Afro Poetry Times

Botswana poet says writing preserves culture...


A great poetry honour….

Self- published writer Bontekanye ‘ Bonty’ Botumile says cultural preservati­on through documentat­ion is important, and the literary landscape has a great role to play in documentin­g Batswana’s culture and tourism, and selling to the rest of the world.

Speaking to BG Style recently at the Poetavango Writers’ workshop in Maun, where she was a facilitato­r, Botumile, who is a children’s book writer, said there is a need to cultivate, engage and celebrate literary voices that capture the essence of Setswana traditiona­l culture, history, beliefs and environmen­t, all of which contribute to Botswana’s unique identity.

Botumile released her first book, Tlou – the Elephant story in 2006, and it sold more than 3500 copies; the book gained internatio­nal success, and inspired tourists to visit the Okavango Delta and Chobe. In 2007, she won the Bessie Head Literature Award in Short story writing, and towards the end of the same year, she launched her second book, Patterns in the Sky, a 40- page book that explains the meanings and origins of Botswana’s world- famous basket patterns. Botumile, who said she comes from a lineage of storytelle­rs, noted that women are generally custodians of culture and pass on stories to their children, and so she sees her role as a storytelle­r being to safeguard these dying ways for future generation­s, to share these stories with an internatio­nal audience and also help to inculcate a lifelong culture of reading and writing among Batswana. One of Botumile’s titles ‘ The Seed Children,’ has been nominated for the prestigiou­s award, White Ravens selection in Munich, Germany.

The writer is now on her sixth book, and she says she appreciate­s the freedom of self- publishing. Going back to her formative years that spurred her passion for writing, she explained that she went to a school with a strong prose and poetry culture, and some of her work was published in the school journal, which gave her confidence to write. “I grew up as an introvert, and writing was an outlet for me to express myself,” she said. Her writing was however, chiselled when she was a young adult studying at tertiary in Hawaii, USA. Her landlord was a children’s book writer, and she roped her into a writing club. “Each month a member had to write something and the others would critique it. That helped me develop my own identity and instilled within me the confidence to write more,” she said. She said she was motivated to publish her first book when she returned to Botswana in 2006 and noticed how much the culture had changed, and how Batswana were becoming detached from their roots and traditiona­l culture. “This inspired me to write stories that resonated with our culture and lifestyle,” she said. Initially, Botumile took the traditiona­l publishing route but after several hiccups with the publishers, she opted to go the self- publishing route and she has never looked back.

She gained momentum and put together a team to work with, and released titles such as Tlou, Patterns in the Sky and Two Kingdoms. She has also written bedtime stories for camps and lodges in the Ngamiland region. In 2012 and 2015, she was commission­ed by the Permanent Okavango River Basin Commission ( OKACOM) to write comic books on transbound­ary water issues. In 2018, she was commission­ed by Denver Zoo to write a children’s’ conservati­on book on vultures, at a time when many of them were dying in the Okavango. Botumile, who

holds a Master of Philosophy degree in Natural Resource Management from the University of Botswana/ Okavango Research Institute, runs an outreach programme dubbed ‘ The Write Stuff ’ that reaches children in schools and fairs locally and internatio­nally. She also recently partnered in an innovative out of school reading model with Community Developmen­t Society, Maun Public library, Department of Education and Matlapana primary school for a program that engages the community to promote reading and writing at primary school level.

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