People & Culture
According to the Lesotho Bureau of Statistics, preliminary results of the population census conducted in April 2006 put the country´s total population at 1872 721, with some 23.74 % of Lesotho inhabitants now living in the urban areas.
Basotho speak the national language, Sesotho, and a vast majority speak excellent English which is a second language widely used in government and commerce as well as in schools.
The next most commonly spoken language in Lesotho is Zulu, which is spoken by approximately a quarter of a million people in the Botha-Bothe district and in the vicinity of the Caledonspoort border post. Phuthi and Xhosa are also spoken. Although many Basotho still live and work outside the country, their attachment to their local village and traditional culture is still strong. The family is still the dominant unit, and respect for the elder generation is important. Basotho culture is centred on village life, and most traditions and festivals relate to local village life and the seasons of the year.
Of all our people it is the Matabele who have preserved their traditions best, and their traditional dance Ndlamo is now a great way to celebrate throughout much of Lesotho, No traditional wedding is complete without this colourful dance. Basotho people are predominately rural, and getting around mountainous areas has always been difficult.
However, the Basotho pony is ideal for local transportation and so breeding and riding these surefooted ponies is very important. In the towns, as well as in the mountains, it will not be unusual to meet a Basotho horseman, clad in a kobo, his traditional cloak or blanket, who will raise his hand in the traditional greeting “Khotso” – meaning peace. As one of the few African tribes living in a mountainous locale, Basotho have developed many unique cultural adaptations to their conditions.
The beautifully and creatively patterned woven Basotho blanket is one exampleGirl smile. In both urban and rural settings it is quite common to encounter a Mosotho horseman clad in a ‘kobo’, who will graciously raise hand in a customary greeting, ‘khotso’ meaning peace. All around the country you will see people dressed in woollen blankets, often with beautiful patterns. This is the ideal garment for a cold environment, and also has the versatility of keeping the rain off.
Basotho are also known for their ‘mokorotlo’ (conical hat). Most Basotho still lead rural lifestyle with scattered picturesque villages and clusters of huts located high in lying areas and on the mid-levels well away from the deep river valleys and potential flood zones.
Villages are very structured. They are made up of a number of kraals, i.e. a collection of buildings belonging to one family. Some are for sleeping, some for storage and one for cooking.
Each kraal will also have an enclosure for livestock. Each village has a chief, or headman, who will fall under the chief for the area. The Basotho are agriculturalists. The chief allocates the fields around the villages to villagers. Many crops are cultivated including maize, wheat, sorghum, beans and peas as well as vegetables such as onions and cabbage. Many local herbs are also gathered as green vegetables, which the Basotho call Moroho.
Animals are very important in Basotho society. The Basotho pony represents the best form of transport in the mountains, and donkeys are often used as pack animals. Most families will have some cattle, and oxen are used to plough the sloping mountain fields.
Wool is a major source of income both from Merino sheep and mohair from Angora goats, and you will see many herds of both deep in the mountains. Shepherds, who are often young boys, look after them. The shepherds live in simple huts called motebo(singular) and metebo(plural) that are often perched on ridges at well over 3000m and very well hidden.
Arts and Crafts of the Basotho
Basotho people are renowned for their crafts. Traditional products have a reputation for quality, individuality and variety. They have a universal appeal, and have helped to give Lesotho a strong identity. They all make wonderful souvenirs of a visit to Lesotho. Lesotho has a justifiable reputation for its fine wool and mohair weaving.
Tapestries, which are completely hand-woven, are works of art that display their own unique character, and are noted for their beauty, softness and strength. The artistic talent of many Basotho women also finds expression in the fine knitwear including pullovers, scarves and other personal items. The herds of sheep and goats that roam the hillsides provide the skins and hides for an abundant supply of sheepskin products.
These include warm and comfortable slippers and jackets, whole skins and much more. In addition, the ready supply of hides provides leather for excellent leather goods such as bags, belts and small gift items. Wooven reeds and grasses are also important.
The traditional Basotho Hat called mokorotlo is the best known of a fine range of grass-works made in Lesotho. Its conical shape is seen everywhere in the kingdom, and is the recognised symbol of the country.
The hat’s shape was inspired by the profile of Mount Qiloane, the legendary conical mountain close to Thaba Bosiu, and described by Masupha as Mother and Father. Other fine souvenirs include locally made gold and silver jewellery (often decorated with local seeds and stones), and local pottery that demonstrates the skills and creative art of the village potter. Visit handicraft centres in Maseru, Teya-Teyaneng and Leribe. Postage by surface mail overseas is reasonable and fairly reliable, so it is possible to buy, have the goods wrapped, and then send them home.