The Basotho nation emerged from the accomplished diplomacy of Moshoeshoe 1st, who gathered together disparate clans of Sotho-Tswana origin whom had dispersed across southern Africa in the early nineteenth century. Even so, the majority of Sotho people today live in South Africa, as they have done for centuries.
Basotho women. Guests at the wedding. All dressed in what are modernised versions of the traditional Basotho clothes (Seshoeshoe).
Ntsoana-Tsatsi is believed to be the place of origin of the Sotho/Basotho people. It is both a mythical and
physical place. The mythical aspect of it, as described by Ellenberger (1988) is a place from where the first Sotho people emerged.
They are believed to have come from the ground at Ntsoana-Tsatsi, where there is a lot of water and reeds. The geographical location of this place is believed to be Vrede in the Free State Province of South Africa, according to accounts by informants. It still carries this name and some Sotho people are still found in the area.
Basotho Lebolle initiate girl
Pastoralist Bantu speaking people settled in South Africa in about 200–500 CE. Originating in the vicinity of West and Central Africa, waves of Iron Age immigrants spread across the broad Southern African peninsula, easily displacing the aboriginal Stone Age inhabitants of South Africa. By the 19th century, stable patterns of settlement had emerged. Nguni speaking tribes (primarily Zulu and Xhosa) occupied the east and southern coastal regions, while a series of Sotho kingdoms covered the southern portion of the plateau (Free
The Basotho Village - the "khotla", the gathering place of men
As far back as 1780,Diginswayo chief of Umtetwa , engaged in scheme of subjugating all the independent peoples of the surrounding country on the east of Drakensberg and uniting them under his sole authority (Ellensberger 1912,117). In this way he succeeded in defeating Amakwadini and other people including Amazulu of Senzangakhona. When he died the famous King Shaba took over and fought all the tribes from Delagoa bay to Umzimkulu during the early decade of nineteenth century.
Basotho female initiate coming home
In his attacks Shaka overpowered and subjugated every tribe without regard for age or sex. The tribes fled and threw themselves in turn on tribes weaker than themselves. Among these was Zwide who slew Diginswayo, Shaka attacked Amangwane who lived on the eastern slopes of Drakensberg. These in turn attacked Amahlubi. The Amahlubi fell upon Batlokwa of Mmantstisi, a widow acting as chief for her son Sekonyela. The latter fled westward. The communities attacked by Amangwane,Amahlubi and Mmantatisi were uprooted, and these consequently uprooted others with the result that every inhabitant of what is now Lesotho and the Free State were caught in a struggle for survival. Sanders (1975:29)describe the situation by saying:
Warfare was no longer by cattle raiding in the fields by small group of enterprise warriors\,
but invasion by starving hordes which swept into villages,killing indiscriminately, setting fire
to the huts and seizing both stock and grain. Many fled from the area completely,most of
them taking refuge in the Cape colony. Others survived by hunting and gathering,and became
known as "Makaota" meaning "The Lean Ones." Others,more wretched and degraded still'
turned to horrors of cannibalism, but thousands must have died of starvation and thousand
more were killed in battles."
Basotho women in their traditional blanket dress
This period, roughly 1822-1833 during which various clans of the central plateau of the sub-continent were alternatively invaded and ruined by successive invasions, is known as Lifaqane in Sesotho. Says Ellenberger (1912:117) in defining this concept:
The word Lifaqane is of Setebele origin,and denote state of migration. It is used here as
describing the struggles of the the wandering tribes accompanied by their families,flocks
and herds, as distinct from the expedition of ordinary inter-tribal in which as a rule only
the fighting men took part."
These invasions were precipitated by Mahlubi of Pakalitha;by Amagwane of Matiwane; by the Batlokwa of Mmanthtisi;by the Matebele of Moselekatse; by the Amazulu of Shaka; and the Griquas and Korannans from the west.
It was during this period that the designation Matebele was given to the people living in the east of Drakensberg,namely, the Amazulu,Amaswazi,Amahlubi and others.
The first inhabitant of Lesotho were the people of three small clans from the Tugela, namely, the Maphetla, the Mapolane and the Baphuthi. The Maphetla (Ellenberger 1912:21) previously known as Amatezi of the tribe Amazizi,who were troubled by their more powerful neighbours the Amahlubi, crossed the Drakensberg mountain during or about 1600 on their way to Lesotho. This clan came to be known as Maphetla or "Pioneers' because it was they that opened the way to the "New Country."They were followed later by Mapolane and then Baphuthi.
All with these were minor groups that followed later and were collectively called the Matebele.
Two Basotho men
According to hammond-Tooke (1974:73) these groups were followed by the tribes of Basotho stock,Baphuhting, Makgolokwe, Basia, Batlokwa, Bafokeng,Bakwena,Bahlakwana,Dhoja, Bataung and others. All these tribes lived peacefully and undisturbed until 1822 when the period known as Lifaqane roughly began.
King Moshoeshoe of Basutho land
At the end of Lifaqane by 1833, King Moshoeshoe, then head of Bamokotedi a small remnant of Bakwena, with great wisdom, accepted all stray and diverse people who came to him for protection since 1824.Based at his strong-hold Thaba-Bosiu, Moshoehoe built a strong nation extending his rule, and founding what is today known as Basotho nation (Schapera 1946:59). This is indicative of the philosophy of Moshoeshoe which was "Kgotso e aha setjhaba" meaning "Peace is the mother of Nation" (Sanders 1965:59).
Thaba-Basiu in 1830`s
The Name Basotho
Since eighteenth century (Ellenberger 1912;34) Bapeli were in touch with their neighbours Amaswazis (Swazis). They used to laugh at the breech-cloth of the Bapeli, and the trouble they took to make one ends pass between their legs and join the other two in a knot behind, thinking of their own fashion of "mocha" or "sporann" made of jackals` tails or dressed skins of rock-rabbit, more dignified. So they called the Bapeli, Abashuntu, a derivative of a verb "uku shunta," i'e " to make a knot."
This designation, though bestowed in derision, was adopted with pride by the Bapeli, and other tribes that dressed with similar cloth and that was the origin of the present term Basotho. Professor Thapelo Selepe in an oral communication aver that the term Basotho originates from the word "Sootho" which means "Brown" which refers to ba sootho as "the brown ones" with the elision of one of the vowels, "o" formed a plural noun, Basotho or plural noun Mosotho, to refer to these people.
The prefixes Ba- and Mo- in this sense refers to human beings. Monyane Mathibele from Diepkloof,Soweto also orally explained that the name, Basotho originates from the word,Lesoto, which according to Mabille and Dieterlen (1961:468) means " a leg of tanned skin used to thari on the back of a woman." Since the tanned skin was soft it was also worn by Basotho men as a short loin,Tsheha, to cover their private parts. since the prefix in le in Lesoto inicates that the latter refers to an object, it was necessary to change Lesoto to Mosoto so that the prefix mo- refers to human beings. the word originally pronounced as Mosoto came to be known as Mosotho in singular form and Basotho in plural form. With an element of acceptability in all these theories, it can be said that there is no agreement on Basotho on the origin of the name.
Ellenberger (1912:31) states that Mathulare, daughter of the Bafokeng chief, was married to chief Tabane of Bakgatla, became the mother of the founders of five great tribes viz the Bapeli, the Makgolokwe, the Maphuthing, the Batlokwa and the Basia. These may be called the basotho because they were the first to bear that name.
The term Basotho (cf Matsela and Moletsane 1993:1) is today used to inclusively refer to the people who are the inhabitant of Lesotho. They may be Basotho,Zulu, Xhosa etc. It is also used to refer to people of African origin and ancestry who have accepted Basotho language and culture,irrespective of where they livc, in or outside the boundaries of Lesotho. They may be referred to as Basotho of Qwaqwa, Bloemfontein, Matatiele, KwaZulu-Natal or Gautaung etc.
Ice climbing in Lesotho
The Sotho language, seSotho, is a Bantu language closely related to seTswana. Sotho utilizes click consonants in some words, while sePedi and seTswana do not have clicks. Sotho is spoken in the Kingdom of Lesotho and in South Africa. It is concentrated in the Free State, Gauteng and Eastern Cape Provinces, with small groups of speakers in Namibia and Zambia.
Basotho men in Lesotho
Sotho is 1 of the 11 official languages recognized by the South African Constitution and 7.9% of the South African population uses it as their home language. It is a tonal language governed by the noun, which is split into various classes. It is known as an agglutinating language (a combination of simple word elements to express a specific meaning), with many suffixes and prefixes used in sentence construction causing sound changes.
Basotho boys in stick dance action
It is rich in proverbs, idioms, and special forms of address reserved for elders and in-laws. Currently, Sotho has two spelling systems, one in use in Lesotho and another in South Africa. For example, in Lesotho a common greeting is Khotso, le phela joang? (literally, "Peace, how are you?"). In South Africa, the word joang (how) is written jwang, and khotso is written kgotso.
Sotho was one of the first African languages to become a written language and therefore Sotho literature is extensive. South Sotho is comprised of the Fokeng, Tlokwa, Kwena, Phetla, Phuti, and Pulana dialects or varieties and according to scholars the written form was originally based on the Tlokwa dialect. Today the written language is mostly based on the Kwena and Fokeng dialects, although there are variations. Sesotho was transmuted into writing by the missionaries Casalis and Arbousset of the Paris Evangelical Mission who arrived at Thaba Bosiu in 1833. One of the first novels in a South African language was Chaka, written in Sotho by Thomas Mofolo in the early years of the twentieth century. It is still read today and has been translated into a number of languages.
Basotho boy wearing traditional straw conical hat-mokorotlo
The economy of Basotho people in Lesotho is based on agriculture, livestock, manufacturing, mining, and depends heavily on inflows of workers’ remittances and receipts from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU). The majority of households subsist on farming.
Beautiful waterfall in Lesotho
The formal sector employment consist of mainly the female workers in the apparel sector, the male migrant labor, primarily miners in South Africa for 3 to 9 months and employment in the Government of Lesotho (GOL) . The western lowlands form the main agricultural zone. Almost 50% of the population earn income through informal crop cultivation or animal husbandry with nearly two-thirds of the country's income coming from the agricultural sector.
Basotho women in their traditional dress
Administration of justice is still, in some respects, in the hands of these leaders. In former times, the legal code was based mainly on custom. Sotho descent rules were important, even though descent groups did not form discrete local groups. Clans were often totemic, or bound to specific natural objects or animal species by mystical relationships, sometimes involving taboos and prohibitions. Major Sotho clans included the Lion (Taung), Fish (Tlhaping), Elephant (Tloung), and Crocodile (Kwean) clans.
His Majesty King Letsie III of Basotho land (Lesotho)
Community headmen’s residences were clustered around the chief's residence. Sotho villages sometimes grew into large towns of several thousand people. Farmland was usually outside the village, not adjacent to the homestead.
This village organization may have enabled the Sotho villagers to defend themselves more effectively than they could have with dispersed households, and it probably facilitated control over community headmen and subjects by the chief and his family.
Basotho medicine man
Basotho passage of rites
Sotho villages were also organized into age-sets, or groups of men or women who were close in age. Each age-set had specific responsibilities e.g. men organized for warfare and herding. An entire age-set generally graduated from one task to the next, and the village often celebrated this change with a series of rituals and, in some cases, an initiation ceremony.
Basotho boy inititiates.Boys from circumcision “lodge.” The ochred dog in the foreground serves as a reminder that the uncircumcised are like dogs. Boys are thought to have invisible tails before they are initiated. Dogs, like boys, also undergo a “circumcision.” In their case, a bit of flesh is excised from below their tongues. Neither boys nor dogs are expected to mature if they remain uncircumcised. The boys are wrapped in blankets which symbolize and effect their social transition from boyhood to manhood. One initiate sports a great number of the safety pins which are used to pin the boys’ symbolic blanket-wear together. Another initiate wears a mirror, a common adornment for “graduates”of a circumcision lodge. Circumcision rites are anathema to missionaries who claim that the boys are treated with medicines containing human flesh (obtained through “ritual” or “medicine” murder).
In the past initiations into adulthood were elaborate ceremonies lasting a few months, in which girls and boys were taken separately to the bush in the winter. The boys were circumcised. Increasingly, funerals have become the most elaborate life-cycle rituals.
Basotho boy initiates
The practice of the initiation ceremony for boys that are deemed to be ready to be young men is still an integral part of rural Basotho culture.
Basotho male initiates
Among the Basotho, traditional initiation (Lebollo) has three meanings, which mark achange and a passage to maturity. The first meaning refers to the tapering-off of the umbilical cord from a newly born baby (ngoana o bolotse) that also signifies the end of menstruation for its mother. The umbilical cord is discarded by burying it. This signifies a bond a child has with the soil of its origin. This explains the anger people have should they be removed from their birthplace. Shaving the baby’s head, smearing the floor with mud and slaughtering a sheep for thanksgiving and welcome of the baby into the family celebrate Lebollo. When the baby is shown
a live sheep, Basotho would say, ‘our child we welcome you into the family. This is your sheep, accept it’. The sheep would then be slaughtered and all those women who brought showering gifts and other services for giving birth would be invited for merry-making. It is after this celebration that a baby would be given a name.
Basotho male initiates:Basotho "coming of age" training for boys is conducted by sending groups of boys to secret locations in the mountains with a few "leaders"
As a patriarchal society where traditionally women are expected to respect men at all times and men are the primary if not sole decision makers, it makes sense that the locations of the schools as well as the things learned, discussed and performed at these schools would be kept from the half of the population not able to attend.
For the period od three months or more, they don't bathe. They wear only a red diaper like bottom and a blanket. They don't wear shoes and they cover themselves with a red dyed mud that is supposed to leave their skin healthier than it has ever been.
The second meaning of initiation refers to circumcision at the modern hospital when a boy child or a man goes for genital operation that removes the foreskin at the hospital. Among the Basotho people will always say ‘o bolotse’, meaning that he has been circumcised. There are no ceremonial rituals to mark this type of
procedure since it is not regarded as having anything sacred about it. However, those who have gone through it still feel that it should be treated secretly as though it is the same as the ‘bush’ school circumcision. Because of their rigorous training. Basotho male initiates are very particular about their initiation training and would feel very offended if his father could just enter his room while he was not properly dressed. Those who have attended the ‘bush training’ do not regard those circumcised at the hospital as true initiates. There are still animosities between the initiates and them.
Basotho boy initiates.The circumcised boys sing “praise poems”. Some poems attack a Christian women’s group whose members are thought to be notorious witches who kill initiates.
The third meaning of Lebollo refers to a rite of passage into adulthood of both adolescent boys and girls. It is this type of Lebollo that presents challenges to the rural communities in Lesotho and South Africa. Due to the confidentiality and utmost secrecy of the process, the discussion will not be so much on what is happening during initiation, but what both the graduates from the traditional initiation schools and those who have never attended as well as the society at large, see as being the problems and prospects. The initiates
cannot tell the secret (koma) but were willing to say what happened. This Koma (secrecy) remains a mystery to outsiders.
Basotho boys initiates
Male initiation is more popular than female one. Big celebrations are held at the end of the process at the initiates’ respective homes. Boys go to the mountains and spend many weeks there to be taught about their ancestors, culture, history and important events, behavior, hard-ships, respect, accountability, family issues, solving family conflicts and diseases.
Boys coming out of initiation school
Initiation school secrets are taught and discussed as older wiser men act as mentors to the younger generation so as to continue this tradition. These young men dressed in traditional Basotho attire, have made themselves famous for the beautiful, distinct songs that they sing when they return from the mountains. They are expected to be ambassadors who are proud of their heritage.
Basotho girl initiates.Girls from initiation performing fertility rites. The girls’ veils are burned when the rites come to an end. The girls’ breasts are wrapped in thick grass ropes (concealed by blankets ).
.For women it is not such a big occasion except among the Matebele clan. With the coming of Western civilisation Lebollo got pushed aside as an educational institution. Its richness got sacrificed and substituted.
Basotho girls initiates
Girls from initiation. They hold reeds symbolizing the belief that the Basotho had their genesis in a reed bed. They wear cowskin skirts because the cow, which was at the basis of their traditional culture, is “the Basotho’s mother”.
Basotho initiated girls
The inflated gall bladder (in the hair ) is for good luck. The animal fat around their necks comes from the reproductive organs of the stock which has been sacrificed for their initiation. It enhances their fertility.However, currently the trend seems to have changed. More boys are again leaving school and joining Lebollo.
Basotho girl initiates.Initiated girls eating. This is during a stage of their initiation when they go about smeared with white clay.
Basotho girl initiates.Touring the countryside after the rites have come to an end.
Seated initiates in circular formation with their feet coming together in the center, initiation paint visible on their legs
Basotho girl initiates. Girls from initiation performing fertility rites. The girls’ veils are burned when the rites come to an end. The girls’ breasts are wrapped in thick grass ropes (concealed by blankets ).
The Supreme Being that the Sotho people believe in is most commonly referred to as Modimo. Modimo is approached through the spirits of one's ancestors, the balimo, who are honored at ritual feasts. Theologian Klaus Nürnberger (1975) contends the God of the Sotho people did not communicate with them in any way or require of them any action or acknowledgement of his existence.
Basotho Ngaka - The Chief's advisor who is the bone man - Traditional healer or Witchdoctor who reads your future through the bones
between God and the Sotho people (Nürnberger 1975). However, Sotho people have beliefs and practices that acknowledge other deities known as ancestral spirits. Ancestral spirits are spirits of Sotho men who have died. Each spirit is remembered and acknowledged by the family members as senior in rank, to be recognized as an ancestor, through ritual and practice (Nürnberger 1975). Each community had its traditional herbalist healers called Ngaka in Sesotho. They functioned as shamans, spiritual counselors and protectors against evil spirits and magic.
The ancestral spirit has the power to affect the lives of his family in either a negative or positive way depending on their acknowledgement of him through ritual and practice. It is, as Nürnberger (1975: 177) puts it, the responsibility of the family to perform sacrifices and the pouring of traditional beer as a means of acknowledging and recognizing the ancestor and their superior. These acts serve to appease the ancestor so that he will not act against them by causing problems for them such as drought amongst others, the ancestor will instead bless the family and keep them from harm (Nürnberger 1975). He points out, and I agree, that ancestral spirits rely on their descendants for survival because they are only remembered if there are
people alive to acknowledge their presence through ritual (Nürnberger 1975: 177).
In cases where ill fate has befallen the family, diviners or traditional doctors serve as a link between them and their ancestors to discover the cause of such problems. The diviner will then offer instructions, from the ancestral spirits, on how to proceed to restore that which was lost.
People contact their ancestor through diviners for various reasons; it can be to acknowledge, seek blessings, and give thanks and so on. According to Bishop of the Catholic Church of Johannesburg, Buti Thlagale (2006: 2) ancestral spirits were praised and celebrated communally and played the role of regulating morality and protecting their descendants. The very nature of Sotho beliefs and religion is what made it easy for the transition to Christianity by many at its introduction in the nineteenth century, at the arrival of the French
missionaries in Lesotho (de Clark 2000). King Moshoeshoe welcomed the missionaries, he and his people learnt about Christianity from them and many were converted and became church members. “… Casalis, Gosselin and Arbousset founded the mission which was to become the pride of their society, …” (de Clark 2000: 5). The introduction of Christianity brought immense change to the Sotho society. The role of the diviner was taken over by the priest or pastor with the recognition of God as more than a distant deity, but a God who involves himself in their lives and they interact daily with him. They also began to interact with God and to acknowledge him through church attendance and prayer amongst other actions. The introduction of Jesus Christ as both man and God was not difficult for the Sotho to comprehend as the ancestral spirits have a similar role; therefore the transition was not overly challenging (Quinlan 1988).
In Sotho tradition, the man is considered the head of the household. Women are defined as farmers and bearers of children. Polygymous marriages (more than one wife) are not uncommon among the elite, but they are rare among commoners.
Marriages are arranged by transfer of bohadi (bride wealth) from the family of the groom to the family of the bride. In Sotho, the words for father (ntate) and mother (mme) are used commonly as address forms of respect for one's elders. The general attitude toward childhood is well summarized by the proverb Lefura la ngwana ke ho rungwa, which roughly translates as "Children benefit from serving their elders."
At the heart of the Basotho tradition and culture is music and dance. They have always been an inextricable part of Basotho life. Countless rituals and social activities are accompanied by song, dance and ululation.
The three dances; the mohobelo, litolobonya, and the mokhibo are performed regularly. On special occasions, to honour their chief, the men performed the mohobelo. The Basotho, like their fellows the Zulus, the Xhosa and Tswana, love to sing! The African Spirituals of the deep South, and the natural harmonies of the African in his own habitat, share a bond, indicating a common heritage intensified by the deep felt religious convictions of the African folk at heart.
Basotho men stick Dance
They sing of their honoured founder, Moshoeshoe; they sing well-loved hymns from their wide repertoire, they sing in English and in Latin, as well as in their sister languages, Tswana and Xhosa and of course in their own Lesotho tongue.
Lesotho women performing a traditional dance
A traditional dance performed by Basotho women highlighting the vast culture and diversity in Lesotho.Basotho Hat-Mokoroklo
The distinctive shape of traditional Basotho hats are thought to be based on the shape of a mountain, Thaba Tseka, visible from the capital of the landlocked nation.
It is such a vital symbol of Basotho identity that is has been incorporated in silhouette into the national flag. This hat is an older example, finely crafted in the time worn tradition. It is somewhat warped from age but far from detracting it adds to it's curvilinear appeal inviting the viewer to see it from all angles.
The Basotho people historically lived in a broad area that encompasses much of South Africa's Free State province and also the independent kingdom of Lesotho. Urbanisation and migrant labour have ensured that you will now often hear the Sotho language spoken in Gauteng. In its traditional heartland Basotho cooking reflects the agricultural and culinary demands of cold winters and mountainous terrain. There is a culture of vegetable preservation and many Basotho dishes are infused by the intense flavours of sun dried vegetables known as mangangajane.
BaSotho lady cooking vetkoek
There is a Basotho food preference for a fermented flavour which is a taste that can be confusing and disconcerting for the uninitiated palate but is well worth acquiring. Sorghum, millet and maize are ground, made into a polenta-like porridge dish which when fermented. This porridge has a yoghurt-like flavour and is known as ting. Steamed dumplings made with fermented maize meal are known as leqebekoane and are commonly added to stews.
Meat is luxury item but Basotho celebrations are commonly accompanied by braised oxtail which is traditionally served with dumplings, morogo-dried vegetable melanges and beetroot salad. Herd boys watching sheep and cattle catch wild game and rabbits to sustain themselves during their long mountain sojourns.
Those wishing to taste Basotho cooking in Pretoria should try Kwazi which makes a heavenly ting or Janicky's Place in Atteridgeville township which has moatwana chicken foot stew and mqombothi beer. In Bloemfontein try Buck Molakedi's Bush Pub for sechu sa khoho chicken stew. It all goes well with beer and good company which are always on the menu. When in Ladybrand Alida Bikane Catering and Tavern in Manyatseng township offers a delicious introduction to Basotho hospitality
King Moshoeshoe I of Lesotho, "Africa's greatest leader"
He stood up against the Zulu, gained several battles against the European invaders and managed to create a Basotho state that escaped incorporation in racist South Africa. Lesotho's first king, Moshoeshoe I, is often called "Africa's greatest leader" in the early 19th century.
In midst of fire stood the Basotho people. Loosely organised in chieftaincies and committed to agriculture and herding, the Basotho had few traditions of warship and centralised power. Now, their lands became flooded by refugees from the Zulu expansion, and a Zulu attack seemed imminent.
In such a pressured situation, the Basotho were luckier than many of their neighbour peoples, that were easily subdued by the Boer, British, Zulus and peoples taking up Shaka Zulu's ingenious war techniques. The Basotho found a leader in the skillful chief Moshoeshoe and a refuge in the natural fortress of the Maluti Mountains of today's Lesotho.
But who was Moshoeshoe, and how did he manage to unite the Basotho and resist the invaders?
He was also known as Moshesh, Mosheshwe or Mshweshwe. His name was allegedly changed from Lepoqo after a successful raid in which he had sheared the beards of his victims – the word ‘Moshoeshoe’ represented the sound of the shearing. Born about 1786 as the son of a minor chief of the Bamokoteli sub-clan, Moshoeshoe is said to have stood out as "very brave" already in his young years, thus attracting followers in these troubled times.
While his youthful bravery may be considered later developed myths to praise a great leader, it remains more certain that Moshoeshoe took a leading role in providing shelter to the many Basotho and other refugees falling victim to the Zulu wars. Contrary to the most powerful Basotho leaders of his youth, living in the fertile but difficult to defend plains of today's Free State (South Africa), Moshoeshoe had settled in the highlands of today's Lesotho.
Since around 1820, he ruled from Thaba Bosiu, a natural fortress on a large flat-top mountain with plentiful access to water and pastures, which proved almost impossible to take by attackers. In the lowlands, meanwhile, entire landscapes were burned, plundered and depopulated. Moshoeshoe granted shelter, land and food to Basotho refugees and war victims from other peoples.
But also other, more powerful, Sotho chiefs had gathered their people in mountain fortresses. Moshoeshoe's success came through diplomacy and good tactics. He was not shy to pay tributes to stronger leaders and in this way even managed to halt Shaka Zulu's planned attack on Thaba Bosiu. The Zulu leader instead attacked other Sotho chiefs. Also, Moshoeshoe wisely kept out of the rivalry between Sotho leaders, whose infighting continuously weakened them and eventually left them open to foreign attacks.
In the end, Moshoeshoe provided the safest shelter to the Basotho and other refugees. By now popularly known as the "Chief of the Mountain", other chiefs rallied behind him and the population of his lands grew rapidly. With every new refugee and chief swearing loyalty, also his wealth grew, as all cattle by custom were owned by the chief. These cattle - which thus were the measure of wealth could again be used to feed the people and to be used as payment in diplomatic advances.
Not many confirmed details of Moshoeshoe's early life are known. The best sources for this time are the books and notes by Eugène Casalis, a missionary from the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society who was brought to Lesotho by Moshoeshoe himself in 1833.
Moshoeshoe had been told about the benefits missionaries could have for other African peoples. He was in particular interested in learning about establishing diplomatic ties with the Europeans, education in European skills, but also access to firearms. Thus, he sent a mission to Cape Town, carrying 100 cattle as a present, seeking contact with European missionaries.
Mr Casalis, who had recently arrived the Cape on his society's first-ever missionary mission, gladly took up on the invitation. The French missionary was to play an important role in the consolidation of Moshoeshoe's new kingdom, for a long time acting as Lesotho's "foreign minister".
The missionary describes Moshoeshoe as having "an agreeable and interesting countenance, his deportment is noble and dignified, and a benevolent smile plays upon his lips." According to Mr Casalis, he and his French followers were "greeted with the greatest demonstrations of joy" by the Basotho when they arrived Moshoeshoe's village.
King Moshoehoe I and his ministers
King Moshoeshoe gave the missionary a brief description of the recent history of the Basotho. Mr Casalis reports:
"At the time of Moshesh's [Moshoeshoe's] birth, the country of the Basotho was extremely populous. Disputes arose from time to time, but generally little blood was shed. The green pastures of Butobute, Moshesh's home, and the steep hills where he and his companions hunted, are still celebrated in the national songs of the Basotho. At the moment when it was least expected, these favourite sports [hunting] were suddenly interrupted by disastrous invasions from Natal. Desolation was carried into the peaceful valleys of Lesotho, fields remained uncultivated, and the horrors of famine were added to those of war. Moshesh breasted the stream. Being of a very observant disposition, he knew how to resist and how to yield at the right moment; procured himself allies, even among the invaders of his territory; set his enemies at variance with each other, and by various acts of kindness secured the respect of those even who had sworn his ruin."
By the mid-1820s, most of the Basotho's most fertile mainlands were ravaged by war. The Zulus and other groups such as the Ndebele started focusing on the last Basotho place of resistance, Moshoeshoe's mountain kingdom. But Thaba Bosiu proved an impregnable fortress, and Moshoeshoe proved a superb diplomat. Not only did he manage to put one enemy up against the other, he also managed to get sympathy among his main enemies.
Mr Casalis describes Moshoeshoe's diplomatic skills during one of the most dramatic attacks on his stronghold, by the Ndebele chief Mzilikazi in 1831:
"Accustomed to victory, the Zulus advanced in serried ranks, not appearing to notice the masses of basalt which came rolling down with a tremendous noise from the top of the mountain. But soon there was a general crush - an avalanche of stones and a shower of spears, which sent back the assailants with more rapidity than they had advanced. The chiefs who were seen rallying the fugitives, and snatching away the plumes with which their heads were decorated, and trampling them under foot in a rage, led their men again towards the formidable rampart. But in vain. The next day the Zulus retired. At the moment of their departure a Mosotho, driving some fat oxen, stopped before the first ranks, and gave this message. 'Moshesh salutes you. Supposing that hunger had brought you into this country, he sends you these cattle, that you may eat them on your way home.' Moshesh was never troubled by these people again."
Indeed, the Ndebele - an Ngoni group fled from the Zulu, taking up their war techniques and themselves becoming invaders - gave up any attempt to settle in this region. They went on a longer trek northwards, in 1838 attacking the Shona in modern Zimbabwe and establishing a kingdom around modern Bulawayo, nowadays called Matabeleland.
Moshoeshoe's success in halting the powerful Zulu and Ndebele armies is impressive having in mind that Thaba Bosiu remained a small society. Historians hold that his followers in 1833 only counted around 25.000, growing to an estimated 80.000 in 1848, and that Moshoeshoe did not have a standing army. The Basotho joined in voluntary defensive operations to stop the invaders and were not trained in attacking the enemy.
Masotho warrior, as captured by Eugène Casalis in the 1830s
Having rejected many Zulu attacks, Moshoeshoe soon was to meet an even greater threat, the Boers. These European settlers, seeking freedom from the steadily more organised British colonial authority in Cape Town, started on their "Great Treck" into the Southern African hinterland in 1836. They were to occupy all good lands from Orange River up to modern Zimbabwe, also the most fertile lands of the Basotho.
The first meeting with the Boers was peaceful. Arriving the - by now - more sparsely populated Sotho lowlands, the Europeans asked Moshoeshoe for permission to graze while moving through the landscape. The King gave his approval.
But soon, the numbers of Europeans increased, and some started to settle on Sotho lands. As Moshoeshoe reminded them of the temporary grazing permission given, the Boers, now stronger through numbers, claimed the lands had been found deserted, giving them the rights to settle freely. Thus, a series of hostilities broke out.
Moshoeshoe meanwhile had strengthened his position as the King of the Basotho. The missionaries had brought new crops and farming methods to Lesotho and also taught the King modern principles of administration. On the military front, he was able to purchase larger amounts of firearms. Still an excellent diplomat, Moshoeshoe enlarged his skills by Mr Casalis' knowledge of European diplomacy and languages.
This proved key to success, as Lesotho at several crossroads managed to take advantage of the conflict between the Boer settlers and the British Cape Colony. A British-Basotho border treaty helped Moshoeshoe oust many Boer settlers from his lands. Moshoeshoe had the upper hand in the many smaller armed conflicts with the Boers in the 1840s.
In the 1850s, the Basotho army on three occasions even defeated troops from the British colonial regime, while high level diplomacy saved Lesotho from a greater British attack.
The most challenging series of conflicts however started in 1858, as the Boers of the region had already established the independent Orange Free State on the northern borders of Lesotho. Moshoeshoe managed to defend Lesotho and even raid Boer lands in the 1858 war.
But in the 1860s, the Boer state was growing stronger and war luck turned. While the Boers never managed to take Moshoeshoe's stronghold at Thaba Bosiu, the Basotho king had to ask the British Empire for help in both 1866 and 1868.
During these British-led peace negotiations, Moshoeshoe had to cede Lesotho's most fertile territories - most of the lowlands - to the Orange Free State, and the modern boundaries of Lesotho were shaped. Also, in 1868, and faced with a Boer annexation, Moshoeshoe asked Queen Victoria for help and protection, agreeing to his kingdom becoming a British protectorate.
While this may have seemed a capitulation of Lesotho's independence to the British Empire, indeed it secured the kingdom's long-term survival. Moshoeshoe had avoided annexation by the Boer states, and after he died in 1870, his successors victoriously continued the fight against being annexed by the arising state of South Africa. Through the lasting institute of a British crown colony, Lesotho did survive as an autonomous kingdom and avoided the experience of apartheid. In 1966, the Basotho thus regained their complete independence.
Among historians, Moshoeshoe is recognised as one of Africa's greatest leaders of his time, able to react decisively to extremely challenging conditions. Not only is he the nation-builder of the Basotho people, but he managed to protect his people against much stronger enemies and create the institutions needed to consolidate his new kingdom. Moshoeshoe's wisdom and diplomatic skills secured Lesotho's long-term independence from the emerging strong Boer nation.
Among the Basotho, King Moshoeshoe is almost a mythical figure and a source of lasting pride. His death is still commemorated on 11 March every year, a national holiday. And his dynasty is still in power in its Maseru palace, now as a constitutional monarchy very much available to the Basotho people.
Grave of Moshoeshoe in Thaba Bosiu
Moshoeshoe is buried at his ancient stronghold of Thaba Bosiu, in a breathtaking mountainous area that lets the visitor imagine how the king was able to defend his people against the many enemy armies. The royal graves today are a popular excursion destination and a good starting point for trekking in Lesotho's mountains.
Sources: E. Casalis (Les Bassoutos, 1859), D. Denoon & B. Nyeko (Southern Africa since 1800, 1992), R. Oliver & A. Atmore (Africa since 1800, 1981), J. Simensen (Afrikas historie, 1996), among others.
The History of the Basotho traditional blanket
Basotho man wearing an awesome cap of an animal skin
BASOTHO AND INTERPRETATION OF NAMES
Naming in Sesotho is both a cultural and linguistic phenomenon (Mohome
1972: 171). The meaning attached to names by Basotho, plays a significant role
in the definition of "personhood", because it is believed that a given name does
not only serve as an identity but also determines the type of person the
individual will be. Names are believed to have influence on the character of the
bearer. There is a proverb that refers to the influence of names on character:
Bitso lebe keseromo (literally, "a bad name is ominous"). Thus the names given
to individuals refer to historical events, experiences, emotions, status relations,
clan and kinship relations, as well as authority. Ashton (1967: 32) has noted that
among Basotho, names are seldom chosen at random and usually recall a
grandfather or other important relation. Sometimes they commemorate an
important or unusual event or personage.
Naming a child after kinsmen serves a religious (Monnig 1967: 338),
political, and social function. Mohome posits that the system among Basotho of
naming children after their paternal or maternal relatives serves to perpetuate the
names of ancestors, and it brings grandparents and grandchildren closer to one
another. Alternate generations of grandparents and grandchildren are linked
together. It is also believed that the child so-named will inherit the virtues of his
grandparents. Religiously, to honour ancestral forces for their influence upon the
living, a child is named after one of them.
Setiloane (1975: 34) notes that among Basotho "children are a gift of
badimo" (ancestors). Failure to conceive is attributed primarily to the disfavour
of badimo. Thus a child who has been born a long period after the mother has
been married is named Mpho (gift), Keneiloe (I have been given), and
Kelebogile (I am grateful). This ancestral relationship is also epitomized by such
personal names as Oatile or Oagile (the household has been firmly built). And
when an elderly relative has recently died and a child of the same sex is born, it
may be said Oboile mo tseleng (he has returned on the road) and is named
Tebello (expectation). And a child who has been born after a long period of
childless marriage or successive miscarriages, the event of a healthy birth is
celebrated by names such as Rethabile (Felicity), Lesebo (a gift from ancestors),
Keneuoe (for a girl).
The ideological construction of the role of Malome (Uncle) as a potential
political supporter in succession disputes among Basotho-Tswana agnatic
lineages is well documented in anthropology (cf. Casalis 1861, Junod 1927, Lye
& Murray 1980). Junod observed, "the tendency of the Sotho system seems to
be to lessen the differences existing in other tribes between the father's family
and the mother's family" (quoted in Lye & Murray 1980: 116). The father's
relatives and mother's relatives are often not distinguished in practice. In order
to foster this affinal relationship and the obligations associated with it, siblings,
junior sons and daughters may also be named after their maternal kinsmen. It
should be noted, however, that not every agnatic child is named after the
ancestor, nor is it implied that siblings are by rule, customarily named after their
maternal kinsmen. Cross-cousin matrilateral marriages are encouraged to further
galvanize the political alliance between different agnatic families (Ashton 1967:
32; Lye & Murray 1980: 119). Often an elder child is called by his/her mother's
marriage name (this is discussed below).
Basotho girl initiates
Children can also be named after a prominent or famous person, or a
neighbour, or after a midwife if the child is a girl (Mohome 1972: 172; Ashton
1967). Names of prominent persons include those of former Basotho chiefs,
names such as Letsie, Seeiso, Bereng, Masopha, and Molapo. These are found
mainly in the Moshoeshoe family who constitute the chieftaincy of Basotho. For
instance, Masopha, the son of the king and founder of Basotho nation,
Moshoeshoe, is commonly given to Basotho boys. For Basotho the name
Masopha epitomised a significant historical personality, since Moshoeshoe was
a daring and courageous general commanding the Basotho army against land
invasion by white settlers during the latter half of the 18th century. Masopha's
legend is also allegorized in songs and poetry sung and recited during male
initiation rituals such as mokorotlo (initiation ritual dance).
Sometimes names are derived from non-relatives, names that are also
associated with significant historical events at international and regional levels.
For instance, Keisara (kaiser), Tjotje (King George), Jeremane (German), Setene
(Steyn), a Boer leader during the Anglo-Boer war) Prominent British
administrators such as Griffith and Lugden have been commemorated in some
of Moshoeshoe's leading descendants. Some names reflect the separation of the
family members from the head of the household owing to migratory labour to
the South African mines. A child born during the father's absence may be named
Join (father 'joined' the mine recruits"), Jubilee (named after the Diamond
Jubilee of 1897 or Silver Jubilee of 1935) (Ashton, 1967). These names of
prominent people and historical events were formerly used in estimating the
ages of their bearers who, in most cases, may be illiterate and without birth
records. Ideally to the individual they may serve to promote a positive selfimage as one was born during an important event and a critical period in
Similarly, to name children after events may serve psychological and
emotional needs of the society or family. When the birth of a boy coincides with
a calamity that has befallen a family, he is named Kotsi (danger or accident) or
Tsietsi (accident), during an invasion of locusts that have destroyed planted
crops the names Tsie (locust), Sehlolo (disaster) may be used for boys. Often
people will refer to an event whenever one asks for their dates of birth. It could
be said that naming after events serves as a "recording" system. Therefore,
individuals embody the meaning associated with their names and in the process
try to live up to the expected behaviour or personage that is dedicated to the
name. Some individuals go to the extent of asking elders about the chronicle
associated with their name and compose poetic recitals around the name. This
ingenious skill is well demonstrated in the compositions of initiation school
poetry called Lithoko and during mokorotlo (traditional male dance) by male
initiates and elders respectively. Guma held that:
It is also true ... that individual deeds of bravery on the part of a youth,
who did not yet belong to an established military regiment, could and did
result in such a one composing praises for himself on the basis of his
manly deeds. (1983: 152).
A classical example here is that of Lepoqo who, as a youth, defeated the elderly
Ramonaheng and then praised himself as follows:
Ke nna Moshweshwe Moshwashwaila waha Kadi;
Lebeola le beotseng Ramonaheng ditedu;
Le ho hola ha di eso hole,
Di ya sala di hola maisao.
I am Moshweshwe, the barber of Kadi's house,
The barber who shaved Ramonaheng's beard.
It has not even grown yet,
It will remain growing in years to come.
(Guma 1983: 152)
It can be noted from this praise that the first thing that the reciter mentions is his
name, as if introducing himself to the gathering. This name may be his real
name or one that he has acquired or coined for himself on the basis of his deeds.
Guma goes on to illustrate that the name of the individual is expanded,
elaborated, and interesting anecdotes about "the self" given. Through this self
praise-poem the individual's entire life history is thus told in a broad outline.
Those who know him may also fill in the various details about their own
understanding of his personhood/personage. Here the reciter may refer, for
instance to the build and personal appearance of the individual he is praising as
Kerefese ha ho motho a teng,
Le ka mahlo o ka mo thola hodimo
”Griffith is a very short person,
One can easily overlook him “ (1983: 154)
There are a series of names that also represent the socio-cultural, lived-in
experience. Names may denote repeated death in the same family, especially
that of children. Here the child may be presented with a name that is expected to
have an opposite (meaning) result from the literal meaning of the given name.
These are usually derived from nonhuman phenomena such as animals. From
animals such as Polomashwashe (alligator) the name Polo for a boy may be
derived, and from Moselantja (dog), Moselantja (dog's tail) is used to name a
girl. This expression of lived-in experience through nature is extended to names
denoting an unusual birth place; delayed birth; children born out of wedlock and
those of uncertain paternity; denoting patience, endurance or perseverance;
names referring to social disharmony such as in Lekgotla (court of law);
problems or dissatisfaction with the bride-wealth or marriage; and those names
which refer to personal qualities. These are some of the social experiences
which are embedded in special names that are given to a child depending on
what sex the child is.
The naming of twins falls also under this category. Twins are usually called
by the same name, which in most cases reflects the cause of joy and anxiety
(Ashton 1967: 33; Mohome 1972: 178). They are regarded as a special gift from
the ancestors. The birth of twins is believed to be an indication of fortune and
blessings endowed by ancestors upon the parents. On the other hand, twins are
believed to be delicate and this results in anxiety among parents, as they are not
expected to reach adult age without one or the other dying. To insure their
survival, rituals, taboos are held and observed respectively. Not only is the
mother looked after by the father and next of kin, it is also customary to do
everything twofold to insure that the life of the twins will be sustained. For
identical twins, the name of the twin delivered last is always in the diminutive
form: names such as Mosemodi-Mosemotsane (legendary, meaning obscure) for
girls or Masilo-Masilonyane (legendary in folktales, meaning obscure). Among
fraternal twins, names indicate the sex rather than order of birth. Here we find
names such as Tabo (joy) a boy, and Thabang (be happy) for a girl; Tshepo
(trust, hope) boy and Tshepiso (promise) for the girl, among others.
The arrival of missionaries during the 1800s in Basutoland led to
fundamental transformations in Basotho social life and worldview. The primary
objective of the missionaries was to convert Basotho to Christianity. The
number of chiefs who were converted at the time could evaluate an assessment
of the impact of missionaries; the introduction of formal education; and by the
number of publications and literary accounts by indigenous Sotho writers whose
works are still read today. Concomitant to conversion was the introduction of
"Christian" names among those who were baptised in the church and to pupils
attending missionary schools. Children were given names derived from the
Bible to denote their newly acquired status, English names were also used in this
fashion particularly for those who had to go and work for European settler
families. They eventually adopted English names as second names in order to
avoid the derogatory modes of address so often used by Europeans at the time
such as "Sixpence" "Jim" or "Mary" (Ashton 1967).
The adoption of English names as consistent with Christianity was another
ploy by which missionaries divided Basotho society between "Converts" and
"Non-Converts" (Majake le Majakane). The sons of those chiefs who accepted
conversion were baptised with names such as "Nehemiah", "Jeremiah" among
others. There was, of course resistance from other Chiefs who refused to be
converted and were against the use of English names arguing that these names
were associated with foreign domination and submission to a European god (cf.
Setiloane 1976: 130). Nevertheless, English names became identified with being
a Christian; being civilized, being a smart and proper thing to have; and a mark
of alteration in status (Ashton 1967: 32; Guma 1983: 185). Alongside
Christianity, the adoption of European names by Basotho entrenched European
cultural hegemony, further subordinating their cultural traditions to that of
4. TEKNONYMS AND TLHOMPHO CUSTOM
The use of teknonymous names and the Tlhompho custom are associated with
the marriage institution in Sotho society. Kunene (1958: 159) holds that "the
expression ho Tlhompho includes among its meanings, "to respect, to honour".
It is often used to refer to a custom whereby respect is shown in a conventional
manner to elders, authorities, senior relatives, in-laws, senior clan members
among others, in the social life of Southern Sotho. But more specifically
Tlhompho refers to particular forms of behaviour in which a newly wed is
expected "to avoid certain words" pertaining to the in-laws' household. It is
taboo for a married woman to address her father-in-law by his first name, while
the same holds for the mother-in-law in relation to her son-in-law’s name and
vice versa. Thus she must respect and avoid (Tlhompho) the personal name of
her father-in-law and of his kinsmen in that category or status authority and
must call him by a special name (Ashton 1967: 76). In brief, teknonymous
names and the Tlhompho customary names serve to address or refer to a person
by using the name of his or her child; they establish avoidance rules between
affinal relationships by substituting the personal name with a given name or kin
term. Finally, they serve to avoid certain words that are related or associated
with the father-in-law's personal name and types of enjoined behaviour.
Among Basotho, marriage gives both men and women a new status in society
with concomitant rights and privileges (Ashton 1967). Added to this is the new
relationship that incorporates both the couple and their families. Within this
relationship, a new bride is usually given a teknonymous name so that the inlaws avoid addressing her or referring to her by her maiden name (Mohome
1972: 181). The husband is expected to call her by this name particularly among
kin members or in public. Sometimes the name becomes permanent as her
firstborn is usually given a name that will match her teknonymous name. If, for
example, she is named Mmatshepo, her child, if it is a boy, may be named
Tshepo (trust). For a girl the name is dropped for one that is suitable for a girl
such as Tshepiso (promise). Since Basotho are a patrilineal society, the majority
of teknonymous names given to new brides are based on boy's names.
Similarly, when the woman gives birth to her first child, she is now referred
to as "Mother of so-and-so", as in Mme wa Pule, and her husband "Father of soand-so", as in Ntate wa Pule (literally father of Pule). The other construction in
which the prefix=s Ra- and Mma- are affixed to the name of the child, for
example Rapule or Mmapule have no equivalent in English, though Mohome
(1972: 181) suggests that the similarity could be derived from Irish names such
as McCarthy, McKinney, among others. It can also be added that there are also
abbreviated forms of linguistic constructions by which the woman and her
husband are addressed, such as ntat'a Pule instead of Ntate wa Pule or Mm'a
Pule, instead of Mma wa Pule.
It is indeed within this sociolinguistic phenomenon that the presentation of
"self", personhood" and individuality can be discerned in the use of
teknonymous names in Sotho society. Not only are these linguistic terms
associated with the substitution of names and the enjoined behaviour at an adult
level, but also children are expected to use the long form of teknonymous labels.
For children to use the short form is regarded as a sign of disrespect for an adult.
Children may use teknonymous names only by further adding classificatory kin
terms to them (Mohome 1972: 182). A Mosotho child will therefore address or
refer to Rapule as ntate Rapule ('Father Rapule' or literally 'Father Father of
Pule'). Thus it can be argued that teknonyms among Basotho have an added
function "the inculcation of respect for authority" (La Fontaine 1977: 432),
although it simultaneously distinguishes the individual in what Fortes (1973:
315) refers to as "a place in a system of social relations".
There is also attendant behaviour that is associated with the adoption of
teknonymous names between the daughter-in-law and her father-in-law
including her husband’s elder brother. About her behaviour toward the in-laws
Ashton notes that:
A daughter-in-law should always be decorous and modest in the presence
of her father-in-law. She should keep her body covered and should not
suckle her baby or dance the mokhibo in his presence. Nor should she
remain in a room alone with him, sit near him, eat out of the same pot,
shake hands with him or in any way touch him. She may cook for him
and even spread his sleeping mats but should not wash his clothes to
touch his intimate property, such as saddle or gun. These rules are strictly
observed early in marriage, but are gradually relaxed as time goes on.
In addition to this behaviour she must avoid all words that are related to the
father-in-law's personal name. There are however, some variations among the
clans as to a strict adherence to this taboo. Among BaKoena and BaPhuthi, it
hardly extends beyond the father-in-law and his brothers, whereas among
BaTlokoa it includes more distant relations as well as words occurring in the
names of these relatives (Ashton 1967). As a result newly weds have to learn a
long list of substitute words that invariably form a 'sub-cultural' language. Her
personhood, among other things, is determined by her sincerity in learning these
words and applying them in her daily language within and outside the
household. Although there are no standard Tlhompho terms, there are some
universally recognized ones. The observance of this custom among Southern
Sotho is interpreted as a sign of good upbringing (Kunene 1958: 165). The
woman's in-laws feel disgraced if she does not show her respect for them in the
socially approved manner. It becomes a problem, though, when, for instance, at
a government office or Post Office when officials are to ascertain the name of an
individual who may be a pensioner and the person they are dealing with is not
supposed to pronounce such name. Ideally the use of teknonymous names by the
woman, which, of course, is associated with deference toward senior men and
womenfolk, serves as one of a number of social sanctions by which individual
personhood is evaluated and invariably approved.
On the other hand, a man's relationship with his in-laws is not as complex as
that of his wife. The man does not often come into contact with his in-laws, but
between him and his mother-in-law similar 'avoidance' behaviour as that of a
man and his daughter-in-law prevails. Before a man begets a child, his motherin-law addresses him by his kin term Mokgwenyana (son-in-law), while she is
addressed and referred to as Mme (mother) by him. The teknonymy "father of
so-and-so" will be the form of address by the mother-in-law as soon as the sonin-law has a child. Sons-in-law also refer to their in-laws by using the kin terms
such as Mohwe, (father-in-law) and Mohwehadi (mother-in-law). Similarly, a
man is supposed to address or refer to his son-in-law by the term Mokgwenyana
(son-in-law) or teknonymy and not his name, the same applies to his daughterin-law who is addressed or referred to a Ngwetsi (daughter-in-law) or mother of
so-and-so. His in-laws do not give the son-in-law a teknonymous name, as it is
with the daughter-in-law. There are also kin terms by which the son-in-law
addresses his wife's brothers and sisters so are (brother-in-law).
Finally we will consider the use of names as presentation of 'self',
'personhood' and 'individual' in adolescent male and female initiation rituals to
adulthood in Basotho society. The notion of 'personhood', 'self' and 'individual'
during initiation rituals is epitomized by the various name categories that are
assigned to the individual initiates and those that the adult participants give
Names in this context are classified according to status,
genealogical seniority, clan-name (among the Sotho clans), natural and
behavioural characteristics, personality attributes and by praise-poems (lithoko).
The names given to the individuals should reflect a combination of these
qualities and their life histories. Here we get both private and public names, that
is, those names which are regarded as a secret of the initiation school
exclusively and those which can be known by women and children and other
people at large through the recital of praise-poems at home.
Prior to the incorporation of Basotho to industrialization (monetary
economy) initiation names of the sons of chiefs transcended the confines of
initiation school. They were also used for naming age-group regiments. All
those who were initiated with him identified themselves as belonging to Chief
so-and-so son's regiment and were called by his name, and "it was regarded as a
great honour to be initiated with a Chief's son" (Kunene 1958: 184). Because of
the status factor associated with the Chief's son's regiment name, older boys
would sometimes wait to be circumcised with a chief's son.
For girl-initiates, names are formulated by attaching a prefix ra to nouns or
verbs as in the case of teknonymous names of parents. However, here the name
does not have the same meaning such as "father of so-and-so". Here what is
conveyed are the qualities such as adeptness, speed, skilfulness, dexterity among
others. For instance, a girl initiate by the name of 'Ralebelo' (lebelo means
speed) is given this name because she is "the one of speed". Another feature of
girls' initiate-names is that a majority of their names are formed by adding the
prefix 'ra' to her maternal uncle's name. Mohome speculates that this custom
may be to honour the mother's brother who invariably plays a vital role in the
life of his sister's children. Some of the names given to girls during initiation
include the following:
Ratsebo (Tsebo - knowledge)
Ramatla (Matla - strength)
Ramona (Mona - selfishness)
Ramatjato (Matjato - agility) (1958: 184).
Basotho girls in initiation school going thru initiation process
It should be noted that prior to initiation boys and girls are not regarded as
accomplished 'persons' yet. They are addressed in derogatory terms, and called
mushimane (boy), ntja (dog) leqai and girls or lethisa (brother-in-law of a
polecat), they are said to smell like billy-goats and a pig with litter of piglets
respectively. By being at the initiation school the initiate is no longer regarded
as a 'sub-human' or nonhuman being. Initiation is a transitional stage in his or
her life that qualifies the initiate to be approved and accepted as a human being
in the society. It is against this backdrop that the naming of initiates can be
Basotho River boy
In addition to personal names Basotho have clan-names and surnames.
During initiation rites the most important name is the clan-name, which
invariably clarifies the status hierarchy of the individual among other initiates.
Whereas the clan-name determines the position of the initiate, initiation names
serve as 'personhood' identifications and as passwords to enter the following
initiation lodge without hindrance. Among Basotho uninitiated persons are not
allowed to visit the lodge. Thus names that are given at initiation schools
'remain behind' and are used by those who are involved in the initiation rites.
Female Basotho initiates
Following is an example of this practice in one of the Basotho groups.
Among Batlokoa, the Chief's sons Ba-lefe are preceded by a Tebele
(Ndebele) of the Sekhosana clan. Ashton (1967) and Allenberger (1969)
maintain that this is done so that the letebele may shield his seniors from harm
and draw upon himself the sorcery of their enemies. Not only is their
geneological and clan seniority observed, but also the initiation names reflect
this relationship. The first initiate in the line is named kokoptshe (the first one),
Moswephe (the last one) and intervening names such as Okantshufala (the black
one), Okapota (the round one), Shohlo lamisitshi (lady's underwear). The latter
one is usually given to an initiate who used to be always in the company of girls
prior to initiation. Initiates are not supposed to refer to or call one another by
their personal names that are used at home. Should one forget another's initiate
name, the initiate refers to the other as mphato or thaka (fellow initiate or age
mate) and it is through this teknonymous name that a bond of solidarity is
developed among initiates.
A BaSotho initiate at HaMohlokaqala village in western Lesotho sings a song as he and his peers prepare to return to society as men after undergoing a gruelling traditional four month initiation process Dec 10, 1999. The blankets they wore throughout the period are gathered for washing in front of the hut - today they will where new blankets. (Greg Marinovich)
What is of primary importance, however, is the adoption of songs (koma) and
praise-poems (lithoko) as a medium to represent the 'self', while elders on the
other hand communicate to the initiates what it is to be a Mosotho person. The
koma as embody the 'truth' during initiation by which the 'boy' is expected to
acquire manhood and masculinity as against the normative childhood
association with 'womanhood' formalises this notion of Mosotho manhood and
personhood. Only when this association is severed by being incorporated into
the 'manhood' status will the boy be regarded as mature enough to bear
responsibility. Some of the knowledge contained in these songs is presented as
Modimo wa rona Our God
Modino wa borare God of our fathers,
O a utlwa: ... Thou hearest: ...
Thaka tsa me My friends
Hale nkutlwa na? Don't you hear me?
Ke le Ruta thuto tsa molao I teach you lessons of the law
Mo lao keo neheloe From my forebears
Ba itseng ho nna: Who said to me:
Hlokomela dikgomo Respect the Chiefs
Esita la e tla ba teng Even those still to be born
E, metswalle yaka Yes, my friends,
Le ya mosallanyana Even the last remaining one
O tla ba le sekgotho You will have a son
Ha o ena le sekgotho When you have a son
E tla ba sa motse oona ona He will belong to this very same
village. (Guma 1983: 119).
Dithoko (praises), on the contrary, fall into three categories, those of boy
initiates (Makolwame), animals (diphofolo) and divine bones (ditaola), as well
as those of kings (Marena) and warriors (diroki). For the purpose of this
discussion the focus will be on boy initiates' praise poems (dithoko
tsamakolwane). These are primarily individual initiate's compositions, which are
praises for themselves and about themselves. Every initiate has to give himself a
new name that he will be publicly known as lekolwane (young initiated man)
(Guma 1983: 136) when he recites his praises. Like the names given to female
initiates, boy initiates' names refer to qualities such as strength, skillfulness
among others. Each lekolwane begins his praises with his new name.
In his composition, the reciter may attribute admirable qualities unto himself,
identify himself with ferocious animals, describe his imaginary build and facial
features putting himself in the best possible light. The reciter may also draw
from prevailing prejudices in society much as between traditionalists and
converts (Majakane). Individual life histories are also recited through this
medium of praise-poems. Sometimes they show familiarity with birds and cattle
and reveal their experiences as workers in European concerns. Below are some
of the names adopted by Makolwane to identify themselves during recitals:
ho hana (to refuse) - Lehana (one-who-refuses)
he nepa (to hit on the target)- Lenepa (one who hits the target)
ho tlama (to bind) - Letlama (one who unites)
(Kunene 1958: 184).
Sometimes such names become so popular that they supersede the real ones.
This was the case with Lepoqo who became Letlama after initiation and later
Moshweshwe (the founder of the Sotho nation). His age group regiment was
known as Amatlama. The following praise-poems serve as examples of the
nature by which the 'self' or individual is represented or portrayed through
initiation rituals in Basotho society:
Mohlankana e Motshwana Lefeta
Mme mmangwane mosadi wa batho,
O tiise pelo s se ole moholo
Ditsietsi ha di maktse mosadi
Mosala le dikgutsana ha a hloname;
Ha hlonama di ya hodiswa ke mang?
Lefu le manyala nthong tsa batho
La nka ntate la ntshiya Shalabeng.
“A dark-complexioned young man, Lefeta
Mother dear, thou poor little woman
The one who remains with orphans, never sulks,
If she sulks, who will bring them up?
Death is evil in human affairs,
It took my father and left me very far.”
(Guma 1983: 142).
Princess Mabereng Seeiso of Lesotho
face of lesotho
An 18 years old girl and her boyfriend(right) shows fashion clothes made by herself in Lesotho Jul.26, 2001.
Every attempt has been made to gloss all the terms in the testimonies but finding the exact meaning for the complete list has not proved possible.
variety of grass
variety of maize, broad and soft
(literally a plant with tricks), cannabis, marijuana
(literally "the stalk is hairy") Sesotho name for a variety of maize
variety of grass
aloe; a protected species in Mohale
khomo ea fats'e
(literally, "the cow of the ground") cannabis
variety of tree known for the quality ofmelamu made from it
variety of maize, strong and hard
South African wormwood
variety of plant
variety of plant; also stirring stick
variety of grass
medicinal plant used to kill germs
variety of grass
plant with an edible root
plural of qobo
plant used for weaving hats, ropes, mats
(literally, "the expeller of hunger") variety of maize
grass used to weave brooms, mats
variety of grass
variety of plant
variety of berry
morarana oa mangope
peo ea basali'
(literally, seed of women) plant used to treat infertility in women
variety of plant
variety of rye
variety of grass used for roofing
wild plant - very sweet edible roots
(literally "soap of the snakes")
variety of grass
cultivated green vegetable
variety of grass, large and coarse, used for making brooms
variety of plant
tsa bonkhi tsa bolelele
cannabis, poetic term