The ‘Barolong boo Ratshidi’ are one of the group of Tswana peoples, who together form a culturally homogeneous population of over two million. The Barolong themselves number about 75’000 and are one of the southernmost of the Tswana chiefdoms. The international boundary between South Africa and Botswana now divides this formerly united nation into two political communities, the smaller in south-east Botswana and the larger in the northern Cape Province of South Africa where this film was made. After the Union of South Africa was created in 1910 the Barolong were rapidly incorporated into the wider national economy. Soon, most adult males were compelled to enter the migrant labour market and were exposed to the cultural melting pot of the burgeoning industrial cities. Yet, despite rapid change in their social horizons, they were restricted, like other blacks, from any meaningful participation in white urban culture and its political institutions. Not surprisingly cultural change among the Baralong has been markedly uneven and the selective adoption of western forms has been accompanied by a perpetuation of much of their traditional corpus of belief and practice. The cultural diversity is perhaps most dramatically exemplified in the context of ritual and cosmology. The Barolong share the keenness of other black peoples in southern Africa for assimilating elements drawn from the various Christian denominations with which they have made contact. The chiefdom accommodates numerous churches, each comprising a number of individual congregations. Religious organisations here are prone to rapid subdivision, the splinter groups retaining the emphasis upon elaborate ritual and uniform, and upon complicated leadership hierarchies which are found in the parent churches. Leaders in those churches are widely regarded as the educated elite; but while they formally condemn traditional ritual practice, nearly all Barolong continue to conduct their lives in terms of traditional cosmology. Beliefs in sorcery, pollution and ancestral potency flourish, and are expressed in the ritual of most the churches. The film examines Barolong religious syncretism in the context of the modern socio-political predicament. Two main types of religious organisation may be distinguished: the larger churches, whose form approximates that of the original mission church; and the smaller, highly factious groups, whose structure and ritual activities combine American fundamentalism with indigenous practice.
The film attempts to show how seemingly irrational belief and action make sense when viewed in their proper context. The apparently bizarre syncretistic religion of the Barolong can be seen as part of the universal human quest to impose order and meaning upon everyday experience.
Language and subtitles
English (no subtitles)
Religion / Belief / FaithHealth / Health care / Healing