Moroka Moreri is crafting a legacy of massive proportions – to be to Setswana language what Shakespeare is to the English language. ONTAMETSE SUGAR reports.
He is a well-known Setswana oral poet, with numerous poetry books to his name. These are widely used in the school curriculums. Not only is Moroka Moreri world class in poetry, but is an English/Setswana translator of note. Some of the books that he has written are Motlhaolosa, Tshokele, Khuduela, Mmamowe, Sehutwelo and Thotse. His masterpiece Motlhaolola has been prescribed for junior schools, Cambridge and now tertiary institutions.
How it started
With his Setswana eloquence, Moreri has been called upon to help translate Mathematics book for primary schools. He dazzles in his mastery of English and Setswana all the time, even in songs that helps record with local artists. Even though some might think poetry is something he started with from a very young age, he said it was a late discovery among his talents. It took a wedding he attended in Selibe-Phikwe. As part of groomsmen party, upon return to his home village Molepolole they chose sing and dance for the guests. He made a special request – to have someone render a poem.
His first poem
“Everyone laughed at me when I raised that idea and even at the reception I was called for about six times to come and deliver the poem but I refused,” he said. When the master of ceremony had already given up on him performing, he finally relented. He delivered a poem that left many talking about for days. They talked about how good he was. Immediately after that he got an invitation to perform at an independence ceremony and the rest was history. “It is 20 years now since my first poem, and since then I have never stopped. I have recited in almost each and every space and been to countries like Sweden, Scotland and South Africa reciting poems in Setswana,” he said. He is also the man that made reciting poems in funerals acceptable though in the beginning people didn’t like that. Some people have already booked him to perform at their funerals!
One of his greatest inspirations in his craft is one Rabojalwa Keetile whom he has always wanted to be like after hearing him perform. “I got so much inspiration from Molepolole in general,” he said. According to Moreri, when it comes to writing books, he did so after he realised that as Setswana teachers they did not have anything that they can use to teach the students. He then told his students that he wanted to write a book. Even though that made his students laugh, they were surprised to come across his poems when in Cambridge examinations. He is featured in one of Mmereki Marakakgoro’s songs that became a hit and even won awards in the same year it was released. He has recorded albums and written songs with different artists. He has also collaborated with Macmillan South Africa.
He never stops writing, and that is why at the moment he has compiled a CD. He is grateful that poetry has made him live a fulfilled life – he performs at cultural and corporate events, motivates people in Setswana and works with so many companies editing books for them. He does his craft professionally and he has successfully managed to make poetry a commodity. “When I was doing my masters I met lecturers Dr Selome, Mr Jane and Mr Batibo who told me that there is a gap for the commoditisation and professionalisation of poetry, and I took it upon myself to make sure that happens,” he said. He wants to be remembered in Botswana for Setswana language the way Shakespeare is still honoured even right now for his contribution to the English language.
He advocates that artists be given grants to perfect their art. This should start from a very young age. Poetry, he says, should be translated into different signs for those that are living with a disability. Radio stations should not only play poetry on Sundays as if they are hymns. “All poetry is words of wisdom and we recite about anything, so we deserve space anytime during the week,” he insists. He appreciates that he is able to go and perform outside Botswana in Setswana because all people care about is the rhythm and not the language and that is why he has traversed almost every platform even more than the people who do poetry in English.