Because of the lack of a trade market for books in Botswana and the fact that we have no dedicated publishers willing to take the risk on publishing books exclusively for a trade market and trying to create a market where one really doesn’t exist, many important books are going unpublished. The most important among these unpublished books, the ones that will have a long term impact on us, are books on our culture, history, and unique aspects of our society. If these books, primarily nonfiction books, are not published a lot of what needs to be documented will be lost forever. This is why I think Metshameko Ya Setso is so important.
Since many of the games that are covered by the book are still routinely played by children in the country, we can think that perhaps that will always be the case, but a quick interview with Batswana children attending posh private schools in the capital might give you pause. As other cultures flood into the country a lax attitude will ensure that Setswana culture will be lost, but recording these intangible aspects of culture in books will ensure that will not happen. The authors Kenneth Tebogo Middleton, Ronald Basimolodi and Kgafela Milan Williams have done an important thing here.
But Metshameko Ya Setso is not a book meant to sit in a library or museum, though I suppose that will happen too. It is instead a book meant to be used by children and their parents and teachers. It is meant to get dog-eared and grubby. It is a guide, a handbook on how the games are played—and then the children are meant to get out there and play the games! The parents too!
It is a gorgeous little book, well laid out with lively photos of children playing the games as well as colourful illustrations. The layout is sensible and easy to follow. Each game is rated on the amount of skill and energy that will be required to play it so that adults can get a good idea if the game chosen is well suited to the children they have in their care. At the back there are even score cards to be filled in while playing the games and then rubbed off and made ready for the next time. Games included in the book include: chama, batho safe, maroundas, Suna Baby, boloi ya ditini, mhele, donkey donkey, koi, skonti ball, diketo, morabaraba, and black mampatile.
Metshameko Ya Setso is a delightful book I would recommend for parents and teachers alike, and would make a lovely gift for any child. Even any adult, I know I am a big fan of playing mhele, and I look forward to learning many of the other games included in the book. My hope is that it will be made widely available. The other problem with our books in Botswana— they can’t be bought because they can’t be found. I hope that will not be the case with this book.
(This column first appeared in It's All Write in Mmegi newspaper on 25 March 2016)