By Thandiwe Kubere
MASERU – What better ways are there to celebrate the mountains kingdom and His Majesty King Letsie lll than celebrating Basotho’s rich and diverse culture? A country which stands high with so much to offer, with the hand given resources from mother nature- much to its nation’s pride. Deep within the Southern Africa, stands Lesotho with its beautiful mountains.
Basotho have a rich and diverse culture that is definitely worth exploring. One of the unique aspects of Basotho culture is the celebration of traditional holidays and festivals. The month of July brings celebration in the Kingdom of Lesotho- If not the life and legacy of King Letsie III then the nation’s new-year. This month is marked with traditional celebrations and festivities, including music, dance, and cultural performances.
To understand better, it is important to trace back and take a look at the origin and history of Basotho. Lesotho’s southern and eastern mountains including those of Maluti, which were occupied by the San people and their ancestors for thousands of years. This is evidenced by their rock art which edifies the beauty in areas like Butha Buthe. The San lived as semi nomadic hunter-gatherers who eventually migrated south.
Basotho ancestors are believed to have come from the great lakes region of East Africa. They migrated south, and eventually settled in Lesotho. The land, which was previously called Basotholand emerged as a single polity under King Moshoeshoe I in 1822.
Owing to Morena Moshoeshoe l, who brought the nation together and was a great advocate for peace, the royal family has since been on the frontline leading the nation with harmony. Down the generation, towards King Letsie III’s reign, the royal family made efforts to preserve Lesotho and its culture. The family has played a significant role in preserving and promoting the country’s heritage, including its language, music, art, and customs.
One of the ways the royal family conserved Lesotho’s culture and traditions is through the preservation of the country’s national language- Sesotho, advocating that it is a national language which its values should be kept through education. The family and those passionate- deep rooted in culture have influenced and promoted the teaching of proper Sesotho and the culture even in institutions of higher learning. There has also been a preservation of traditional knowledge, such as herbal medicine and traditional healing practices.
The creativity of Basotho culture shines through all aspects of life, not just art and craftsmanship. Basotho can be identified with their fierce and strong cultural identity which is evident with the food and beautifully bright clothing. Music and dance are also a vital part of culture, and they play a central role in both traditional and modern life because they are used for different occasions, including when praying for rain. Traditional music is characterized by a unique style of singing which is either used for celebrating or praying, which is often accompanied by traditional instruments such as the setolo-tolo (a type of mouth bow).
There is also the “Morija Choir” which is well-known because it toured around the globe, sharing the beauty of Basotho music and culture.
When a celebration is on, Basotho show up with ululations coming from all angles and dress up in their elegant Seshoeshoe dresses, making the occasion much more eventful and a one to remember; with different dances of mokhibo, litolobonya, lipina tsa mokopu, mohobelo and many more.
Another aspect of preserving Lesotho’s culture is the continued support of traditional ceremonies and festivals. The promotion of traditional festivals like the Morija Arts and cultural festival, which showcases Lesotho’s cultural heritage through music, dance, and traditional food.
There is no way of talking about Lesotho’s rich heritage without mentioning handicrafts and textiles, such as the famous Sotho blankets. Basotho blankets are more than just a piece of clothing – they are a symbol of culture and identity. Each pattern on the blanket has a specific meaning and tells a story about the history and beliefs of Basotho. There is the diamond pattern that is said to represent the fields where crops are grown, while the cross pattern represents the four corners of the universe. The Basotho blanket is not only worn, but used as a gift token, a symbol of respect, and a form of currency.
The royal family has also been instrumental in the preservation of traditional art forms, such as the famous sand drawings of Lesotho. Basotho have a long history of creative expression, and many different forms of traditional art and craftsmanship. One of the most well-known is the art of making “Litema”, which is a type of mural painting. This art form is used to decorate homes and other buildings, and it often depicts traditional designs, symbols, and scenes from daily life. There is a long tradition of beadwork and weaving, which is used to create jewelry, clothing, and other decorative items.
One of the most important aspects of Basotho culture is the role of the family. The clans and totems are traced back from the family lineage, strengthening one’s feel of their identity. Family plays great importance on the family unit and on kinship ties. It is considered the basic unit of society, and it is common for extended families to live together in the same homestead.
In celebration and acknowledgement of the creativity of the nation, there are places like Thaba-Bosiu cultural village, Morija Museum and more, which showcase traditional Basotho architecture, crafts, and food.