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Global 21 fourth quarter 2015

Spotlight Lesotho of the ‘toughening-up’ process that is seen as a rite of passage to manhood. The silence of the Maluti Mountains is often punctuated by the shepherds’ calls to one another – they can communicate over distances of over a kilometre – as they herd their sheep or goats, throwing stones on either side of the animals to steer them along, and at their dogs to control them. It’s lonely work out in the mountains, but most shepherds live in groups of two or three in basic rondavels called motibos, with the youngest hen-pecked into doing the hardest work. Their animals are kept in an enclosure nearby and normally guarded by dogs from human thieves and jackals alike. Lesotho may not have the flash manner of African giants, but that’s because it isn’t a giant – it’s a largely untapped refuge of African culture and tradition jutting out of a sea of countries that are all competing to out-develop and out-produce one another. That isn’t the way of rural Basotho, who are baffled at why Westerners would want to come to their lands, carrying around heaps of camera and camping equipment, or use cars when there are perfectly good horses to hand. As the rest of Africa vies for attention, Lesotho sits back, wrapped in a colourful woollen blanket, content in its identity. Basotho blankets To visitors, it can seem that no one owns Originally made only for royalty, blankets are now part of everyday life for most Basotho. The inaugural Basotho blanket was presented as a gift to King Moshoeshoe, the founder of the Mountain Kingdom, in 1860. Swapping his traditional leopard-skin kaross for the woollen blanket, Moshoeshoe inspired a nationwide movement, and to this day the blanket is an integral part of Basotho life. Fewer blankets are visible in main cities, where people are more westernised, but even there they make an appearance on holidays. The blankets reflect three classes and are distinguishable by material and fabric, the top-tier blankets made of wool and cotton, the bottom-tier of acrylic. Patterns vary from maize cob or wheat patterns, symbolising prosperity and fertility, to the royal pattern – crowns. Even today, all new patterns must be approved by Lesotho’s royal family. But it isn’t just what they’re made of that can reveal a lot about a person – how they’re worn is important too. Not only do men and women wear blankets differently, but the way that the fabric is draped can reveal to the keen observer whether a woman is married or if she’s had a child, if a father is trying to arrange a marriage for his child, or if a boy has been circumcised. Even in death, you are buried with a blanket so that you may keep warm. In recent years, Lesotho-born designer Thabo Makhetha helped take the trend to the world stage by making a series of women’s capes and jackets from the blankets. the agricultural land of Lesotho, which stretches out without fences or barriers, and indeed none of it is privately owned – rather, the land, including the high-altitude grazing areas, belongs to everybody. Scattered across the Maluti Mountains, and throughout Lesotho’s rural lands, are lone shepherds, or herders, who are almost invariably boys as young as nine years of age, although there are also adult herders who have chosen shepherding as their trade. Dressed in a grey blanket and, often, a balaclava, carrying a short, heavy stick and normally accompanied by a large dog, the adolescent boys can come across as intimidating to the average Westerner. The sticks, which are called mulamu and carefully decorated with brightly coloured strips of wire, are traditional weapons that distinguish the adolescents as ‘young men’ and all men are trained in their use in combat. It is considered a sign of respect for a herder to place their mulamu on the ground when speaking with a stranger. Undertaking a stint as a shepherd is an integral part of Basotho culture and helps instil independence and self-sufficiency in young men, who, in days past, would have been drafted into warrior regiments at the age of 16. Forced to survive on little food and learning to live with hunger is one part global four th quar ter 2015 www.global -br ief ing.org l 27


Global 21 fourth quarter 2015
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