To use leisure time

effectively and have sufficient guaranteed income are vital inclusions (Gubrium, 1973:ix;

Jacobs, 1974; Myerhoff, 1978). Such goals reflect the social horizons of the world in

which we live.

Presentations of goals tend to be more concrete when one looks at aging on a

universal scale. They include the desire to have and control resources acquired during

life and the guarantee of food, shelter and care. They also include features of retaining

status and respect, being useful participants in family and group affairs while

safeguarding health and energies, and the right to withdraw from life honorably when

the advantages of death outweigh the pleasures of physical existence (Simmons, 1945;

Brathwaite, 1986; Jacome, 1988). These broader goals closely parallel the culturally

specific Tswana goals of seniority rights, interdependence and usefulness, as gained

through continual achieving and the application of laws.

These broader theoretical goals can also be superimposed on the intents of the

Western aged. In America, goals with aging are defined by the middle class. Their

more affluent life style allows them to take the basics of the above for granted. This is

not true with the aged poor who view success similarly to the aged in developing

countries (Stack, 1974; Chatters, 1988; Cohen and Sokolovsky, 1989).

The Specifics of the Good Life in Ramotswa

The intent of this section is to present the specific concepts of the good life as

defined by the Tswana. I will develop the major thoughts but will not consider degrees

of individual variation. General strategies for the operation of the concepts are brought

out, mainly for reasons of clarification. The constructs of successful aging emerge from

the generalized operational definition of success in adulthood.

I investigated the question of who is a successful person in the present society.

These conclusions are based on conversations with individuals of all ages during my stays

in the village. The successful person has stable employment, owns a house as compared

to a hut, and has basic furniture. Customary laws and traditions are still followed in the

home and village. The home will be a setting of harmony with respect for eldership and

cooperation between generations. There is no doubt that whatever money enters the

household will be used for the basic maintenance of its economically dependent family

members, although benefits need not be divided equally. The spouse will perform all

assigned roles without question. The children, who represent support for old age, obey

all orders to help and serve, before and after school. Socially, the successful person

willingly accepts the responsibility to give to others, however small the gifts may be.

Frequent visits to kin about the village are interspersed with paying respects to bereaved

families and attending social and political functions.

These norms may clash with introduced ideas of individualism, self-reasoning and

self-concern that are promoting new values concerning property, less division of labor

between sexes, and more emphasis on the economic expressions of social status.

Following new norms, without piety to traditional responsibilities, often negates social

success in this rural area, especially when judged by the aged. To the young, economic

success is often equated with social success.

For the aged, the good life is not the same as the meaning of success to a

younger adult. With the aged, success is not based on conquering poverty or having a

better life than before. Success is determined by the temper of current family affairs

and being included in acts of on-going family and social solidarity. Status comes from

continual striving, in opposition to previous achievements or past events. Involvement in

the process is more important than the ownership and control over multiple possessions.

Material goods reflect economic achievements as a working adult, not success in old age,

and are not considered in successful aging. Deprivation should be absent, but plenty is

not a requisite. An old person finds more joy in living in the hut built as a young adult

than in moving into a more modern square house provided by son or daughter.

The successful aged person also contributes to the economic welfare of the

family, either directly with money-making schemes or indirectly with agriculture and/or

household management, including child care. This old person also has ultimate authority

within the household, even if major responsibilities have been delegated to others.

A caring family is an overt marker of success: a daughter to tend house and

prepare sufficient food, a grandchild to sleep with and to fetch a cup of water, and a

son to do heavy chores or repairs. The old man should have a wife although a husband

is not necessary to a woman's success. The more intensive and comprehensive family

care is, the better. But such aspects of family life alone do not represent complete

success, for with service must come respect. Household members should not show

disagreement with the wishes of the old concerning proper behavior or action. Even

migratory children must show respect with visits and with the remittance of money. The

showing of respect does not represent power, but the value of the old person to

members of the family.

The successful aged continue meeting the moral obligations encompassed in the

laws. Like the successful adult, visitations and socializing are mandatory. This includes

maintaining proper relationships with multiple kin and contributions to the welfare of

the village. For the man, this may be participation in the Kgotla (tribal meetings). For

the woman, it is participation in village organizations, such as a modern burial society or

committees for community improvement. No true division exists between leisure and

work. The successful aged are always at work. To sit idle is to be worthless.

In summary, the aged of Ramotswa base their goals on a continuing but

changing society. Their expectations for life come from tradition and from life

experiences with the new and old ways. Doors should be open to keep a constant flow

among self, others, and the world about them. The following chapters present the doors

and degrees of success the aged have in obtaining the good life.


Modernization has been a bad thing for the old people. They have no
control over their children. No one seeks my advice or asks about the
past. (68 year old woman)

The old are now poor because of drought and old age. People don't
treat us well. What I want is someone who cares. I'm lucky if people do
things for me and I don't have to pay them. (91 year old woman)

Some Tswana aged are efficacious in old age, retaining meaningful activities and

status. Their doors are open and work well. Others fail to meet the goals of successful

aging and lack life satisfaction. They cannot overcome the barriers of broken doors and

are unable to move forward or have others enter their lives in a meaningful way. This

chapter will explore the theoretical reasons behind the possibility of obtaining success in

aging, as an individual and as a social phenomenon. This includes the social processes

that can either open or block doors. Gerontology is presented as a specific field within

the realm of the social sciences. Selected theories on social aging are discussed. The

study's hypotheses are presented, as extracted from the presented theory.

Early Gerontological Theories

Early gerontological theories focused on the declines and losses experienced with

aging. In 1961, Cummings and Henry presented the Disengagement Theory, stating that

aging people, with an awareness of diminishing capabilities and a desire to promote self

over society in the limited time before death, reduce their amount and intensity of social

interaction. A process of disengagement takes place, beginning with the relinquishment

of given roles, such as those surrendered at retirement. This act leads to withdrawal

from other roles and activities. With increasing age and diminution of energy, social

participation may be narrowed to only those role relationships and activities that are

most necessary or rewarding. This withdrawal accompanies a preoccupation with self,

leading to a new equilibrium characterized by a greater distance from social

relationships. In this manner an optimum level of personal gratification may be found

(Cummings and Henry, 1961).

Society also retreats away from the aged person. Society retracts because of the

need to fit younger people into the positions occupied by older people, who are thought

to be no longer as useful or dependable as they once were. Difficulties may occur when

either society or the individual is not yet ready to begin the disengagement process. It is

this lack of synchronization that leads to adjustment problems on the part of the

individuaL High morale is reestablished as the gaps close and a new orientation to life

occurs (Cummings and Henry, 1961).

This model sought clues to both personal and social stability with the process of

social aging (Atchley, 1987a:186). Adjustment, leading to the attainment of the good

life, was based on the ability of the individual to separate self from the social

environment. The roots of generational and social conflict were perceived as stemming

mainly from the individual's failure to withdraw interest and commitment to others

(Cummings and Henry, 1961). The social contributions of the aged to themselves, the

family, and society were disregarded. The presumed inevitability and inherent nature of

the process left no room for active participation in life. Self-centered activity and social

idleness become the "normal and inevitable" rewards of aging (Cummings and Henry,


Disengagement Theory challenged the conventional wisdom that activity and

contribution were the best way to adjust to aging. This challenge led to an opposing

Activity Theory. Activity Theory held that older people are the same as middle-aged

people with each group having the same psychological and social needs. Activity

provided need fulfillment to compensate for the withdrawal of society from the aging

person (Havighurst, Neugarten and Tobin, 1963:309).

Again, it was posited that it was the sole responsibility of the aged to adapt to

the social situation. The aged had to find substitutes as previous roles and activities

were withdrawn. Replacement was mandatory for adjustment, regardless of the

availability or desirability of new substitutes (Atchley, 1987b:4). Little attention was

directed to differences among types of activity, abilities to perform activities, differential

rewards, or control over interactions (Hendricks and Hendricks, 1986:90). Forsaken was

the idea that meaningful interaction with others, not merely activity, created satisfaction.

As with disengagement, conceptual threads continued. The aged were people of

decreasing social value and were to be shunned and displaced.

These two simplistic theories of social aging, developed through research on aged

Americans, were outgrown by the field of gerontology. Practitioners and the aged

rebelled against the thought that maladjustment during old age was due solely to the

inability of the aged to reorient attitudes and to restrict activity to fit new and negative

circumstances. Theory had to be developed on a broader footing, as both theories

contradicted knowledge about aging in other parts of the world where active aged are

incorporated into society and have continuing roles (Hampson, 1982; Shostak, 1983;

Cohen, 1986). In addition, it was realized that other factors affected social aging, such

as the use of technology, and political and economic systems. As people became more

interested in aging beyond America, the framework for study had to include cultural,

historical, and contemporary impacts.

In spite of drawbacks, these early theories do contain lessons that should not be

forgotten. The first is that meaningful interactions are important to the aged, whether

the aged individual selects to be socially active or reclusive. While older people may be

more selective and self-serving in their activities and relationships, it is the quality, not

quantity, of activity that determines if satisfaction exists (Hendricks and Hendricks,

1986). Second is that the availability and performance of meaningful interactions are

determined through the offerings of society. It is now clear that psychological

disengagement, or continuous meaningless behavior, is neither natural or inevitable, and

that most cases of poor activity selection result from a lack of opportunities for

continued involvement (Atchley, 1987a:186).

Modernization Theory

Modernization Theory began with the social sciences as a means to analyze social

change. The theory assumed unilinear evolution, with universal patterns in structural

growth that developed along set lines, regardless of context (Parsons, 1964). As

technology was introduced, all aspects of a society were thought to move away from the

diffused activities based on the closed ascriptive status systems that were associated with

extended kin networks. Eventually, industrial-intensive societies, based on achieved

status, would evolve. The need for integration of modern bureaucracies and money

market economies would create convergence of modern structural characteristics in all

societies. New cultural values to justify the emergent dimensions of human society

would evolve from changing language, religion, and other belief systems (Hendricks and

Hendricks, 1986:100). These values would then be incorporated into human

relationships and reflect secular and instrumental rationality.

Gerontologists perceived within Modernization Theory a useful framework for

describing and explaining continuities and changes in the social position of the aged

across space and over time. The theory had drawbacks because of its generalized,

political nature and its emphasis on the reliance of developing nations on established

countries for socioeconomic direction. Instead, communities became the focus, rather

than nations. The interdependencies in the local socioeconomic-political arenas directed

the aging process. Social change was the cause of change in relationships among various

age groups. All ages would be involved with this change as critical shifts in attitudes,

ways of life, and social structure occurred. In turn, this change influenced the experience

and interpretation of aging (Achenbaum, 1987:453). It was believed that economic and

technological innovation transformed the roles of the elderly. The aged lost ascriptive

status and could not compete with others in the new environment. The assumption was

that modernization marked the beginning of the end for old people.

Leo Simmons presented this assumption in The Role of the Aged in Primitive

Societies (1945) and later argued that the role of the aged in a given society was

inversely related to the level of technological development and occupational

specialization (Simmons, 1960). The premise was that the structured framework of

primitive societies favored the elderly as advisors, carriers of culture and controllers of

civic and political powers. With introduced technological change, seniority rights

disappeared as new power-producing roles were allocated to the young (Simmons, 1960).

Cowgill and Holmes, the leaders in the application of Modernization Theory to

the aged, conclude that all factors of modernization lead to social change that is inimical

to the status of the aged (Cowgill and Holmes, 1972). Society moves away from giving

beneficial ascriptive status for the old and institutes achieved status based on a money

market economy (Parsons, 1964). Whatever seniority rights and authority the aged

possess are undermined and eventually eliminated as the young usurp power (Cowgill

and Holmes, 1972). The speed or intensity of change, either in the present or future,

cannot be predicted (Achenbaum, 1987).

Modern health technology, economic technology, urbanization and rising levels of

education were identified as the prime movers in the devaluation of old age. These

factors unite in a functional manner to deprive the aged of their central importance in

the affairs of daily life. In any event, status for the aged inverts as the old are

delegated to function at the periphery of society (Cowgill, 1979). The aged are thus

placed in an isolated position at the undesirable end of the life cycle.

Contrasting with Disengagement and Activity Theories, Modernization Theory, as

applied to gerontology, totally attributes failure of the aged to reach goals on social

change. The value of Modernization Theory is that it has stimulated scholars to

construct an historical record of aging in various settings as modernization progressed.

The theory has a problem however, as it implies that an historical before/after

bifurcation occurs with the onset of industrialization and modernization. The "before"

carries the uncritically accepted assumption that the aged were inevitably treated as

honored members of the family and community as long as they lived. The "after"

stresses that, with the introduction of social change, the aged have no valued functions

at all. At this new point in time, it is the aged's responsibility to reorient attitudes and

activities to mesh with their unwelcome place in society (Cowgill and Holmes, 1972).

(The antithetical position of assuming that a changing society's goal should be to

facilitate social efficiency and personal adjustment of aged members isjust as naive.)

The assumption that all old people always held a high position in society is

quickly becoming recognized as myth. The aged, whether contributing members or living

liabilities, were not treated the same in all societies prior to the introduction of

modernization. Glascock and Feinman (1984), in a Human Relation Area Files cross-

cultural survey, found practices of non-supportive and death hastening behaviors directed

towards the aged in 84% of traditional societies.

In many places of the modern world the aged are regarded as lacking ability to

direct their lives and become known as the undesirable (Hendricks, 1982). They are cast

out of main-stream society (Cowgill and Holmes, 1972). In many ways the situation of

the aged is similar to that of other dislocated people. Instead of physical displacement

from war or natural disaster, the aged are uprooted-in-place. Displaced refugees are no

longer thought of as powerless individuals dependent on the receptiveness of the host

society. Refugees recognize loss, develop strategies, make decisions and act on them,

and have the ability to be incorporated into a new social world (Oliver-Smith and

Hansen, 1982:6-8). The same has been shown with some groups of aged who are

displaced-in-place with the process of modernization (Hendricks, 1982; Jacome, 1988;

Coles, 1990).

Participation in life and society is demonstrated in a wide variety of sociocultural

contexts and socio-political levels. The aged actively participate to maintain status and

roles in some newly changing societies (Biesele and Howell, 1981; Colson and Scudder,

1981; Rosenmayr, 1989; Rosenberg, 1990). More important, the aged, as a result of

their actions, continue to have respect and power in instances where change has been

on-going for decades (Streib, 1972; Amoss, 1981; Simic, 1990). Other aged purposely

take advantage of social change to promote their position in society (Amoss, 1981;

Peterson, 1990). In each of these instances, the aged are active actors in directing

markers of status. As a group, their refusal to be passive agents challenges the

assumption that industrialization and modernization are irresistible agents driving the

lack of social reward with aging.

Theories continue to assume there is a consistency in passive reactions

accompanying personal change with aging. The focus remains on how old people should

react to be accepted within the social situation. This concept leaves little room for a

positive or creative "modernization of old age" with valued contemporary roles within

the new socioeconomic-political arena. No consideration is given to the range of

successful adaptive behaviors the individual is capable of doing with a continuation of


The concept that the aged function as passive agents needs to be replaced with a

concept that the aged are participating individuals within a social system. The aged

should be viewed as intentional directors of their lives, accepting the fluid relationship

between people and social contexts and actively integrating role definitions with

opportunities experienced and to be had. Like other people, they seek need fulfillment

using what is available from the environment, from culture, and from others. Their

efforts involve both active and reactive responses. Individuals strive to meet ideals,

which can, and do, express a variance from social ideals and from reality. Context can

vary, as with the differing reality and ideals between the African village and American

city. The positiveness of aging, with a recognition of continuing yet varying capacities

for interactions with and within the environment, must be incorporated into theory.

Social Environmental Theory

The social sciences have provided a framework for more comprehensive

gerontological theory. Social Exchange Theory explains how individuals exchange goods

and nonmaterial resources in society in order to meet their needs. Gerontology has

adapted this theory to the special needs of the aged.

Social Exchange theory arose from Goodenough's (1963) interpretation of culture

as emerging from shared knowledge among individuals with each person having his or

her own mental template for behavior. Behavior is interpreted as voluntary actions on

the part of the individuals, who are motivated by the returns they expect to receive from

others. The unit of analysis is always the individual who is seen as an independent, self-

directing person involved with a series of trade transactions (Cook, 1987). Each

individual negotiates for a favorable exchange. Trade is possible only when both

partners perceive a reward that is advantageous to themselves (Dowd, 1980:58).

A person must have resources in order to make trades (Blau, 1973). A social

exchange resource is any labor, service or commodity exchanged during social

interaction. Resources include tangible and abstract goods, including the use of power

and subordinate behaviors. An individual may have direct control of a resource, such

as one's own money or labor. In other cases the control is indirect, such as the use of

family labor or influence (Sen, 1981).

Society sets expectations or norms for the give and take of social exchange.

Ideally, a reciprocally satisfying balance is achieved during transactions, as the

assumption is made that people are constrained when, over time, equal exchanges are

not maintained. A profit making exchange results in power. James Dowd (1975:589)

defines power as "an abstract entity creating privilege," and as such is used to demand,

rather than command, control over exchange. As such, power can be used when

resources are lacking for equal exchange. Power is not always abstract as it can arise

from direct or indirect control over multiple resources. Age seniority plays a role in

many societies as elders have control over the labor of others (Sen, 1981). Power

promotes situations where equal exchanges are not mandatory, usually to the benefit of

the power holder (Dowd, 1975).

An exchange resulting in a deficit leads to dependency. Dependency, as used

here, means the actor is unable to reciprocate in an equivalent manner (Dowd,

1980:128). Dependency does not necessarily mean the actor lacks power with others

beyond the particular exchange partner. Power in any situation leads to deference, or a

ritualistic dramatizing of an individual's priority. Deference contrasts with respect, which

is an expression of honest concern based on esteem (Dowd, 1975, 1980).

Gubrium (1973) adapted social exchange theory to social gerontology, taking into

account the unique personal and social needs of the aged and their behavior. His

resulting Social Environmental Theory of Aging provides a framework wherein the

actors, who are the aged, function as active participants in their environment. This

allows for the needed separation of intrinsic (individual and cultural variations) and

extrinsic factors (the accompanists of modernization) that contribute to diversity. Thus,

it becomes possible to evaluate the individual and the aging process independently of

the degree of modernization or by standardizing the sociocultural environment.

This separation does not mean the specific social context, including the people,

social structures, and institutions, can be ignored. Historical, political and economic

features, as well as cultural values and the ongoing social construction of everyday living

experiences, are important in the process of aging. These factors can be approached

objectively in that they are external to, and partially independent of, the dynamics of the

mind (Gubrium, 1973:36).

The theory states that three overlapping dimensions of resources under the direct

control of the aged individual are necessary in order to maximize satisfaction and to

maintain the individual in a viable position as a creative agent in the exchange process

(Gubrium, 1973). The broad outline of resources cuts across all social and cultural

situations. Thepersonal/physiological resources are of a physical, mental and

psychological nature, and are essential for integrity and active participation in the

exchange process within the environment. The social/familial dimension refers to the

people and support facilities whose contextual presence can provide positive

reinforcement for personhood. The fiduciary dimension consists of the "coin of the

realm" in a particular context. Money, goods and other barterable items, such as access

to land, are included (Gubrium, 1973).

A major assumption of Social Environmental Theory is that resources decrease

with aging (Gubrium, 1973). Maladjustment increases and social acceptance decreases

as holdings in the dimensions become increasingly limited (Lawton, 1983:665; Dowd,

1984). Resources may be used or "spent" without replacement, disappear with failing

body integrity, or may be simply lost to the environment, such as cattle death with


It is possible for the aged to continue satisfying trade with a lessening of

resources. This can be done by using processes that call into play any cultural norm that

allocates power based on age or status alone (Gubrium, 1973). Power can also arise

through the creation of fear, such as assignment of supernatural abilities to the aged.

This power can be used in the process of finding the good life.

The resource dimensions in Social Environmental Theory vary from the usual

social exchange resources in that power and control over others are not included. Such

"abstract" entities are regarded as part of the process of exchange rather than actual

trade items (Dowd, 1975). The presence of family, friends and social support agencies

only indicates the degree to which trade partners are available. The service and

promotion of positive values and self-concepts that this group provides occur through

equal trade relationships.

The drawback to relying on power alone during the process is that others see it

as a demand (Dowd, 1975:590). As trade is unequal, the person upon whom the

demand is made must act out of deference rather than exchange (Dowd, 1980). Over

time, continuous unequal exchanges, and deference to the aged, will create bias toward

old people and change attitudes (Dowd, 1984).

Interaction is required to create attitudes, thereby making attitudes the outcome

of interactions. Attitudes may be positive in one situation and negative in another,

depending on context. Gubrium (1973:31,34) believes attitudes are stable and have no

general or direct relationship in determining trade relationships. This assumption may be

true in his American research setting. In societies experiencing rapid social change,

attitudes can change quickly as sources for power are questioned (Cowgill, 1979). Roles

change, and so does the accompanying power.

All societies produce prescribed normative behavioral expectations and roles.

Norms are not systematically fixed but reflect variation between individuals and groups

of individuals within the social context. The context places limitations on the choices an

individual can make in terms of activity, and on which roles can be assumed. These

limitations produce a social definition of acceptable age-related behavior. The range of

possible actions and roles a person may take usually remains relatively stable (Gubrium,

1973). The definition of acceptable behavior can change over time, as individuals alter

their interpretation of what is correct and group consensus occurs.

Action is behavior that takes into account the individual self, the environment,

and the resources of an individual in relationship to those of others. Conceptually,

people can act independently of norms and expected roles, as they impinge on but do

not determine the course of action (Blau, 1973). Action can be verbal or behavioral. In

theory, action is always rational and reflects the nature of dispositions or attitudes

towards self and others (Gubrium, 1973). People weigh their strengths as an individual

against the expectation of others in evaluating options for behavior and adapt

accordingly. (The degree that this holds true in real life is questionable.)

Adaptability is a duel-edged process of adjusting to and influencing one's

environment. The process of adaptation is both active and reactive. With aging, the

intent is to master a changing situation while extracting from it what is needed (Keith

et al., 1990). Expectations change and resources can dwindle. New wants arise. These

changing circumstances call for a revision in exchange relationships, yet the people

involved still want to maximize the rewards while minimizing the costs (Gubrium, 1973).

Adjustment is contingent on maintaining effective and rewarding exchanges within this

new setting. Behavior continues to include the existence of normative expectations and

the weighing of options.

Command in social exchange is said to exist when a want is fulfilled through

trade. Command is possible through the use of resources and power. The use of power

during the exchange becomes increasingly important as resources decrease, as power

provides strength to limited resources. The ideal is to have both sufficient resources and

more power than others. (Any power held by the aged should be seen as relative to the

power held by other age strata.) When either power or resources is absent, command

may or may not be possible, as either resources or power alone may control one

particular exchange but not another.

Older people in industrialized societies have minimal age-related power to

control daily social interaction (Gubrium, 1973). They are required to rely on the

dimensions of their resources. The debasing of exchange commodities is recognized by

both parties. When resources are insufficient, and power is absent, the social exchange

process ceases and is replaced with demand (Gubrium, 1973).

Demand is the claim that services and goods are due without anything given in

exchange. There is no ability to enforce this claim. Others are requested to give and

have nothing given in return. Fulfillment of a demand depends on the relationship

between the donor and the receiver. The aged use compliance to improve relationships.

Complying to the wishes or family and friends is the only means for survival (Dowd,


Compliance does not stimulate resource regeneration. Any remaining power

disappears (Dowd, 1975:590-593). Aged in this situation obtain what they need by

relying on others, as beneficence has replaced reciprocity (Dowd, 1984). Support,

through beneficence, is always available unless generalized prejudice against the aged

becomes great. Then social breakdown occurs (Dowd, 1984). At this point, no aged are

successful in social transactions. Old people are regarded as incompetent and unwanted

trade partners, and undeserving of beneficence. Once individuals are labeled as socially

aged, they experience this negative feed-back, which reinforces their social exclusion

(Hendricks and Hendricks, 1986:106). With social breakdown, the position of an aged

individual is less a function of age than one of social values. Continuing adherence to

middle-age values with visible productivity is the only means for acceptance (Hendricks,


Social Environmental Theory, as an adaptation of social exchange, provides the

basic framework and methodology for this research. Both the aged individual and

society play an active role in the process of aging. Exchange behaviors, reflecting

resources, action and attitudes, affect the process and individual outcome. This provides

the essential structure in evaluating the aged as individuals, and as a functioning group

within a society.

Social Exchange Theory, involving resources and success in trade, has been used

in famine research (Sen, 1981). As far as I know, the gerontological Social

Environmental Theory has never been applied in total, with the delineation of actual

resources, the reception of others in accepting resources in trade, and gaining the good

life. I attempt to apply the complete theory to the Tswana aged as they experience life

in Botswana, a contextual setting very different from America. Therefore, I must take a

critical look at the concepts, including the asking of some questions without answers.

Many of the references cited for the actual Social Environmental Theory reflect

thoughts on its application to political issues and the generalized reaction of society to

the aged. Much of the background material for theoretical claims came from relatively

stable Western societies. Gubrium (1973) provides much data for the reasoning behind

concepts but provides only brief categories of resources in the resource dimensions. I

must take these fragmentary categories, adjust them for the Tswana and make them


The theory, as a reflection of Western thought, definitely presents challenges

when applied across international settings. Both social exchange and social

environmental theory are set in a money market context, stressing that the basics of

provisioning are obtained through the trade of resources having use-value. The

assumption is that individual welfare is paramount, leading to reciprocal exchange with

equal balance between individuals. This assumption perhaps presents the greatest

challenges in cross-cultural use. The question arises of what constitutes equal balance in

reciprocal exchanges when the family or society is paramount and group good is placed

above individual good. In traditional Africa, individual outcome is frequently secondary

to group welfare (LeVine and LeVine, 1985; Cohen, 1986). In this village of Botswana,

the process of achieving still includes emphasis on the group. To what extent does

family and social welfare override individual equality during exchange in such a setting?

Here there is no known answer.

The focus of the theory is on aging and the aged, not society as a whole. This

demands that a high level of awareness be directed towards the Tswana social structure

and functions both inside and outside of the direct aging process. One factor is

communication patterns, which affect all social exchanges. Other factors are as diverse

as kinship lines and social schisms, both of which may place any individual either at the

core or periphery of society. Of course, the rapidity of social change needs to be

considered along with the traditional patterns and practices with social aging. It is in

this context, which I regard as the setting in which social exchange occurs, that I draw

upon Modernization Theory. This theory explains the changes in rules for exchange,

generational differences in perceptions of equal trade, and how incomplete knowledge

and limited options intertwine to direct the process of decision-making.

The assumption of any theory involving rational choice is that the knowledge for

choice is complete and that unlimited options exist. Needed knowledge is not always

complete when decisions must be made. Knowledge is very often bound by culture and

life experiences. The individuals participating in exchange may be drawing upon

different data bases involving disparate information. In developing countries cross-

generational exchanges increase in complexity. The aged are very apt to base decisions

on traditional knowledge without having the more formal education and informal

knowledge about Westernization, which has been obtained by the young.

Limited knowledge can also produce limited options for possible behavior. In

addition, the life situation in itself can limit options, as I pointed out earlier in regards

to extreme poverty. With limited resources, individuals cannot consider all options: a

small risk can make potential reward too threatening. Emotions, hopes, and fears

detract from the assumed rationality in decision-making.

The essence of the theoretical outcomes of aging are said to be problems with

decreasing power sources and trade resources (Dowd, 1984). The decrease in age-

related ascriptive power of the Tswana aged is well known (Schapera, 1953; Ingstad and

Saugestad, 1987; Suggs, 1987). The aged are also known to be economically poor (Tlou,

1986). This has created conflicting ground rules between generations for the essence of


Ability to participate in social exchange also decreases in other ways as old age

progresses. The number of kin and friends with whom trade occurs shrinks with death

of friends and relatives. Loss of significant others gains additional momentum in rural

Africa as emigration of the young is the norm. This situation is confounded with sensual

and ambulatory losses. These common circumstances are not deterrents in using

exchange theory as these losses can be incorporated in the dissolution of resources and a

shrinking of command and power. It is the presence and use of existing resources that

has import, especially in regard to meeting old age goals. By regarding bodily and

personal loss as lost assets for trade allows for the testing of the commonly held

assumption that such loss is a major factor in personal disintegration.

The past use of the theory in situations of famine assumes control over labor is

an asset. The presence of family and friends equates with success (Sen, 1981). I see the

inclusion of family and friends in the social/familial resource dimension as an indication

of the amount of access to trade partners. Control is not to be considered automatic.

It is the access to trade partners that determines if social exchange for labor is possible.

A major theoretical assumption is that all resources diminish with age. There

has been no past attempt to determine if a threshold point exists, a point where

remaining resource holdings no longer work effectively. It seems very possible that

resources in one dimension could diminish, such as in the fiduciary area, yet health and

family remain strong. Do resources actually diminish because they are used or lost, or

does the value of held resources alter with time although the amount may remain more

or less the same? It is here that questions from early theories can be asked. Do aged

people limit activity, either by choice or necessity, and thus lose opportunity to

regenerate resources, or does the sociocultural and/or physical environment prevent such

rejuvenation? Again, one must include comprehensive social processes, this time adding

cultural continuity in conjunction with modernization. What traditional opportunities for

resource generation and power and control can still be utilized? How does the

inheritance factor, which in Botswana is usually cattle and/or land, contribute to resource


Modernization theory provides clues for the movement away from traditional

care-giving and support systems. The aged were, and are, involved in social evolution of

the village. The aged individual's degree of modernization or traditionalism cannot be

overlooked. The most salient attitudes involve differences between generations in

resource use and value. (Goldstein, Schuler and Ross, 1983; Gubrium, 1973). Resource

use and value involve the process of exchange. How the aged deal with generational

conflicts can be explored if exchange is viewed as existing in the on-going social process

of change. This social process involves cultural continuity and social change, as both

direct who will exchange with whom, and act as stimulants for equality or inequality.

The decision-making and related behaviors for social exchange is not limited to

the sociocultural arena. The geographical, ecological and physical aspects of the

environment have direct impact. Such factors as terrain, climate and natural disasters

demand on-going adaptations on the individual level (Sen, 1981). In Sub-Sahara Africa,

where agriculture and cattle play an important role in subsistence, changing responses to

drought and the impact of drought relief programs affect daily living. Harsh climate and

terrain influence the emergent behaviors during modernization, plus the ability of the

aged to engage in these behaviors. Unfortunately, the impact of physical environment,

beyond that of architectural barriers, is often lacking in Western gerontological thought.

We assume buffers for the aged during natural disasters are built into local and natural

policy (Wolensky and Wolensky, 1990). Actually, the American aged find no buffers

with environmental calamities and frequently fail to recover (Bell, Kara and Batterson,

1978; Parr, 1987).

One must also consider the long-term effects of widespread poverty and under-

development. This places the majority of rural Africans in a situation where everyone is

resource-poor. Does this increase the value of the resources of the aged as they use

physical abilities to contribute to the household and/or are the owners of land and

livestock? In contrast, maybe the aged, in spite of real or potential contributions,

cannot use their resources to compete with the demands of social environment.

Research Hypotheses

In brief, many evaluations of aging in Africa follow a set pattern. It is usually

assumed the African aged once had a large degree of command generated from

resources and power generated from resource use in customary roles, norms and social

behaviors, all of which potentiated the position of the aged (LeVine and LeVine, 1985;

Cohen, 1986). Social change involving loss of tradition, the erosion of the extended

family and education of youth is preventing the aged from obtaining power and is




Figure 2.1: Theoretical Model of Access to the Good Life


diluting the resources used for command (Diouf, 1984). In addition, the desire of the

aged to return to their place of origin under conditions of widespread poverty has

placed unwanted and insufferable demands on village populations (Diouf, 1985; Tout,

1989:22-23). The result is a social milieu where the aged live in a situation where

comprehensive provisioning is not available with either command or demand. Families

and society lack the ability to provide care and economic support to the aged

(Hampson, 1982; Diouf, 1985; Hay, Burke and Dako, 1985; Ingstad et al., 1991; Thomas,


I am building on the opposite approach: that provisioning factors are present in

the environment. This care is available to aged individuals who control resources that

provide them with power and command in social exchange for meeting the goals

associated with the good life. Each person has various amounts of the three resource

dimensions (personal/physiological, social-familial and fiduciary). Modernization has

effected the process of exchange but has not eliminated the role of resources in finding

the good life. The strength of resources and the ability to use them effectively to

command reciprocal exchange and to generate power allows one to overcome the

sociocultural barriers of bias and the geo-physical barriers produced in the environment.

Those with minimal resources, or those having to rely on a mix of command and

demand, can overcome some barriers but not others. If resources become insufficient,

power is lost and the individual must rely on demand and compliance. This may or may

not create benevolence from others. Aged without resources cannot overcome the

sociocultural and geo-physical barriers and fail to find the good life, as demonstrated in

Figure 2.1.

Amartya Sen (1981) applied this concept with famine, assuming food was always

available but not accessible. Families with desired resources, such as money or control

over labor, had an effective command for obtaining food. Those without resources were

powerless. Ineffective demand would not provide food, although other families were

well fed. Thus, family resources, not the situational locale, determined access to food

during famine (Sen, 1981). Just as food during famine is accessible by the resource rich,

so is old age care and support during scarcity stemming from social change in developing

countries. With command, middle-age values and behaviors, or old age expectations of

compliance and reliance, can be replaced with active eldership roles, security and status,

which constitute the good life in the eyes of the aged.

A direct correlation exists between the strength of resources at a given time and

the meeting of old age goals. The needed weight in each area is unknown, but is

assumed to be relative to the general resources of others in the community. There is a

level, or threshold, when the amount of controlled resources is deemed to be without

value in exchange relationships. This threshold can occur either because an individual

enters old age with insufficient resources, or because the individual has since lost them.

These people have no control in directing their lives. At the same time the reliance on

beneficence produces a passive reaction on the part of society. Society may provide the

minimal basics of food, housing and care, but provisioning is insufficient for life


The historic change found in Botswana, which encompasses personal and social

change, as well as environmental calamities, has altered not only the value of resources

but also individual's abilities to accumulate, rejuvenate, and retain them. The oldest old

are expected to have fewer valued resources under their direct command than the

younger aged. I anticipate that the oldest old, as a group, would have less life

satisfaction as a result. As individuals, they would be equal to others having minimal

resources. Resources, not age, make the difference in obtaining the good life.

New and on-going trends can and must be analyzed, as they reflect what people

desire. It is people, of all ages, who constitute the essence of society and direct its

action (Blau, 1973). The aged experience friction between past acceptable behavior and

emerging trends. This friction extends beyond moral conflict, as trends set new rules for

the values associated with specific resources, and changes what is regarded as an

acceptable reciprocal exchange. Cultural continuity, in contrast and in relationship to

change, must also be analyzed. On-going social customs and beliefs also affect present

reality. Such customs and beliefs can either be transferred directly to the new society or

altered to fit the new society. In either case, they affect the value of resources and the

exchange process, both in the present and in the future. My goal is to make clear the

strong interrelationship between the individual and society in establishing the good life

during old age. This includes the behaviors and values of the aged and the responses of

others towards the aged, for flow with process is not one-way.

My approach assumes the aged must have open doors for flow between

themselves and the contextual setting. Old people enter into the lives of others as well

as having others enter their lives. I do not assume the doors were originally perfect.

Large and small cracks have always existed. The process of social change can create

more damage to some and repair others. The swinging of the door is as important as

its actual condition. Resources determined how well the aged individual can use the

assorted doors.


In Botswana, families give good care to their old parents. That is one
tradition that everyone believes in. There is no need to study old people,
as they are taken care of by their family. (a middle-aged government

I am old. Tradition has changed. You should learn about the old people
and tell the world how badly our family forgets us. It is alright that you
are white on the outside, but to learn about the hidden parts of being
old, you must become a Tswana on the inside. (67 year old woman)

The democracy, social freedoms, and racial equality of Botswana provided a

research locale where I could investigate the impact of modernization on aging while

blending into village life for research depth and breadth. This chapter presents the

formal steps taken for such work, beginning with permission for research and village

selection. Methodology and analysis reflect the incorporation of anticipated and actual

difficulties. The chapter ends with a synopsis of village population demographics. The

need for adaptability in, and during, research is stressed, as I had to unlock my

American door in order to find the Tswana doors and develop open and meaningful

communications with understanding.

Formal Permission for Research

The myriad of necessary steps required for formal research were undertaken

during my initial visit. Rigid regulations dictated the order of these steps. The first

action was to gain affiliation with a ministry or governmental research institute.

There is no specific governmental unit that deals directly with aging nor a

specific government program targeted to the old. Policy emphasis was placed on such

matters as maternal child health, increasing rural employment and decreasing the public

expenditure. A series of appointments with various agency heads met with

disappointment. I was informed that there was no need to study the aged, as tradition

dictated the family should take care of and support their elderly members. In other

words, as I was told, "the aged have no problems."

No matter who I talked with, the high official or the person on the street, the

custom of providing family support for aging parents was stressed. However, outside of

government buildings, individuals admitted that this was a custom often given allegiance

in abstract principle but not in reality. They pointed to social change as creating inroads

on the continuation of status and welfare of the aged. Therefore, I had no doubt that

the situation on which I based my study was present in the country.

Now was the time for self-critique for failure to obtain permission for research.

Analysis indicated my problem-centered approach for seeking approval was in error. No

agency had said the study was faulty; it just did not fit their needs. Maybe a fresh

approach was needed, something that did not threaten the concept of traditional family

support. I had used the problem-solving approach, stressing identification of social

change and areas of need. Why not have a study that reflected strengths?

With only one possibility of approval left, I applied to the Ministry of Local

Government and Lands. This Ministry administers village development programs

including the destitute funding program. This time I changed my opening format and

said, "Since the tradition of family support for the aged is working so well in this

country, I would like to investigate why, with the hope of finding strengths that could be

incorporated by other countries." Approval was immediate with a signature on the

needed formal Presidential Permission for Research application form. At the same

time, I was given the necessary written permission and letters of introduction for visits to

various villages.

Village Visitations

I now had to leave the familiar safety of the capital city of Gaborone and

venture out into the unknown. The first unknown was the bus station. In spite of dire

warnings of personal danger and the dictum of "Don't go near the bus station" from

European and American workers, I had no other transport. Eventually the bus station

became one of the highlights of my trips to Gaborone, meeting new friends or sitting on

the curb and sharing an ear of boiled maize with old friends. Masses of travelers, street

venders, trash and aromas generated a sense of accomplishment when boarding the

correct unmarked bus.

I must admit that ambiguous thoughts and anxiety dominated that first bus ride.

I was meeting the unknown and anticipating differences and similarities with the known.

I planned to base the wording of my study on the local reflections toward the aged.

This seemed very logical for meetings with local government officials. My key concern

was how I would approach the chief, as he was the protector of his people and culture.

In Ramotswa, this person was the "paramount chief of the Malete," in contrast to a

village chief. His approval was mandatory! The stereotypical image of a tribal

authoritative figure, gained from old pictures and ethnography, was firmly locked in my

mind. I knew the image was not reality but I could not shake my expectation of

required submissiveness under his power. My reverie was cut short with numerous

nudges and shouts that I had arrived in Ramotswa, and the South-East District Council

was on my right.

Contrasting with the earlier central government presentation of nonchalance

toward the aged, local district government was open and frank regarding the necessity to

address social problems relating to old age. Some officials placed the problems on the

shoulders of the aged, claiming that laziness and adherence to the old ways were the

sources of their difficulty. Others blamed social change with the refusal of adult children

to maintain traditional support patterns. Overall, the welfare of the aged was placed on

economic terms with governmental short-fall of money for program development. A

study was definitely needed and acceptable, if approved by the tribal administration.

My walk on the village roads toward the tribal administration building, known as

the kgotla, alternated between a fast pace and a slow crawl. A mishmash of the modern

and the traditional was everywhere: fancy houses next to rondavals (round mud huts

with a thatched roof), cars passing donkey carts, a woman carrying a bag of refined flour

talking to a woman pounding grain. Children greeted me with "Good morning, teacher"

while adults addressed me with the customary Dumella Mma (Good morning, mother).

I arrived at the kgotla, feeling the final moment of judgment had come. Two

men were raking the central yard for public shame, as they had broken laws concerning

family relationships. The Tribal secretary greeted me. Alas, Chief Kelemogile Mokgosi

was at lunch. His assistant, Deputy Chief Ikanena Mokgosi, was available and would be

glad to meet with me. This tall, well dressed, late middle-aged man quickly put me at

ease with a liberal dose of honest laughter mixed with questions and answers. He

highlighted the similarities between myself and other village women. There were many

Elizabeths, all with children the ages of mine, and who relied on the bus for transport.

Slowly, I explained my interest in old people and seeing how they lived. I leaned

back in my chair as his expressions indicated a vehement reaction was forthcoming. He


Good! You must come here! I am growing old myself and I do
not like what I see in store for me. People do not like the old. You
should come here to find out how to make life better for our old people.
All the old people of the village need help! You must use this village!

My need to sell the study was displaced with his need of explaining why I must

select his village. His insights paralleled the theoretical constructs of modernization and

aging, yet he had never heard of gerontological paradigms. He explained that:

the aged are being pushed out of the home and society as the village is
modernized. Values have changed and old people are no longer liked.
Children migrate and do not send money for the old people, so there is
poverty and hunger.

On that note, he suggested I talk to his people and look around the village, returning

later to meet Chief Mokgosi, who "was much older" than himself.

My return visit to the kgotla went equally as well. Chief Kelemogile Mokgosi

was evidently primed by his assistant, as formal permission was immediate. His caring

concern for individual welfare shone beneath his reserved, yet truthful, personality.

"How soon could the study begin, as the aged are suffering?" "It would be good to

bring your family with you. The water is safe to drink and you should be able to rent a

mud house." The tables had been turned with the tribal administration, local

government and people beseeching me for the study. Suddenly I was in the position of

not being able to say yes. Other villages still needed to be visited and evaluated.

The seven other villages I visited were equally friendly with political awareness of

decreased economic and social welfare with aging. Family requirements, which included

a setting for my husband's zoological research and schooling for my 10 year old son,

were no problem. My own research requirements were an old, traditionally established

Tswana village experiencing the impact of modernization and westernization. It needed

to be large enough to have a representative sprinkling of social structures and services,

yet small enough for community solidarity. I decided Ramotswa was most representative

of a village in transition, although it was unique in that it contained a hospital and two,

instead of usual one, churches. These disadvantages later turned into assets for

understanding the expanding interweaving of cultural continuity and thought with

exposure to increased technology. The cooperation among villagers, local government,

and tribal administration provided additional assets within the research setting. Now

began the reverse movement up the chain of authority to give notification that

Ramotswa was selected.

Why was it that the major welfare planners in Gaborone were hesitant to

verbalize what the urbanite employee and village leaders were adamant about?

Botswana is the sole multi-party democracy in Africa, whose high GNP prevented any

famine in the recent drought. The three-pronged government of presidency, parliament

and tribal administration promotes equality in all regions without tribal or racial

prejudice. The admission of a fault in the social structure resulting from modernization

of the infrastructure is a major step. To admit this fault to an outsider whose actual

status or position is unknown requires commitment and trust by all involved parties.

This trust could not be established overnight. Happily, by the end of my initial visit,

many of the same individuals, who initially stressed the universality of family support for

aged parents, freely discussed the breakdown of the custom and admitted it was time to

start considering effective government intervention. By the completion of the study the

government was as open and receptive as Chief I Mokgosi.

Early Insights into Culture and Society

Within Ramotswa, grape-vine communication was rapid. There is no word in

Setswana, the language of the Tswana, encompassing the concept of research or formal

analytical study. The people knew I would return to learn how old people lived. The

reasons why I would do so were perplexing to them. On subsequent organizational visits

I was constantly interrupted with questions of why I wanted to learn about their life as

an old person. "If you are not with the government, what will you do with what I tell

you? Only government workers write names down, ask questions, but then they proceed

to do nothing to improve my life." The tribal administration and local council also had

a valid grievance: "people come to study the area and we never find out what they


Should the local people benefit from research? The nature of my work would

involve more than time commitments from the respondents as they would have to give

of themselves, opening "closed windows" (a phrase used in psychology for bringing

hidden thoughts to the surface). The aged men and women I encountered in the village

included the pain of remembering with responses to my questions. Yet, they insisted

they be included in the study when I returned. Is contribution to theoretical growth,

sharing new knowledge with professionals, and sending publications to the National

library of Botswana enough to justify the stirring of thoughts and emotions with the

congruent raising and dashing of hopes of the populations studied? Thus began my

strong commitment to share findings and thoughts, in both verbal and written forms, on

the local level which included government, tribal administration, and the people


It was also during these early visits that I began discovering my own suppressed

thoughts regarding cultural differences. These windows needed to be opened in order to

be successful in my goals. Even though behavior may have been correct in American

society, it did not mean it was correct in Botswana.

During an early visit, I was seeking the health clinic. Everyone I approached

with a simple request of directions said, "I do not know." In complete frustration I

settled myself on a roadside rock to recuperate. Two old men ambled along and we

exchanged names and asked of family and health. Afterwards, we began talking in

depth. They talked of past and present living conditions. When I asked, "May I visit

your house?" Both old men doubled over in laughter, pointing to each other and to me.

Their broken English and my limited Setswana was insufficient to clarify what was so

hilarious. A bystander finally explained that my selection of words intoned I was

offering myself as a prostitute! Luckily, the faux pas was taken humorously.

When I finally chanced to ask the men where the clinic was located, they pointed

to the building directly behind me. My earlier attempts to gain directions failed because

of another social faux pas. Thus, I learned my first lesson in the Laws: always begin any

conversation, however minor, with a greeting and introductions. The discovery and

application of laws were relatively easy in regards to asking questions. Others laws, as I

found later, forced me to open myself to the existence of a new value system, and

temporarily disregard some tenets of my own.

Insight into potential research questions began with service providers, such as the

clinic and village leaders. The most valuable insights into the differences between

research design for aging in developed and developing nations came from the aged.

Participant observation in their household activities, long talks on the meaning of life

and aging, and the simple joining with aged in various activities allowed me to see

differences in life style and world view. Potential key informants were identified,

including John, age 75, and Monate, age 73.

John and I first met when he was walking home from the kgotla after attending

a planning meeting for the annual "United Nations Children's Day." John was jubilant

about his old age. He thought that maybe some old people had problems, although he

was not sure as, "such things are not discussed with other people." He considered

himself exempt from difficulty, as he had his involvement with kgotla, a caring wife and

family, and good health. I offered to walk with him, being careful not to mention the

destination of "house."

Monate, his wife, was waiting for him on the porch. We shared a delightful

afternoon. They answered my questions. They asked their own. "I have often

wondered, where does the sun go at night?" "I heard America sent a man to the moon.

If the moon is up, why didn't he fall off?" "How long does it take to get to America?

Only 29 hours! Why I can get to Johannesburg on the train in 23 hours so it must not

be that far."

These questions were not a mark of stupidity but indicated two reflective minds

at work, searching for answers within their own realm of knowledge. In this way the

couple was typical of many of the aged: intelligent and exhibiting the reasoning patterns

taught through culture, yet bound by limited education. I found I was similarly

culturally bound with limited Tswana education. Their answers to my "Hows" and

"Whys" were elusive and confusing. I left the village, and Botswana, recognizing the

research was possible but in a very different way from the usual American approach to


Research Design

Social environmental theory, proposing that the aged use personal-physiological,

social-familial and fiduciary assets in a process of social exchange to provide a good life,

formed the basic constructs of research design. These basics became the foundation of

a Gerontological Assessment Form, a formal survey instrument to provide quantitative

data on the aged. The actual questions are presented in Appendix A. From this form,

specifics could be evaluated singly or grouped for comparisons.

The categorical data for the resource dimensions, such as possessions or the use

of social services, could not be equally equated in meaning or content with Western

society. Questions regarding the assets held by the aged were devised by modifying the

proposed contents, listed by Gubrium (1973), to the local environment and level of

village development Adaptations were based on observations and statements accrued

during the initial visit. For instance, the distance to water had great meaning. The

number of indoor bathrooms did not.

Originally, the inclusion of proven life-satisfaction questions from known valid

instruments was considered for determining the good life, as this would provide

comparisons with aged in other countries. Even though such questions were previously

judged to be applicable in situations of cultural differences among Western ethnic

groups, many were found irrelevant to Tswana reality. For example, the standard

question of "How do you see yourself five years from now?" actually brought forth anger,

as the Tswana refuse to predict the future. Questions regarding individual decision-

making and personal independent functioning were not applicable at all, in light of the

marked norm for interdependent behaviors for household functioning.

Tswana world view does not include comparisons and ranking. One knows only

about him/herself. There are no gradations with emotions or opinion. One believes or

does not believe. One feels emotions totally or not at all. Open-ended questions with

ethnographic interviewing provided the best measurements of life satisfaction, but these

too met with limitations. Questioning about perceptions of life as it is today (rewarding,

dull, interesting, etc.?) was limited, as adjectives describing the quality of life are absent

in the Setswana vocabulary. Life is either happy or sad. Discussions of the reasons for

happiness or sadness did little to illuminate the degree of feelings, as learned thought

processes constrict perceptions to the categorical black-or-white. However, responses did

shed much light for the development of constructs for the process of achieving, including

perceptions of utility, providing direction to others and the value of self in social


Functional utility, both in the home and community, was expounded upon by

altering the often used question of "How often does your health, and changes with age,

stand in the way of your doing the things you want to do?" When the unmodified

question was used, all respondents answered "All the time," regardless of the degree of

observable physical limitations. In the same question, aged always stated if they were

"useful" or "useless." This again reflected the dichotomy of their world view. While

reasons for the response would be easily stated, the individual could offer no variations

on a continuum, i.e., could not see oneself as having varying degrees or types of

functional value. When the initial question was changed to a request for specific

activities that could or could not be done and why this was do, data concerning health

and activity emerged.

As I have demonstrated, many facets of the research could not be approached

with standard instruments or Western concepts of personhood and aging, without

comprising validity. Some conventional questions were used with revision. Other

question were devised for this particular ethnic group. I sought additional validity with

pre-testing and evaluation of instruments with 20 aged villagers before use. This pre-

testing stimulated adaptation of some questions and the elimination or addition of

others. Throughout the study, the aged continued to identify the more elusive segments

of culturally specific domains while answering ubiquitous questions regarding life in

general. Areas that were identified early in the study were added to the assessment

form. Other areas became topics for conversation. The final constructs should not be

considered valid for all Tswana age groups, nor should they be used to say the aged are

more or less happy than other generations.

Linguistic patterns and the absence of ranking as part of the thought process

made it necessary to capitalize on innovative research techniques. The use of the

"ladder technique" (Hansen, 1990) allowed for placement on a continuum. While

individuals cannot perceptually rate themselves in an abstract manner, they can see

themselves as individuals in a particular setting. Two opposing situational occurrences

involving people were placed at opposite ends of a small, five-rung ladder. (The

situational questions are described in Appendix B.) The individual was then asked to

place him/herself on the ladder, according to self-perceptions. (Holding the ladder on

its side eliminated ideas of worst, bad, good, better and best or hierarchy among

people.) Discussion revolved around the reasons the individual selected a particular

rung. This brought forth thought on how the individual perceived similarities and

differences between self and others and what they thought was important and/or

acceptable and what was disliked.

At other times, one historical statement was assigned to the middle rung, and the

respondent selected the rung representing the present truth and explain why this was so.

The ladder technique, was also used during interviews with primary care-givers to obtain

data on perceptions of self and the aged. Knowing that each person interpreted the

rungs differently, and that statistical analysis on rung selections would not be done, I

encouraged response on reasons for rung selection. Similarities between respondents

between directional flow in present truths, such as position of the aged in modern life,

could were noted, but the reasons for choice became the important data.

I devised another interviewing technique, based on the concept of a felt board

for story telling, to obtain data relating to family and village interactions. Instead of a

story, the respondent created a picture of the ideal. Game pieces were drawn from

photographs and painted to stimulate reality. They represented a wide variety of

traditional and modern items and buildings. Multiple people of all ages were available

for selection. Two pictures were made. One was the ideal house, and the second the

ideal village.

I began by asking what type of house they would like to live in, and letting the

respondent place the selected house on a felt board. Respondents then selected the

items they wanted in their house and yard. Much positive feed-back was required, with

emphasis on the fact that there was no correct way to make the picture. I asked many

questions during the construction of the pictures, including the reasons they selected (or

did not select) various goods and people. I then asked questions about the chosen

selection in comparison to real life and what they would like for the future. After

completing of the picture, I asked about the inter-relationships between selected items,

and how the picture compared to past experiences and future expectations.

This procedure eliminated the boundaries of the reality of poverty in descriptions

of wants and needs. It also allowed for some prediction of the future with questions

about what would happen if the items and people were real. Probably, most important,

the respondents saw their picture as a pretend situation where discourse regulations and

taboos did not apply. Conflicts between the ideal and actuality could be openly

discussed. When asked what the people in the picture were doing compared to what

they actually did, participants would critique life and the individuals. These critiques

often contrasted with earlier descriptions of family relationship, as respondents could

openly say what they did want, and did not want. They forgot social facts and opinions

and the way things should be according to law. I believe some of my most accurate and

complete data resulted from this exercise. The hour or more required for completion

was well worth it.

The last technique involved the use of ethnographic interviewing to obtain folk

taxonomies on the meaning of aging and the intricacy of disease (Spradley, 1979). The

respondents were encouraged to enlarge upon their thoughts after describing themselves.

Although the initial questions remained constant, conversations took many directions.

For instance, responses to the statement, "Tell me about your heart," included mystical,

emotional and physiological answers. Ethnographic interviewing content data were

constantly evaluated and re-directed as previously unrecognized concepts emerged. For

instance, from the taxonomy on the meaning of life, card sorts (Fry, 1986) were

developed in the field to clarify the emics of life-cycle progression.

My key to obtaining data with all these techniques was to present the instrument

as a means of teaching me about old age. The exercises were not presented as games.

This was very important, as games are for children! The aged were proud to accept the

role of teacher. I noticed this role helped them overcome observed hesitancy to answer

questions. (Several aged told me that much of their hesitancy to provide me with data

was because others considered old people to be childlike in thought.) The serious

approach did not mean that laughter and fun were avoided with discussion.

The hour spent in completing each type of data-gathering exercise was enjoyed

by the aged although they said the questions were hard. The difficulty was

understandable, as participants were exposed to new methods of thought and reasoning.

Constant reassurance that there were no right or wrong answers helped eliminate

trepidation. Verbal recognition of interesting and good thoughts, and positive feedback

for their ideas, prompted openness in their replies.

Identification and Selection of the Aged

In Botswana, one does not ask, "How old are you?" It is not impolite, but only a

question that people cannot answer. Age is not measured chronologically, as the

number of years a person has is not important in itself. The date of birth is more

important, as eldership is determined by who was born first.

Many knew the year of their birth, some of whom were able to verify birth year

with yellowed, but well cared for, baptism certificates. All aged knew the name of their

"church-initiation" (confirmation) or tribal-initiation age-set, both of which had a

graduation age of 17 or 18. Using a incomplete published list of male and female class

names and dates (Ellenberger, 1937), adding data obtained from those with verifiable

birth dates, and double checking of birth order among related kin, I was able to

determine the unknown year of birth for others. Ages were felt to be accurate within

two years.

In Botswana, none of the aged live segmented lives, apart from others. There

are no retirement centers or old age communities within populated areas. For this

reason, the demographic composition of their neighborhoods, and variation among

various sections of the village, become important. Accurate representations depend on

valid techniques of random selection. To accomplish this, a numbered grid was

superimposed over a village map containing major roads, buildings and landmarks. Ten

census tracts, out of an N of 42, were selected using random number identification.

These areas included sections at, or near, the major shopping area, the hospital, one

church, the kgotla, the recently developed areas on the village outskirts and the

immediate eastern side of the government council buildings, as shown in Figure 3.1.

Each census tract was approximately half a square kilometer. I omitted distances over

three kilometers from my residence, because of walking time. These were the hilly

section to the far east and the area containing the high-school and government

employee housing west of the council buildings. These two areas were used for pre-

testing, with findings comparable to the randomly selected areas.

Each house within the identified areas was visited to obtain a census of ages and

gender. (Only one household was not directly interviewed, as no one was ever home

during multiple return visits. Three other households provided identical data on that

household's residents) This census varied somewhat from the national census as only

household members residing in the house on a regular basis were included. Migratory

workers returning only on weekends or less frequently were excluded. Individuals who

were 60 years or over were interviewed, either at the time of census or with a return

appointment. Three attempts were made, during different periods of different days, to

contact the aged who were not at home.

The selection of 30 individuals for in-depth study was made with stratified

random sampling. These individuals were selected to represent one of each of three

categories reflecting level of activity. These levels were the active-old, the limited-active,

and the decrepit-old. Division was based on initial high, medium, and low scores of

physical functioning obtained from the Gerontological Assessment Form. One person

from each category was selected in each census area, being sure to include at least one

male and one female from the sample. As sometimes only one male and only one

decrepit-old resided in a census tract, absolute randomness was difficult to achieve.

(The only two decrepit males who resided in the areas were automatically included.) All

Village Boundary
Dirt Road
Paved Road
i Census Areas

1 -SE District Council 5 -Library
2 -Catholic Church 6 -Kgotla (Tribal
3-Lutheran Hospital Administration)
& Church 7 -Old Kgotla area
4 -Rock Pile 8 -Community Center

Figure 3.1: Map of Ramotswa indicating Census Areas (not drawn to scale)

agreed to participate in the three additional interviews involving the felt board, ladder

and ethnographic interviewing. These individuals were also frequently visited throughout

the study period to provide data on continuity and changes with time. An additional

female was added in mid-study, as one woman was eliminated due to her extensive

responsibilities in agriculture.


The Geriatric Assessment Form was purposely designed to permit statistical

analysis, serving as a bridge between social exchange theory and data on the individual

level. Both the ordinal variables of assets held by the aged and the mix of ordinal and

nominal variables for the good life were analyzed with the STAT-VIEW statistical

program. Specific questions were asked, including means, ranges and frequencies of

variables. My questions were many. "How are age and sex related to held resources, or

assets?" "Which assets are most important to control the good life?" "Can people find

the good life without assets?" Spearman correlations, and simple and stepwise

regressions were used to determine relationships among variables. No doubt some

questions were overlooked but the data are available for more detailed analysis.

Ethnographic interviewing associated with the in-depth studies provided much

qualitative data of statistical value. Some lent itself to coding with frequency

distributions, such as household items desired. The actual numbers on the ladder rungs

had varied meanings to different individuals but could be used to show directional flow

of relationships between self and others, and self and time. The majority of

ethnographic data, like that from participant observation, was simply coded, with

repetitive events, behaviors and thoughts singled out for use in quotes and descriptions.

This method provides validity to observed family interactions and social processes

(Bernard, 1988).

The description of formal routes for research approval, and the scientific facts of

research design, method and analysis, are distinctly different from becoming an accepted

village member. To become accepted I had to "become Tswana." This meant learning

and obeying the laws while continually "achieving." I my case, achieving was directed

toward the understanding of social aging.

Becoming a Village Member

Winter had just left Ramotswa when I returned with my family. Our first stop

was at the tribal administration to acquire the socially-proper approval for village

residency. Chief Mokgosi pulled my now-worn business card from his top desk drawer.

With a grin, he said, "We have been waiting for you." Plans were made for a kgotla

meeting in two days time when he would formally introduce me to the village, explain

my reasons for being there, and ask for a community vote on acceptance. Meanwhile,

he knew of people renting houses. It would take him a week or so to find us a place to

live as people were without telephones. If we needed something faster, we could ask

about town ourselves.

We proceeded to visit John and Monate. Monate saw us before we entered the

gate and had her seven year old grandson running to the shops to get John before we

got to the door. I followed the law for introducing my family and then asked the

traditional, "How does the sun shine on you and your family?"

John told us about the United Nations Children's Day. It was a grand event

with traditional dancing and singing. He is not working on the committee this year.

"There are too many young people wanting modern entertainment and they vote against

the elders who want traditional dancing." He now goes to the kgotla only for formal

community meetings, and sometimes to talk informally with the old men of the village.

Our son, Matt, hands John our gift, a basic elementary school science book on

the universe. John is ecstatic: the reading will give him something to do and answer his

questions about the world. Monate says she has lots to do. Yesterday she had helped

cook for a wedding. "But you should understand I don't do the cooking. I supervise,

which means to sit and share talk with others."

With the preliminary exchanges now over, I introduce our need for rental

housing. John is happy to accompany us to a place he knows of, the compound of Mr.

and Mrs. MosimL The family had built a four-room square house on their plot of

village land for an adult son who died unexpectedly. Moving in was easy, with the

transfer of three pieces of luggage from a borrowed truck, each suitcase weighing the

airline's 20 kilo limit. Household furnishings were simple: two beds, a table, six chairs,

and a one burner kerosene stove. All we had to buy were candles for light, a couple of

pots, and tableware. We carried in enough water to last until morning and made the

latrine our last stop before going to bed.

The crack of dawn brought sounds of wood being chopped, radios, and voices.

We were soon to learn there is no such thing as private space, either auricular or visual.

Mrs. Mosimi was in our kitchen at six o'clock that first morning. "My master sent me to

see if our new children slept well." Thus began our incorporation into an extended

family of aged parents, two adult children and a grandchild. Family titles replaced given

names, and new role-norms for extended family corporacy with intergenerational

interdependency, replaced the American nuclear family independence.

Rra (Father) effectively, yet lovingly, demonstrated that he was the household

elder and master, befitting his 76 years. Severe arthritis kept him from walking long

distances but he remained the effective manager. Mma (Mother), born two years after

Rra, guided me through the learning of female verbal and nonverbal behavior. Above

all, I was to serve my own master (husband), show deference to Rra, and teach my son

the law. Brother was to be my guardian when my master was not home. Sister was my

equal. Her 6 year old child was also my child to discipline, teach and command. It was

expected that "all my children" would be sent on errands and assist with simple chores.

Matt was given all the responsibility for daily grocery shopping and carrying water. In

doing so, he found new self-confidence and new friends.

It did not take long to discover the supposed equality between races was not

quite true. Preferential treatment was always given to an "English woman," as all non-

native females are labeled. I tried to discourage their efforts to elevate my being with a

concentrated awareness on my overt behaviors. I immediately sat on a goat skin instead

of looking for a chair, ate with my fingers before a fork could be found, and waited my

turn instead of going to the front of a line. Having a Tswana mother and being a

mother in my own right contributed to acceptance. Mma introduced me as her worthy

daughter, but I became known as Mrs. Matt, a title implying respect for me as a Tswana


Feedback on acceptance came through Mma when she related the village gossip.

With hands on her hips, head high in the air and a swag in her walk, she said:

this is an English woman in the village, here for her own good. She does
not see the people or their life. The village women decided you were not
like that. You see us as we are. You a person without color. We can
tell you what we want to say, not what an English woman wants to hear.

Prior to this I had found a translator and together we were administering the

protesting. (Three other English-speakers verified accuracy in translations and

interpretation of adages.) I had noticed a marked change in answers from the first to

the third week, when the above occurred. It was now time to begin serious research on

being old in a Tswana village. I began with the village census to obtain demographics,

from which springs all further findings.

Village Demographics

The overall census involved 207 households. A household was defined as one or

more individuals functioning as a family unit. They share one or more houses on family

property. The mode for household size tied between 7 and 8 members. A high number

households without children (25) and few with 11 to 15 (10) gave a distorted mean of

5.5 individuals, and a median of 5. In almost every household females outnumbered

males in each age group. This disproportion is illustrated in Figure 3.2.

Aged lived in 111 of the 207 households. Of the 53.6% households containing

aged, 34% of these had two or more old people. Aged lived by themselves or with

another aged in 8% of all households and with young children only in another 3%.

Thus 89% percent of the aged had an adult living in the household, usually in a three-

generation, predominantly female family.

Children were everywhere. Children were defined according to the government

definition: those 14 years and under (Knudsen, 1988). They numbered 501 in the

sample population of 1146 (44%), a figure similar to national childhood population of

47% (Republic of Botswana, 1981). Most of the annual rate of village growth results

from the natural increase with births (Republic of Botswana, 1981). Girl outnumbered

boys, 57% to 43%, a fact supported by primary school statistics and the national census.

School personnel feel more girls than boys are born, which is true nationally but not to

this extent. The skewed proportion could also reflect the tradition of urban adult

children sending daughters to villages to serve their grandparents. I found proportionally

more daughters than sons of absentee adults in homes, regardless of overall household

composition. Both factors are probably true, as nationally girls outnumber boys by 2%

(Republic of Botswana, 1981).

Adults, spanning ages 15 through 59, comprised 43% of the total sampled

population. Nationally, this percentage of adult population is much higher and the

numbers of males and females are about equal (Republic of Botswana, 1981). In the

village, the number of adult women dominates over the number of males, as females

compose two/thirds of the adult population. This statistic reflects the importance of

600 1

I Female
B Male


bO I




o 25



B Female %
E Male %



Figure 3.2: Population Breakdown in Census Areas by Age Groups and Sex



.. .. .

migration for men seeking wage labor, although the majority of households had one

adult or aged male present. Women migrate also. The absence of daughters is the

main reason aged live alone or serve as the sole adult caring for very young children.

In Botswana only 2%-5% of the population is 60 or more years old: this estimate

varies with the source (Republic of Botswana, 1981; United Nations, 1985; Third World

Guide, 1988). The percentage of aged in this country is similar to the rest of Africa.

Aged men are almost as numerous as aged women throughout all developing countries,

contrasting with figures from developed nations. Throughout Africa, it is not until the

80 year and over age group is examined do marked differences in sex ratios occur, with

100 very aged women for every 88 men of similar age (United Nations, 1985:31). This

sex-ratio reflects extreme variation from the sex-ratios of the United States, where there

are three women for every two men at age 65, and 66% more women than men by age

75 (Hendricks and Hendricks, 1986:68). Part of the ratio discrepancies between

developed and developing nations can be accounted for through high maternal mortality

with proportionally fewer females reaching old age (United Nations, 1985:31). Other

reasons are difficult to isolate (Gage, 1991).

The total number of aged in the census areas represent 28% of the known 375

aged in Ramotswa, as reported in the national 1981 census (Republic of Botswana,

1981). Overall, there were 147 aged (41 males and 106 females) living in the 207

households, comprising 13% of the sampled population. The customary return to the

village of birth with old age has caused governments to raise questions about old people

being concentrated in the older villages and absent in cities and new towns (Hay et aL,

1985; United Nations, 1985:105). Throughout Africa, 78% of all aged live in rural areas

(United Nations, 1955:98). A concentration of aged appears to be true in Ramotswa,

giving the village a proportion of old people that is similar to that found in the United

States. The big difference between countries is that the aged must interact with

proportionally more children and fewer adults. Another way of looking at the total

village is that there are relatively few adults available to tend to the many aged and the

very young.

The ratio of 53 village aged females to every 2.2 aged males could not be

adequately explained, as this contrasts with national statistics of 100 females per 90

males, and the outside extreme sex ratio of 110 aged females per 90 males (Republic of

Botswana, 1981; Tlou, 1986). The village health and social service providers supported

my findings with reports of many more known aged females than males. Seasonal

changes did not increase my chance of finding old men.

It is generally believed that men remain in a migratory work status until age

forces retirement, or death occurs. I question if this is the actual reason for this setting.

The national census reports 20 of the aged men, and 9 females, are employed (hence

living) outside of the village (Central Statistical Office, MFDP, 1982). This number is

not great enough to markedly influence the sex ratio. None of the sampled women

report an absentee aged husband. It could be the past mates of divorced women are

still employed or young wives excluded de facto aged husbands during my census. This

latter cause does not seem reasonable for every case. Even though a young wife was

mentioned as ideal, almost all of the interviewed married couples share no more than

five years age difference. The question remains: Where are the aged men?

A large proportion (37%) of the aged males residing in the village households

were reported to be at the lands, coming home several times a week, sometimes for only

an hour, for clean clothes and a supply of food. (Does this hint at the possibility that

aged males have a difficult time adjusting to village life with return from employment?)

One thing that is known is that the simultaneous living at the lands and in the village by

males distorted the sex-ratio of my interviews. I was able to interview 77% of eligible

females compared to 56% of the males. Overall, 72% of the identified aged were

interviewed. Many of the men unavailable for interviews were reported to be in their

eighties. Absent women varied greatly in age, ranging from 60 to mid-eighties. Since

absentee ages could not be verified, they are excluded from age-related statistics, but

their reported ages, when averaged, were similar to the interviewed group.

All reported aged men, tended to fall between the aged of 70 and 85. The age-

mode for the interviewed men fell in the 80-89 year old group. None were over the age

of 88. For women, the mode was in the 60-69 age group. Six were over the age of 90,

a proportion similar to a group studied by Ingstad, Brunn, Sandberg and Tlou (1991).

Figure 3.3 demonstrates the found age grouping and sex. The noted age-grouping

imbalance between sexes supports the concept that men remain employed as long as


Despite the age group imbalance, average ages of the old were similar. The

average age of the 82 interviewed females was 74.49. The average age of the

interviewed males was similar at 75.82 (N = 23). Fifty-nine percent of the males were

75 or older, compared to 44% of the females (although no males were past 88 years). I

use the age of 75 in this instance to make comparisons to the United States aged. In

developed countries, the young-old (below 75) outnumber the old-old (75 and above)

two to one, including the African-American population (Hendricks and Hendricks, 1986:

41,380). In Ramotswa is a situation where nearly half (47%) of the aged are

demographically classified as old-old.

Employment may affect the village demographics in regards to the ages of the

aged population, but there is good reason to think there are other causes. Usually

mortality curves are thought of as bath-tub shaped, with a falling of death rates after the

neonatal period and a rise with senescence. In sub-Sahara Africa, a different pattern

occurs. Life expectancy is lower, ranging in the 50 year old bracket for most countries

(United Nations, 1955:101). In Botswana, the 1980-1985 life expectancy is 50.8,

4U I



60-69 70-79


Figure 3.3: The Interviewed Aged by Age and Sex




according to the United Nations (1955:101). Botswana projects a life expectancy of

53.5 years for males and 60.6 for females for children born in 1986 (Knudsen, 1988). A

high mortality rate from accidents, infectious disease, hypertension, and various other

reasons occurs between the ages of 30 and 60. This results in a low life expectancy and

extended range in age at senescent death. The extension can result in extreme old age

(Gage, 1991). In Ramotswa, it is not only that the old are getting older but they are

"the fittest of the fit" (Gage, 1991). Their bodies are strong with immunity to the

common causes of death. Underlying reasons for differential mortality patterns between

Africans and Anglo-saxons, including senescent mortality, have never been adequately

studied (Gage, 1991). A similar extension of life, if the age of 60 is reached, exists for

African Americans (Anderson, 1988).

The demographic facts, as determined by specified variables, are not the same as

social facts regarding social age. The way in which people see themselves and each

other is related to their cultural and social history. History, as it influences the doors

that all people use, is presented next.


Ramotswa is better than ever before. We have schools, a tar road and
firms to employ people. Botswana is ruling itself and the people are
happy. (73 year old woman)

It is heart-breaking to tell you all that has happened to Ramotswa. Our
culture is becoming lost with development. Our richness is replaced with
poverty. (78 year old woman)

The aged, with descriptions of their own lives, provided the organization for this

chapter on village history. It begins with the history of the Malete and their

introduction to colonization, and then explains the movement from the "days before

civilization" through "the days of becoming civilized" and ending with "being modern."

These time periods provide a framework for the discussion of social change and cultural

continuity. The goal is to examine in detail the historical and on-going sociocultural

facets that affect the meaning of life, especially for the aged. Oral histories are

compared to written history, with agreement and discrepancies discussed.

History of the Malete Prior to 1885

The eastern area of Botswana and the South African Transvaal were sparsely

populated by Sotho-Tswana groups by 1200 AD. The forerunners of the Malete tribe

lived in Transvaal, east of the Ngotwana River, which today separates South Africa from

Botswana. Tribal groups migrated, split and reformed, as droughts and population

growth occurred. Eventually, the parent groups of the seven Tswana tribal nations,

including the Malete, emerged (Tlou and Campbell, 1984: 66-67).

The Malete were first identified as a tribe of the Tswana nation near the turn of

the eighteenth century (Ngcongco, 1984:25). At this time in history, the whole of

southern Africa was affected with wide spread assassinations and conflict, known as the

Difaqane. Tribe displaced tribe and nations were divided. The Malete, under the

leadership of Chief Malete, left the Transvaal and settled in the iron-rich Tswapong

Hills, straddling the present Botswana border with South Africa. Metal craftsmanship

flourished. The trade of three iron hoes for an ox, or four for a cow, soon made the

tribe rich in cattle (Ellenberger, 1937).

Boers moved into the area during the 1830s although the Malete's first battle

with Europeans did not occur until 1852. It was then the tribe first encountered guns

and defeat. Crossing the Notwani River where Ramotswa now stands, the tribe moved

on to Ditheyane, a Bakwena tribal village to the west headed by Chief Sechele (Tlou

and Campbell, 1984:115-116). The local residence of Dr. Livingstone, and his teaching

of Christianity, was seen as added protection against further upheaval (Tlou and

Campbell, 1984:131).

Again the Malete took advantage of their trading skills, this time bartering with

early European traders in the area for guns. The price of a single barrel was four or

five head of cattle; a double barrel was eight or nine head (Ellenberger, 1937). Without

knowing herd sizes, who can say if guns were cheap or expensive? Guns were used to

protect cattle from the numerous lions of the area and to provide an easier means of

obtaining trade items during this time of peace (Tlou and Campbell, 1984:126-128).

Ivory, skins and feathers were exchanged with traders for cooking pots, matches and

cheap trinkets (Tlou and Campbell, 1984:126-128).

The stay in Ditheyane was disrupted after 10 years when Sechele, who was poor

in cattle, demanded tribute from the visiting Malete. A short distance move to

Mankgodi did not eliminate the pestering for cattle and guns by the former hosts. In

1875, Chief Mokgosi I, who had taken over from Chief Malete, took his people back to

the Tswapong Hills, and established a new village named Ramotswa. (Ellenberger, 1937).

Accompanying the group was a new advisor to the chief, The Reverend Christopher

Schulenburg, of the Hermannsburg Missionary Society of Germany.

The Malete soon dominated the existing Babirwa, BaGananwa, and BaNgwaketsi

tribes of the area (Ngcongco, 1982). The dominance was not without bloodshed, as

conflict over land rights erupted into battle (Ellenberger, 1937). Today's old men of the

village recalled the stories they had been told of the battle. Sitting under a tree at the

kgotla on a quiet afternoon, tales of intellect and bravery emerged.

The young and the women were sent to protect the cattle, with
the men staying behind. Our fathers had never fought with guns before
but had watched the ways the Boer's organized battle. For us, battles
were fought in the open but the Boers hid behind trees. Our fathers and
grandfathers copied the white man's way of hiding, with one man loading
guns, another shooting. Only eight of our men were killed. The foes
fought in the open and wore red turbans so they were easy targets.

The heavy fighting resulted in many casualties, with over a hundred dead among

the foe (Ellenberger, 1937). Growing pensive, the men continued. "Yes, our

forefathers were wise men, learning from others and not afraid of to fight for the land

that was ours." This battle coincided in time with the end of the pre-colonial era of

Botswana (Parson, 1984:15).

Early Colonization: 1885-1935

In 1885 the British declared a Protectorate over a wide area known as

Bechuanaland. Each Tswana tribe retained authority under the supervision of the new

European administration. In December of that year the English arranged a treaty

between the local warring tribes, giving the Malete rights to land in Ramotswa and a

limited surrounding area. Although the village belonged to the Malete, it was not until

1909 that the boundaries of the Bamalete Reserve were defined by proclamation

(Ellenberger, 1937). This same time period was also a time of drought. Rinderpest also

killed many cattle and the remaining large native animals in the surrounding areas (Tou

and Campbell, 1984:126-128).

The Malete, like other Tswana at the beginning of colonization, were a self-

subsistent agricultural and pastoral people. Agricultural practice was, and still is, limited

more by resource availability, mainly water, than lack of creativity. Planting was mixed

and eclectic, with sorghum, maize, beans, melons, pumpkins, and sweet cane (Schapera,

1967:16). Animal husbandry was valued equally with arable agriculture, representing an

investment-portfolio with practical and symbolic implications (Alverson, 1978:10).

The Tswana based class divisions on kinship lines and rank within class on herd

size (Campbell, 1971). Each person knew their status, and could move up in rank but

not class. Wealth differences were outwardly minimized through the process ofmafisa,

the custom of loaning cattle and small livestock. The holders of such loan cattle

benefited from the milk and the offspring, and could use the cattle in plowing. In turn,

they were expected to provide service and political support (Schapera, 1953:28).

The peasant economy and lack of formally recognized religion were considered

by the colonialists and missionaries as the "the heart of paganism." Christianity based on

a money market economy was regarded as a necessity (Ellenberger, 1937; Thou and

Campbell, 1984:183). Thus, early development was aimed at eliminating the traditional

economic and religious practices in order to promote economic gain for the British.

Lutherans built the first church in Ramotswa at the turn of the century. In the 1930s,

the village was described as mostly Christianized. The claim was that the heathen

practices for mystical control over the universe were rapidly disappearing, and that the

people were becoming "civilized" (Ellenberger, 1937).

Economic change was instituted in 1899, with the imposition of a monetary hut

tax. An additional "native tax" was placed on each hut in 1919. These taxes were used

to pay British administrative costs, with extra money going to the Native Fund for village

improvement (Picard, 1987:98). The penalty for non-payment was severe (Tlou and

Campbell, 1984:181).

Access to money became a requirement for taxes and additional reasons. The

Malete, because of the delineation of the size of their reserve by the protectorate,

suffered from chronic agricultural and grazing land shortage (Schapera, 1953:24). In

1921, and again in 1926, Chief Seboko was forced to purchase additional lands from the

British. Every man in the tribe had to contribute five English Pounds for the land

purchases (Ellenberger, 1937). People also wanted to purchase the growing numbers of

trade goods (Picard, 1987:31).

Money became an absolute necessity, forcing at least one male household

member to become employed. Employment was available only through labor migration.

The Malete did not relish the idea of working underground in the South African mines,

but many went. Others chose farm labor in the region of Transvaal. Men, migrating for

employment, were separated from wives and children, with remittances being sent home

for the family's required expenses (Ellenberger, 1937).

At the end of the first third of the twentieth century, the English claimed success

in meeting many of their goals for "rehabilitation" and "civilization" with only "relics of

barbarism" remaining (Ellenberger, 1937). Schools had been established;, the church

had over 3000 members; and tribal customs were being discarded. To the Malete, these

were still the days before civilization.

Although changes were being made, the aged regard this time period as the days

before civilization. Some were born before the 1899 hut tax, others as late as 1929. In

either case, it was the time of their youth, the formative years when, as children, they

were socialized to their world and expectations in later life. The following is based on

their perceptions of the time period. Much of the data are supported by Ellenberger

(1937) and Schapera (1944, 1955).

The Village

Land within the village was divided into seven wards, with each ward under the

leadership of a hereditary headman. In turn, headmen were under the chief who

resided near his headquarters, or kgotla. Ward members were grouped according to

kinship lines. The village was small enough for everyone to know each other. Life

involved much physical labor in a reported setting of peace and harmony.

Security for well-being dominated village life. A sense that others would provide,

if the process of achieving failed, predominated in all aspects of life. Those who were

without were always given by those who had, be it milk, grain, labor, or money. "No

tally was kept, as some day the giver would be without and need to receive." Other

comments support Schapera's (1944:46) observation that ward members associated

together, shared work and supported each other in times of trouble. The chief also gave

to individuals or assisted with ward needs, sharing his tribute with others.

The times of chatting and story telling were not lazy-hours as no division

between work and leisure existed. All aspects of life were interpreted as work, including

teaching of the tribal ways and maintaining interpersonal relationships between kin and

friends. Prescriptions for proper interpersonal communication, especially with elders,

were clearly taught. Tone of voice, body stance, and gestures, as exhibited by today's

aged, were learned as part of the law. Children were specifically instructed in how to

say hello to any elder and to ask others about their health and family before talking

about oneself. The arts of communication were an integral part of the process of


Crimes such as robbery or rape were reportedly unknown. Serious disputes that

threatened the extended family or ward, as with continuing adultery or failure to pay

sufficient attention to the husband, were taken to the headman for trial. It he felt it

was beyond his control, the issue went to court to be settled at the kgotla. Here the

Chief, with his advisors, would listen to the case. Such cases usually involved non-

support and abandonment. Great attention was paid to the utterances of his advisors as

they were the old men of the tribe. Although they did not necessarily belong to the

highest classes or have royal blood, they were the repository of oral traditions on which

justice was based.

The grapevine communications system quickly let the public know when and how

such laws were broken, and by whom. Punishment was by public beating to inflict

physical pain and the pain of shame. Social pressure, taking the form of ridicule,

contempt, scorn, or ostracism, was dealt out accordingly. The greatest shame was to be

banished from the village.

The Family

The basic unit for subsistence was the extended family, which lived together in a

compound. The compound, consisting of multiple houses, was the central family

residence. Each house was constructed with a circular wall of mixed dung and earth,

surmounted by a conical roof made of poles covered with thatch. A nuclear family

resided in each hut, with the male as head, or Master, of the house. Huts were built

around a central family courtyard. The eldest male in the grouping was the

authoritative figure, or Master of the compound. This elder served to maintain peace

and order over his extended family.

The concept of shame with pain was applied in the home. The aged say, "it was

perfectly acceptable to beat one's wife when she failed to perform duties to the

husband's liking." Other men in the village reported returning their wife to her parents

for proper beating. Children were to always act on the orders of elders, be it an older

sibling, parent, relative or villager. Failure to obey resulted in physical punishment. "It

was through beating that the children learned proper behavior and the laws of the tribe.

They knew what they had to do, and to do it with demonstration of respect for the

elder." Fear of beating gave strength to any elder's dominance, making disputes a rarity.

By customary norms, anger was not shown and there was no back talk.

The austerity of obedience was tempered with security within the family. The

aged claim food was shared equally; children were given to grandparents who would

otherwise be alone; and unmarried men or women shared a compound with extended

family. "We were as one, with each helping the other."

The village was the center for communal activity. All families maintained two

additional seasonal homes. When the rains began women and children moved to the

agricultural land, and men to the cattle post. Families reunited in the village during the

dry, or winter, season.

The Cattle Post

The family cattle post was an outlying area in the open veld for the grazing of

livestock. A small hut served as the temporary home. All boys received instruction and

practice in the arts of cooking, sewing, laundry and cleaning from their mothers during

the winter. They were well prepared to perform these strictly feminine chores at the

cattle posts as women were generally absent.

Grazing could change sites on tribal lands, depending on the availability of water

and quality of grass. Livestock herds consisted mainly of cattle, but could include goats,

sheep, fowls and dogs. The men and their older sons, including boys over six or seven,

tended animals. They returned to the village, with livestock, only when grass and water

disappeared with the cessation of rain.

Donkeys and horses were introduced with early colonization. The donkey

provided a new source of wealth and status for the man who amassed enough for

plowing and wagon transport. The donkey gained special significance as this was the

animal Christ rode. One man condensed the thoughts of many when he said:

the donkey is hard working animal, which devotes its life to the welfare of
people. It is not to be eaten but paid respect until a natural death. Like
the child and the dog, he must be trained and controlled through beating.
We do this because we love him.

Another loved animal was the dog. Every man owned a dog for protection and

hunting. Many of the men talked about their dog's value, including the two village men

I met the first day. The eldest of the two said:

a trained dog was the way I could get a rabbit in my pot. Spears were
for wars or when attacked by a beast. They were not allowed in hunting.
Instead, I would dig a trap in the ground or make a rope noose from
plants like the men of the Kalahari {San or Bushman) did. My dog
would chase an animal into the snare.
I never went anywhere without my dog. A snake would always go
after a dog before he went after a person. The most dangerous snakes
were the black colored ones. Dogs saved my life several times,
particularly when walking to Gaborone or Otsi.

The Lands

The "lands" were an assigned agricultural plot, usually some distance from the

village. A simple shelter was home to the family women, girls, and very young boys

during the growing season. Their men had plowed the field with oxen or donkeys in

November after the early rain had softened the ground but before the grass was green

at the cattle posts. Now it was the women's responsibility to plant, weed and harvest.

According to Mma, all ages toiled together, chatting about life and the universe.

I learned stories about baboons at the lands. Baboons were
plentiful. They would come down from the hills, and rob our crops. The
baboons are always frustrated. They want to be humans, but never
develop into people. Therefore, baboons must be treated nicely and not
thwarted, or they will use their people-like brains to become very
mischievous and bring destruction to the lands. Night was the time you
really had to be careful, as a thwarted baboon could run across the paths
and cause crops to wilt.

Agriculture was one means by which a women could develop pride. A field kept

free of weeds and birds was envied by others. Outside influences such as rain, and the

mysteries of the baboon, determined the size of the harvest. One could expect crop

failure about once in every three or four years. The fields were small, usually two to

three hectares, but" 100 kilograms of Kafir corn {sorghum} could be grown in a good


Crop land, like land in the village, was assigned by the chief. This was not done

haphazardly or without consideration of the potential user. The selection would involve

rationality. John chose his land carefully.

As a newly married man I had one piece of high ground. My
growing family required more land for sufficient food production. I
requested a second parcel about 20 kilometers from the village. I saw
that this piece of land was in a gully that carried water. I chose it
because it would produce in drought, when my other land would not. Of
course, if there are heavy rains, I lose out with flooding. This land may
seem far away but other people walked even further.

Daily Life

The above is the setting of the present day aged when they were children, or as

children who had become young adults. I will now present the early life-histories of

three individuals. Each had different family and social experiences.

Elizabeth. Elizabeth was born in 1888. Other than her cropped gray hair and slow gait,

her body belies her present age of 101 years. Quick in wit and tongue, she relates the

following experiences while breaking up wood and feeding the open cooking fire.

When I was born I was given my Tswana name of Botlhale,
meaning wisdom, as Elizabeth is my Christian name. My childhood was a
time of pleasure, working with my family at the lands and being
responsible as a very small girl for sweeping the hut and gathering fire
wood. My father reared sheep, and we used the skins as blankets. These
mmaselekwana were used only at night for they were very warm and soft
to sleep with. My father and mother made us children clothes from the
sheep skins. Girls wore fringed leather skirts that covered our lower
front. Boys, like the men, covered their private parts with a animal skin.
Everyone wore clothes to hide their nakedness.
Sometimes my father would travel to trade with the men of the
Kalahari. He would give them our home grown tobacco in exchange for
tanned hides. The best ones were from the bucks of the antelopes. They
were smoother than sheep skins, as the San had a special talent for
making hides soft and strong. We used these skins for special clothes.

Elizabeth talked about how Chief Mokgosi I respected the church leadership,

becoming one of the first Malete to convert to Christianity and attend the new Lutheran

Church. She then talked of her family's conversion.

I remember when we first went to the church. I was still a very
young girl. There was a large room full of beautiful colored materials.
Everyone wanted this cloth, but the only way to get it was to become a
Christian. My mother joined the church, and she later had beautiful cloth
to cover her entire body.
My parents insisted I go to the church confirmation school instead
ofBoyale {female initiation training). I was taught reading and writing.
I was baptized at that time, and given the Christian name of Elizabeth.
The girls of the school felt very different and separated from those of
Boyale {tribal initiation) so we went to the chief and asked that he make
us part of the age-regiment system. He did this by giving us a group
It was easy for people to become a Christian. The Tswana have
always believed in one god, Modimo. The Christian god and the Tswana
god were really the same. With Christianity, you could pray directly to
God for important things, like rain. We continued to seek guidance and
knowledge during dreams from our Badimo {ancestors, mainly dead
parents and grandparents). It seemed to us that, as Christians, we could
live a better life and still keep our customs. We drank tea with sugar.
This was the food of the civilized people. The church looked down on
the heathens, or people who did not join the church. The church said
they were uncivilized. Actually, we all thought and acted the same.
My parents had always used the Ngaka ya Setswana {traditional
medical doctor) and the Moprofiti {an explainer of the past and
predictor of the future, doctor of ill fortune). The church said this was
wrong, as they were heathen witch doctors. The people of the church
gave us powerful new medicines to make us well. After that we never
used the traditional doctors, mainly because the new medicine worked so
well, not because we changed what we believed.

Senatla. Senatla, Elizabeth's nephew, is 88 years old. Today, he and Elizabeth live

together with his 17 year old granddaughter and seven preschool great-grandchildren.

They reside on a small piece of land near the original kgotla. This land was given to

Senatla's father by the Chief Mokgosi I. According to custom, it was here that Senatla

built his house. It is the only remaining living quarters on the original family compound.

Senatla, meaning Industrious-Person in Setswana, was not a church member in

his youth. He spent much of his childhood away from the village. As a young boy he

went with his mother to the lands. When about six years old, he began accompanying

his father to the cattle post. His early experiences with Europeans and the acquisition

of imported material goods vary from Elizabeth's.

I was at the cattle post with another lad my age. We saw a
strange, large animal coming towards us. The upper part of it had many
brilliant colors, like red and yellow. We were afraid and ran into the
bushes to hide. Then we remembered what others had said, of people
having white skin, dressed in colorful clothes and riding an animal called
a horse. We stayed hidden until the man passed. After that I became
accustomed to seeing the white man.
I did not go to the Lutheran school. My parents were afraid of
Christianity, as they made you give up the Tswana ways that were
important for living. For instance, we buried people in the yard so their
spirits would be with us. Children were buried in the house to be close
to the mother. The church did not approve of this.
As I grew older but before I was a man, I learned about money.
I had heard about money as some of my friends' fathers worked on the
South African farms during harvest to earn money for the hut tax. I did
not know how to use money or what a sweet {candy} was until I was a
big lad. A trader had opened a store in the village. I spent my first coin
for my first sweet at the trader's store. Then I wanted to work for
money, to buy a pair of trousers. My parents said 'No, it was the job of
a lad to stay on the cattle post.' So I stayed.

Senatla broke off the conversation and went into his dwelling. A few minutes

later he emerged with a metal plaque about the size of a small index card. As he

handed it to me I saw the seal of England imprinted near the top. Around the seal

read "Bechuanaland Protectorate Hut Tax Receipt 1902-1903, Gaborones." He

explained the plaque to me.

You must understand these were the days before paper. This is
the way we showed the British that the hut tax had been paid. Every
house had one of these by the door. This plaque is from the year I was
born, and it had to be paid for in money. If you didn't have money, you
had to sell a goat or a sheep. To pay the tax we walked to Gaborones
{Gaborone}. It took all day and was a hard trip for some people. There
were no roads, only paths through the lands. If the rivers were not dry
we could get water on the way.

Sego. Sego feels his name of "Lucky" is true, having now lived 76 years. He sees the

past clearly although his eyes are now dimmed with cataracts. One boyhood delight was

watching the 1917 installation of Chief Seboko Mokgosi II. An age-regiment had been

sent to kill a leopard and the skin was placed on Seboko's shoulders during the

ceremony. The presence of The Resident Commissioner and District Magistrate made

him stand in awe.

A second delight was the thrill of obtaining water from one of four communal

water faucets that Chief Seboko had installed. Instead of walking many kilometers, he

could get the household water in 30 minutes. These water lines were connected to

bore holes that tapped into the large underground artisan springs, which continue to

provide village water. He proudly explained that, although the water system has been

enlarged, these same taps are present today.

Sego, sitting with other aged men at the Kgotla, shared memories of hard times.

Hard times came from nature, usually in the form of drought or excessive damaging


According to custom, every household gave part of the crop to the
chief as tribute. Grains, mainly maize and sorghum, were stored in silos,
to be distributed to the hungry and poor. After the land purchases of
1926, a drought came. We had some food, but new crops were dying
from lack of rain. Our elders questioned the status of Chief Seboko, as it
appeared he was no longer a good provider for the tribe. The village was
very discouraged. Our maize was wilting in the fields, and communion
with God and our ancestors did little good.
At that time, the chiefs were believed to have powers to make
rainfall. Seboko, because he was a Christian like his father, had never
been instructed in the secrets of rainmaking. Fhologang Peba was the
one man in village who knew about rainmaking. He and another man
began the ceremony. They grew afraid and quit, because the chief was a
spectator. Seboko sent word to South Africa to have a famous rainmaker
come to the village.

Laughingly, all the men described how the famous rainmaker spent three days in

ceremony, praying and crying out for rains that did not come. They act out how they

chased him out of the village as a hoax. Then, growing serious, they talked of the days

that followed.

As soon as the rainmaker left the village, the rains began to fall.
They did not stop so our fields flooded and the maize turned black. We
call 1926 "The Year of the Black Corn." Everything was ruined. People
said trying to make rain was against the wishes of God. God acted

against us by making too much rain. This was the last time a rainmaking
ceremony was performed in the village!

Sego pointed out how the later years of this time period contained manageable

conflict between church and tribe. He gave the history of this evolving problem as it

related to his bogwera (tribal initiation) in 1929. Sego was a member of the

Matsaakgang, or "Those associated with a dispute."

The National School of Ramotswa, established by the church, was
operating at this time. Many older children went for two or three years
of formal education, independent of church confirmation class. Girls
were more apt to attend than boys, because of boy's duties with cattle. A
Malete boy, who had been attending school in the Transvaal, came to
Ramotswa with a letter of introduction for the missionary of the Lutheran
Church. He was admitted to the church classes. The boy's new father
removed him from school, as that family did not want him to become a
Christian. They placed the lad in bogwera for his education. The church
and the Magistrate tried to have the boy returned from bogwera, but the
chief refused. A large dispute resulted. It was decided that both types of
schooling was initiation-training and the chief then gave identical age-set
names to the graduates. After that, we worked together as a unified age-
regiment, clearing communal tribal land and building fences.
It was silly for the church to have divided us according to whether
we were a civilized Christian or a heathen. In reality, no one was really
different. The heathens were not ruffian people, but good people. As a
village, we were all Tswana. We all followed the Tswana laws and could
understand each other.

Pre-1935: Social Change or Social Continuity

The traditional cultural system incorporated the natural and manmade

environment with laws and customs providing control over the supernatural and natural

ingredients of village life. Gerontocracy and principles of eldership penetrated all

aspects of Malete daily life, directing interpersonal behaviors and social, judicial, and

political structure and function. Extended kinship, based on principles of age seniority,

served to integrate families and establish social cohesion within the community

(Schapera 1944, 1953). The result was a communal system of solidarity and reciprocity,

which probably occurred in varying extents between individuals.

Colonialists, aiming to establish Ramotswa as a Christian labor reserve,

interpreted the traditional culture as heathenish and barbaric. The thrust of change was

for total cultural conversion without regard for the impact on social and economic life

(Tlou and Campbell, 1984:140). By the end of the 1930s, Europeans in Ramotswa

claimed success in their goals although "a few relics of barbarism" remained

(Ellenberger, 1937). There was some trepidation whether the acceptance of Christianity

was a matter of course, as missionaries "labored amongst an unresponsive people"

(Schapera, 1953:58).

There is no denial on the part of the aged Malete that the ingress of Europeans

brought delightful foods, Western clothing, and money. But through the eyes of those

who lived during this period of importation, new experiences were found within the

bounds of the Tswana cultural setting. To them, it was still "the time before


In other words, this was still a time when the traditional reigned. Traditional

here is defined as that quality of social life in which contact with the Western world did

not play a significant part of the lives of the majority of the population (Cohen,

1986:136). It does not encompass the substitution of a metal pot for a clay one, or the

covering of the entire body with cloth instead of a leather loin cloth. A traditional life is

one where basic behavior, regardless of the implements used, continues to be built on

the non-Western organizational principles of the society.

Social unification was stressed by many. The change that did occur was a series

of adaptive responses. In part, change was to allow for continuation of the traditional

through accommodations. On the individual level, money became another trade item,

not the basic necessity for subsistence. Taxation and growing desire for luxury items

encouraged, rather than forced, labor migration of a single family member (Parson,

1984;23). Employment became new way of achieving without altering the basic structure

of the culture. The comprehensive process of achieving, embracing the concept of

gerontocracy, remained the underlying ideology.

As a pragmatic group, the Tswana willingly gave up the external trappings of life

and substituted sturdier and more time-efficient imported technology. These material

objects, such as the metal plow, were incorporated into peasant farming with the

retention of underlying structure and function. The same was true with the new water

sources and extension of lands. Participation in the introduced activities of school and

church was to "learn the European's ways in the hope of making life easier," not to

make their life like his. The principles of eldership continued, with obedience to the

laws perpetuating family interdependency and community solidarity.

On the structural-functional level, the traditional and new were intertwined. As

in the case of conflicts for initiation into adulthood between the church and tribe,

accommodation with unification of the two types of schooling under one name allowed

for the continuation of horizontal social and political village interactions. Peers

remained unified and continued to function under the rigid seniority principles.

The concept of English taxes was mitigated by the concept of tribute. Colonial

government was a parallel to chieftainship, with both playing an active role in vertical

social and political relations (Parson, 1984:17,23). The giving of allegiance to

authoritative leaders and displaying decorous behavior towards social elders was


The English government and the Lutheran church both claimed to have

influenced individual and tribal decisions to discontinue "heathen practices" (Schapera,

1970; Tlou and Campbell, 1984:134). The cessation of rain-making was frequently

attributed to outside intervention (Ellenberger, 1937; Schapera, 1970). The disastrous

results of the last Malete rainmaking ceremonies were probably quite influential in the

decline of ceremonies to alter supernatural events. Other heathen customs were

reported to "have disappeared because of conversion", such as placing a stone in a tree

on arrival to the village and the purifying of the Army before war (Ellenberger, 1937).

There was no future war, hence no need for military cleansing. Even the very old did

not remember their parents placing stones in trees, or had heard of the custom. The

changes noted by colonialists may have resulted from selective perceptions, noting the

natural demise of impractical customs during the on-going process of social evolution

(Chambers, 1983:42,82-85).

The concept of modernization implies a condition in which outside leaders are

dedicated to the goal of changing the nature of a society (Cohen, 1986:136). There is

no doubt that at this time the colonizers were attempting to instigate change. Culturally

adaptive responses of accommodation and resistance by the Malete mitigated the

pressures and prevented the new from eradicating the old. Culture did change, but

partly in order not to change. With the use of boundary-maintaining and self-correction

mechanisms, life could continue within the traditional cultural setting (Social Science

Research Council, 1953). Concurrently, the seeds of Westernization were planted, some

more firmly that others, but all had the potential of growth.

"Becoming Civilized": 1936 1966

History presents this time period, extending to the time of national independence

in 1966, as one of increasing and marked change. How does the broad, political view

of change compare to the villagers' inside or "emic" view of village life during the period

of "becoming civilized?" This section concentrates on oral histories, which diverge, and

at times disagree, with the written. Such discrepancies are discussed, with a questioning

if change was total acceptance of the new with rejection of the old, or if it was a

modified expression of traditional social attributes.

Structural Growth

Village growth was evident by the late thirties. Assorted shops, numerous homes

and church buildings began to crowd the lands surrounding the kgotla. More and more

people were using the basic health clinic of the Lutheran mission. A second mission was

established on the western outskirts of town by the Roman Catholics. Chief Seboko

Mokgosi paved the way for its acceptance in the village by switching church affiliation.

At the same time, Seboko felt a need to move the tribal headquarters. A new

kgotla was built, about a ten minute walk northeast of the new Catholic mission. Two

round silos for storage of the annual tribute of grain were constructed to the side of the

traditional round court building. The royal cattle corral sat across the large open

courtyard. The corral could be used by anyone in need of a temporary livestock

enclosure. According to custom, it was also to be the burial site of the present and

future chiefs. The traditional design of the kgotla was distorted with the addition of a

new type of building, a square one with glass windows and a corrugated iron roof. The

present chief, Mr. Kelemogile Mokgosi, gives his version for the deviation.

The people were walking to Gaborones quite often to pay taxes
and do the increasing amount of government business. The elders
complained to my father that the distance was to great for the aged and
took too much time from the young. The British were approached and
they agreed to build a office in the kgotla. The British District
Magistrate collected taxes in the square building. There was no problem
in paying taxes. If a person did not have money as he could bring a
lamb or a goat and get the correct change. But, at the same time, local
tax collection signified the end of giving grains to the chief for distribution
to those in need. Our new silos were never used.

Such action was the beginning of political subordination of tribal authority, which was

occurring throughout Botswana in the 1930s (Parson, 1984:22).

Religion and Marriage

Monate and John were one of the first couples to be married at the new kgotla.

Monate, now 73 years old, sprawled herself out on a blue plaid synthetic blanket in her

courtyard to recall the time of her wedding 55 years ago.

I had finished initiation school at the church, which meant it was
time for marriage. My parents arranged a marriage with a man I had
never seen before. That was the way it was done in those days. The
church could not take that away from us. Oh, I was so scared. What if I
did not like him or if he treated me bad? Mother encouraged me to go
nicely, as my name implies. My ancestors assured me all would go well.

The first day of the ceremony, the women of the village collected
me and we walked through the village. I cried out, 'I need a man to
cook and tend house for.' We looked and looked for the man I could
take care of. That afternoon, we gathered at Mother's house. She and
the other married women instructed me on the secrets of marriage. The
next day, John was taken through the village to cry out for a women he
could hunt and provide for. He was then led to the rocks, where he was
told the men's secrets of marriage by other married men. These are such
secrets that we do not tell each other what was said. They can only be
discussed among married Malete women or men.

Monate was hesitant to discuss her Bogadi or bride price. "Gifts were exchanged

so our future children could be claimed by the families in case of our death. Otherwise,

the bride price meant little to us as newlyweds." She stresses that this practice was

strongly condemned by the church, as well as her arranged marriage and the tribal


The chief led the ceremony. It took place at the kgotla. The
wedding was beautiful. We wore fine skins. Many of the others wore
real {western} clothes. Afterwards there were two days of feasting, one
day at my parents' house and the other at his parents' house. Cattle and
goats were slaughtered, with parents getting choice parts to save for later.
It was a long time until wedding ceremonies were held at one of the
churches with children selecting their own husband or wife.

Home Life

The aged are quite aware of the changes in daily life during this era, sometimes

approving and sometimes not. The following informal interplay mirrors the thoughts of

many aged. One morning I hear soft singing coming from inside the crumbling wall

surrounding the compound's courtyard. Inside sits Mogolokwane, or Happy Sound, as

she prefers she prefers to be called when speaking with me. At age 69, she radiates in

the freedom she now has to sit and play with her latest grandson.

I follow the customary greeting, asking how the sun shines upon her today.

There is never a simple answer to this mandatory question. Happy Sound bases her

answer on reflections of her young adulthood.

When I was a young adult, the village was so different. Everyone
plowed and grew food. The men earned money and controlled cattle.
The Malete have always been poor, but the meaning of poverty gradually

changed. Once, everyone had enough to eat. If crops failed, others gave
you food. The law was carried out. If a person was in need for
something, he could ask another and it was given. No tally was kept as
someday the person who gave would be in need and he would be given.
We always gave if we had what was needed. Unfortunately, it became so
that all you could ask for was a little bit of sugar or salt. Now people
ask for money. If I have money, I give part of it.
Once it was good to live in a round house. The children would
gather dung and bring water and I would always be mixing mud to keep
the house looking nice. In the late 1950s the chief gave permission for
people to make four-cornered {square} houses. My children were then
old enough to have their own house. They wanted the modern house
with the tin roof, even though it is very noisy when it rains and is hot as
the wind doesn't flow.
It wasn't just my children who wanted to be modern. I did too.
My mother used to make clay pots. I preferred the iron pots so I did not
learn how to make the clay ones. Now I wish I had clay pots for beer.
Beer was always cool to the tongue in clay pots in contrast to the metal
ones. There were many things my mother did not teach me as she also
preferred the modern new substitutes. Sometimes I must go without, as I
know nothing about wild foods or working with leather. The one thing
elders made sure I learned were the laws about what is right and wrong.
They would beat me, even when I was a young adult, if I disobeyed the

An older relative, passing by the house, stops to see what we are talking about.

She reconfirms the multiple beatings. "People seldom did wrong as they knew the

punishment of pain and shame. The entire village would know that you did wrong."

Wanting to know more, I ask if they ever purposefully went against parent's wishes.

The answer was a loud "NO!" Just for fun I tell them about one of my childhood

escapades. Happy Sound lives up to her name and laughs loudly. Not to be outdone,

she says:

we never went against elders but we had ways of having fun. My mother
wanted me to go to school every day. There were days I did not want to
go so I pretended to have a stomachache. She would take good care of
me in the morning and then I would play. She thought I was a sick child
as I did this many times.

The women giggle. It is the type of laugh that says, "you are right but I will not

say so." One woman becomes more bold, not wanting Happy Sound to become the only