Basotho Heritage Blankets

Lesotho, formerly known as Basutoland (which is derived from the common Sotho language), is a country in the Southern part of Africa. Having the precise geographical location to be completely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa, the country is bound by the Free State to the West and the North, Kwa-Zulu Natal to the east, and Eastern Cape to the South. This situation of the Kingdom gives it the name, The Hostage State. The kingdom of Lesotho is known for its mountains and lowlands. Little wonder it is called The Kingdom in the Sky. The population census is estimated to be over 2million using the figures obtained from the census the last year (2020).

Historically, the country was birthed by Moshoeshoe, 1 (now royal) settler of the land. It is in history that the geographical location of Lesotho was originally inhabited by Bushmen who treaded paths in Southern Africa. The proof of this is in the paintings and drawings of Bushmen by the river gorges. In the 18th and 19th century South Africa had quite a number of tribal wars. This caused some survivors to migrate to safer lands of which Lesotho was among. This brought Moshoeshoe, an African Chief, to lead the settlers in the 19th century. For protection against the Boers who were taking the lands of Basotho, help was sought from Britain. The remaining land yet to be taken by the Boers then became a British Protectorate. Lesotho gained independence in 1966.

The people of Lesotho are called Basotho (singular- Mosotho). For its homogeneous nature, Lesotho has one major ethnic group which has about 99% of the total population of Basotho. This majority ethnic group is the Sotho. The minority on the other hand is the Zulu people of Asian-European. According to the 1998 population census, the Sotho people had a figure of about 2,000,000 with the minor ethnic group having a figure of about 89,000. They speak the Sesotho language and due to the colonization by Britain, have English as the official national language. 

Lesotho is one among several others that are yet to modernize culture. The mannerism of dressing, diet, labour, and festivities remain original. Known for the Rondoval, a hut where families live made of mud and animal dung and a thatched roof. There is also the Khotla which functions as a meeting place for the general purpose (a village square). The Basotho are ones to keep their originality and live by their heritage. This is also shown in the respect still accorded the defendants of Moshoeshoe, the first by the people. 

As to diet, due to the nature of land in the nation, the Basotho have their staple to be cornmeal porridge, that is, pap. This is usually prepared in the 3-stoned fireplace in the household. They have other good things like peas and vegetables to serve as an accompaniment to the porridge. They also consume peaches, hard fruits, and joale (a local beer). On special occasions, chicken is included in the dish. Basically, their diet consists of peas, maize, vegetables, and beans. Beef and chicken remain reserved for special occasions such as funerals and marriage ceremonies.

As for the dressing, the indigenous wear is made of wool. Wool is used because there is an abundance of cattle, goats, and sheep. There is also mohair. Despite the season, the Seanamarena (blanket) is worn. One essential piece of Basotho dress is the blanket made of wool. This act was passed by King Moshoeshoe I. The women, men, children, and adults all wore the Seanamarena. It is a national symbol in Lesotho. Young boys wear boots, wooden caps which are known as balaclavas with the Seanamarena around their neck. The women wear long dresses and skirts with the blanket wrapped around the waist. For special occasions, the traditional wear, Seshoeshoe, is worn. The men simply wear shirts and trousers which can be made from wool and the hat is put on. On special occasions, attire made from wool is worn. There is also the Basotho hat which is known as the Mokorotlo. This is also a national symbol more pronounced than the Seanamarena for it is on the Nation’s flag.

The Basotho people of Lesotho are primarily pastoralists. The vast space of land and the plants gives them the opportunity to indulge in farming and animal husbandry. Unfortunately, in recent times, there has been overgrazing and erosion which has depleted the soil quality and caused the scarcity of grazing fields. There is the cattle pen (kraal) where the cattle are kept. Around the kraal are the rondovals.

In Lesotho, women are actively involved in the labour market. They are involved in most stages of the agricultural processes and homebuilding. While planting and all there is to cultivation are done by women, tending to animals is done by the men. Most activities involving livestock are done by men and boys. Like most African societies that her cattle, young boys at the age of five or six learn to tend to the livestock, and the females are taught the ropes of home building and caretaking. 

Despite the tasks the woman is responsible for, she is still regarded as her husband’s property. Hence, no power or right is enjoyed by the wife. In religious activities though, women have a say. Kinship is patrilineal and endogamy is practiced. Kinship groups are named after animals like crocodiles and bears. As to marriage, bridewealth is paid by the man and the wife becomes the property of the husband.

Basotho are mainly Christians having 80% to be believers. About 10% are traditional worshippers and the rest consist of Muslims. They are known for their folktales and prose poems. There is also the aspect of traditional music, dance, storytelling, moonlight celebrations which involves chants, clapping, and singing. 

YUSUF, Fathia Abolore

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