Meet the Queens of Botswana’s Metal Scene

Bontle Sodah Ramotsietsane. Photo: Paul Shiakallis

Of all the places you might think the metal scene is thriving, Botswana probably isn’t one of the first to come to mind. For years now, though, it’s been home to a movement called the Marok, or “rockers,” in the local language of Setswana. South African photographer Paul Shiakallis first heard about it through a friend and a string of documentaries that came out around 2011. When he finally made it there, though, it still surprised him, “as the metal movement has always been Eurocentric and male-dominated,” he told the Cut. “It was quite a culture-shock for me to see African metal heads, and even more so, female African metal heads.”

The women — who call themselves the Queens — really stuck with him, and he started taking their portraits, shooting them in their homes and other warm, casual environments to contrast with the media’s usual coverage of metal as hostile and aggressive. As with any scene, they were involved for a range of reasons — some had been die-hard hair metal fans since age 10, while others simply tagged along to shows with their friends or boyfriends. Still, they all seemed to see the same value in the Marok: a chance at self-expression.

“Black clothes and leathers are shunned and perceived to be satanic,” Shiakallis says, which is why many women only “come out” about being part of the Marok on their Facebook profiles. “It’s the most amazing thing. They’ll have pictures of family and kids, birthday messages and inspirational quotes and then the next post will be of chains, fire and a skeleton pulling the middle finger. They have pictures of themselves in normal clothing, church clothes and then in full leather regalia.”

“You can see that they really enjoy taking pictures of themselves,” he said, but they were wary about Shiakallis photographing them, expressing concern for where the photos would end up. Botswanan society is extremely male-dominated, he added, and he found that the women in relationships were particularly restrained: On a number of occasions, a man would try to prevent a shoot, not wanting “his lover to be photographed, or to even be in the presence of another male — me, the photographer.” Meanwhile, the men in the Marok are “a lot more outspoken, forward and confident,” Shiakallis says, and they court media attention. They dress much more extravagantly, too, which Shiakallis suspects is because their jobs are higher paying and can afford them more prized accoutrements like real leather.

Buying metal-head attire is a challenge for both men and women, though. Just a few decades ago, Botswana was one of the world’s poorest countries, and though it now has one of the fastest-growing economies, living standards are still less than ideal. Shiakallis says he wanted to highlight how much time and money his subjects are willing to spend on “a small underground movement that affords self expression,” as well as a sense of camaraderie. Click through the slideshow to see his portraits.

Meet the Queens of Botswana’s Metal Scene