The Tswana’s antiquarian: the life and work of state ethnologist Paul-Lenert Breutz (1912–1999)


  • Jan Boeyens Department of Anthropology & Archaeology, UNISA
  • Fred Morton Department of History, University of Botswana


Ethnologist Dr Paul-Lenert Breutz (Department of Native Affairs, later Bantu Administration and Development, between 1948 and 1977) authored eight volumes on South Africa’s Tswana-speaking communities and many other, less well-known, publications. The oral traditions and histories imbedded in Breutz’s ‘tribes’ series’, as well as in his self-published compendium (1989), have provided a major source for scholars of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Tswana. His methods in compiling this ethnohistorical record have not been understood, and his background, thinking, and professional training have gone unexamined. This study explores Breutz’s views of the world, and of Africans in particular, that were shaped and influenced by a set of racial theories, including anti-Semitism. It also closely examines Breutz’s oral historical accounts, which stand up to close scrutiny and remain essential to the exploration of the early Tswana past. Though Breutz’s mind was skewed by racism, his craft of recording the past was systematic, based on knowledgeable informants he interviewed and guided by the ethnological and language tradition of his doctoral studies at the Hamburg School. Foremost, Breutz was an antiquarian collector of information. Scholars will find wanting some of his interpretations, but they can place confidence in the historical record he carefully recorded.
KEY WORDS: Carl Meinhof, Department of Native Affairs, Ethnologist, Hamitic hypothesis, Hurutshe, Fokeng, Iron Age stonewalling, Oral traditions and histories, N.J. van Warmelo, Paul-Lenert Breutz, Tswana



How to Cite

Boeyens, J., & Morton, F. (2019). The Tswana’s antiquarian: the life and work of state ethnologist Paul-Lenert Breutz (1912–1999). Southern African Humanities, 32, 109–134. Retrieved from