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Global 21 fourth quarter 2015

Spotlight Lesotho A blanket look at Basotho culture The country that rejected an offer to become part of South Africa in 1910 and finally gained independence in 1966 has held its own since the days of King Moshoeshoe I, maintaining a uniquely African culture and establishing traditions that are distinctly Basotho Kate Bystrova Few people know how to pronounce ‘Lesotho’ (le-zoo-too) and fewer still know about the tiny mountain kingdom’s largely unadulterated African culture, which is steeped in unusual traditions and historic milestones. For instance, did you know that Sesotho, or Southern Sotho, was one of the first African languages to develop a written form? As a result there is an extensive collection of Sesotho literature, much of which has been translated into other languages, including books from the likes of Thomas Mokopu Mofolo, who is known as the greatest Basotho author. English is the country’s second official language – dating back to 1868, when Lesotho was a British protectorate needing security from invasion by South Africa – and Zulu and Xhosa are also spoken by a small minority. The Basotho people are proud of their uniquely African heritage, which has remained undiluted by Western influences from the colonial era and by the policy of apartheid in surrounding South Africa. While the architecture of older buildings in main towns like Maseru bear overtones of European influence, also present are the cave drawings of San bushmen and fossilised dinosaur trails dating back millions of years. The lives of Basotho in rural areas, accessible only by foot or, at best, horseback, have remained largely unchanged for generations. To this day, many still reside in traditional villages and the Kome Caves, a collection of dwellings that was built out of mud by Basotho seeking to escape those who had resorted to cannibalism during a drought in the late 18th century. Although Lesotho is 99 per cent Christian, even religious practices have been strongly influenced by traditional beliefs and customs – for instance, the dead are buried in a sitting position facing east, so that they may rise with the sun Cave paintings were left behind by the San, who lived in Lesotho for thousands of years should their descendants need them. The country’s national anthem, Lesotho Fatse la Bonta’ta Rona or Lesotho, Land of our Fathers, similarly emphasises importance of ancestral heritage to Basotho culture. The two holidays celebrated across Lesotho are Independence Day, which is marked by speeches, formal state ceremonies and traditional demonstrations of dance on 4 October, and Moshoeshoe’s Day, which falls on 12 March and is marked by the nation’s schoolchildren who prepare songs and engage in sports competitions in the old king’s honour. Festivals also call for traditional tribal music and dance, which are closely linked to the seasons and the agricultural lifestyle so central to Basotho culture, with traditional instruments comprising the setolotolo, a type of extended jaw harp played by men; the thomo, a string instrument played by women; and the lekolulo, a flute played by herding boys. More than being simple entertainment, certain dances are seen as a rite of passage, with all girls learning to dance litolobonya and all boys mokorotlo; mokhibo is another important dance in which women sing and dance on their knees. When it comes to handiwork, Lesotho’s artistic crafts double up as practical items. Given the abundance of diverse grasses covering the mountain highlands, it’s no wonder that these are the most commonly used materials used by artisans in weaving baskets, floor mats and hats, which are part of the traditional Basotho dress. Pottery, beadwork, and the weaving of mohair carpets and tapestries make up the other prevailing crafts. While Lesotho is rich in precious stones, the Basotho believe that their kingdom’s natural resources are joined to them by spiritual bonds and must therefore be protected. four 26 l www.global -br ief ing.org th quar ter 2015 global


Global 21 fourth quarter 2015
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