Wednesday, October 4, 2023

The kingdom in the sky; How well do you know Lesotho?

Lesotho is sometimes referred to as “The Kingdom in the Sky” or “The Switzerland of southern Africa” due to the beauty of its rugged mountainous terrain.


Lesotho, located in southern Africa, is referred to as Mosotho if you are addressing a person and Basotho when addressing more than one person. The kingdom of Lesotho is formerly known as Basutoland. Lesotho is pronounced le-Soo-too; the names were derived from the common language, Sotho, which is spoken by the many groups which united to form the nation in the early 1800s.



Lesotho was initially inhabited by the Bushmen who roamed southern Africa, which is evident in the Bushmen drawings and paintings in the river gorges. It’s said that during the 1700s and 1800s, tribal wars in southern Africa disintegrated so many tribes. It’s believed that the survivors of the wars fled into the mountains of what is now Lesotho. Under the leadership of an African chief named Moshoeshoe, they formed the current Basotho ethnic group. The two days that all Lesotho celebrates are Moshoeshoe’s Day, March 12th, and Independence Day, which is October 4th.


Lesotho is sometimes referred to as “The Kingdom in the Sky” or “The Switzerland of southern Africa” due to the beauty of its rugged mountainous terrain. Unfortunately, it’s also described sometimes as “The Hostage State” because of their situation of being surrounded by the Republic of South Africa, in which they are somehow dependent on.

Lesotho mountains.
Lesotho mountains.


The Sesotho, or Southern Sotho, is the language spoken in Lesotho and parts of South Africa. Sesotho was one of the first African languages to be in a written form and had an extensive literature. In Lesotho, English is the second official language, because back in 1868, Lesotho was a subject to south African aggression and was placed under the British for protection. Zulu and Xhosa are still being spoken but by a small minority.


Lesotho’s rugged mountains, massive gullies—dongas, and sparkling waterfalls are the spectacular scenery of the country. Pictures of herdboys with their flocks, men on horseback. Photos of women wearing the national dress of Moshoeshoe are always depicted in the angora wool wall hangings and rugs of Basotho fame.


One of the things that Identify a Basotho is a Basotho hat, a conical woven hat with a distinctive top-knot; it symbolizes Lesotho’s unification. It depicts a mountaintop, conical and top-knotted, visible from the fortress and tomb of Moshoeshoe. Moshoeshoe is pronounced mo-SHWAY-shway. In Lesotho, both men and women invariably wear the wool Basotho blanket as a cloak; it’s not a matter of the season. Individual expression determines the selection of color and pattern.

The Lesotho hat.
The Lesotho hat.


A three-stone fireplace, set against each other, in the courtyard is where the Basotho woman places her focus in.

At this focal point, they prepare the pot of cornmeal porridge—pap-pap, a significant meal of the Basotho. It’s usually accompanied by a sauce of peas, chopped greens, or any other vegetable, and on special occasions, a chicken is used to gallop the meal. Then in the summer season, local peaches and small, hard fruits add variety to the diet. Nigerians know this during the winter, family members sit around the three-stone fireplace and roast ears of dried corn.

Lesotho's pap
Lesotho’s pap

A local beer—joale, is brewed in a large vat and placed on the three-stone fireplace. This beer is the center of informal neighborhood gatherings and provides a small income for the family. Milk is often served as a soured drink.


Over 80 percent of Lesotho’s population live in the lowlands where soil conditions are extremely good for agriculture. So, in Lesotho, agriculture is of high involvement. Lesotho is a developing country with a free-market economy. It boasts a few natural resources and is dependent on imported food and materials to meet the population’s basic needs. Nearly all families engage in subsistence farming, consisting mostly of corn, wheat, peas, and beans, but the depleted soil does not yield sufficient crops. A major sustaining factor in Lesotho’s economy is employment in South African mines, farms, and industries. Approximately 35 percent of active male wage earners work most of the year in surrounding South Africa; the South African rand is used interchangeably with the Lesotho loti.


The western border of Lesotho has one of the highest population densities in Africa. Maseru, pronounced as ma-SAY-roo, is said to have a population of 400,000, and it is the capital city of Lesotho. Maseru has a number of modern restaurants that are mostly patronized by business and professional people and tourists.


The cattle pen—Krall is the nucleus of family groups; family groups build their huts in a spaced fashion, in a way that surrounds the pen. Traditional huts are constructed of mud and dung walls with thatched roofs. These roundhouses—rondovalsare, which is often decorated with bright designs. In Lesotho, each village has a meeting place—khotla; it’s where the villagers are conducting the business. The areas around the villages are owned in common by the people, and the chief assigns the land for family farming. All the lands are held in trust for the Basotho nation by the king and may not be alienated. The local chiefs allocate farmland to individuals, and user rights are generally available to married males.


In the Lesotho villages, cultural rites are predominately centered around the sacrifice of a cow. Like most African countries, funerals often drain a low-income family’s assets as cows must be purchased, and cows are of great expense. A family’s honor is attached to the quality and quantity of food served at the wedding and funeral gatherings—spit-roasted cow and chicken are mandatory.


Lesotho cultural gender roles.



In typical Lesotho cultural setting, most of the agriculture and home building is done by the women. They hoe, plant, and weed the plants, and harvest the crops. They fetch firewoods; they walk great distances to obtain these firewoods and carry the load home on their backs, sometimes with an infant wedged between the tree branches. Water must be carried from the village pump for cooking, drinking, washing, and laundry. Clothing is scrubbed and hung on bushes to dry. Girls similarly begin life-role training as soon as they can carry a sibling on their back and a pail of water on their heads.


Like in most African countries, a female has no power, authority, right, or privilege in Lesotho, unless a male grant it. Women play an influential role through their religious organizations and societies and have attained suffrage. Well, there’s nothing to expect from a country that indulges in practice of extracting the bridewealth from the man’s family continues, making a family of daughters a lucrative situation. In turn, the bride becomes the man’s property and leaves her family to live with the family of her husband.


Men are primarily responsible for the livestock. Boys begin training for herding at age five or six. In the mountains, where pasture is scarce, herdboys often spend months alone with their flocks in a mountain valley some distance from their home.


In the Lesotho culture, the domestic unit consists of any number of the extended family. Often second or third cousins become “brothers” or “sisters.” Grandmothers become official mothers. According to Lesotho tribal custom, widows become the wife of the brother or other male member of her deceased husband’s family.


The clans of the Sotho are often named for animals such as crocodiles and bears. The descendants’ line is through the male, and members of the same clan are allowed to marry relatives as close as cousins. Interesting, right?


Just like most African countries, the infant and young child spend much of their first two years bound to their mother’s backs as she performs her household chores, hoes the fields, and markets or travels. Babies usually nurse for up to two years of age or until a new baby is born. At that time, an older sister often assumes the caretaker role. It’s believed that it takes a village to raise a child, just like every other African country. Every village woman is eligible to correct an erring child, to rescue one in difficulty, and to encourage all. When a child is able to begin school (age varies from five to ten years), the mandatory school dress or shirt is passed from one family to another. Many boys do not attend school for years because they begin at age five or six to herd and care for the livestock. A tiny percentage of the population reaches this level of higher education. Very wealthy families send their children to higher education outside the country.


Religion in Lesotho.


According to research, Religion in Lesotho is a mix of traditionally based ancestor worship and Christianity, Christianity covers about 80 percent, with a small representation of Islam. The main church groups are Catholic, Anglican, and Dutch Reformed. The dominance of the Catholic religion reflects the church’s involvement in education, with over 75 percent of all primary and secondary schools being owned and managed by Catholics. Many church services include traditional Lesotho rituals such as chanting, drumming, and national costumes.


Lesotho is a country anyone should visit. 

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