To think of all the reasons to be proud of Lesotho or a proud Mosotho will not fill the pages of telephone books, but I would not have it any other way. I can bore you with the facts you will find in any search engine, or let my pen bleed dry with words on how small and mountainous this beautiful country is – actually, allow me to harp on that, Lesotho’s mountains are GORGEOUS! However, the anecdotes I will tell are the reasons I have, and continue, to keep coming back to the Kingdom of Lesotho. A home I love for its traditions, although it comes with a lot of baggage and, at times, frustrating stagnation.
I write this on the eve of the Roof of Africa, a three day off-road motorcycle race which runs through Lesotho’s rugged terrain. The days leading up to the race, Maseru was transformed into a buzzing, multiracial city. Let it be known that Lesotho is a pretty homogenous country, but do not be surprised by the faces of Asian descent, who speak Sesotho better than a lot of city dwellers – ashamedly myself included. I bring attention to the Roof of Africa because it reminds me of Lesotho’s most precious gem – no, not the large diamonds mined from our earth, or the pristine water we sell in abundance to our encircler (South Africa) – I am talking about Lesotho’s natural beauty, her mountains.
It would be sacrilegious to talk about what makes me proudly Mosotho without mentioning her landscape. Lesotho is affectionately called the Kingdom in the Sky. Yes, we have a monarch, and he is very accessible to the people. I was perplexed when I hesitantly grabbed the same shopping cart as the Prince. He does his grocery shopping amongst the people; this makes me happy. However, the name comes from the fact that no place is below 100m above sea level, making us the country with the highest low point in the world.
The day I flew back to Lesotho after my years abroad, we flew over Lesotho’s mountain range, and my father with straight face said under his breath: “Welcome to Sodom and Gomorrah.” Well this is the prettiest Sodom and Gomorrah I have ever seen. I am yet to receive the full experience and cross from the lowlands into the highlands; but sitting at the cusp of where the lands meet, I am always left in awe of the absolute beauty which is encompassed within Southern Africa.
Within these mountains there live a group of people who today collectively call themselves Basotho; but I recognize the influence of Xhosa (Bathepu), Zulu (Matabele), and Baphuthi who make us who we are. Basotho have a strong sense of self and a pride that was born well before the lines were drawn on the world map. Our founding father King Moshoeshoe instilled a tradition that has continued and morphed over centuries. Today I proudly support the Basutholand (Lesotho’s former name) Ink boys who manufacture higher end T-shirts which continue to evoke national pride in us younger folk. Moshoeshoe was known as a very diplomatic leader, a character trait that continues to reverberate in present day Lesotho, even if sometimes to our disservice.
Besides the characteristic attributes, there are traditions that I have always known about, but have grown to really adore and cherish. For one, I would be sold to marry a Mosotho man for the sole purpose of having my spouse’s family blanket bestowed on my shoulders, the same way Scottish families pass on the family crest during the ceremony where the wife is traditionally accepted into the spouse’s family.
Moreover, Lesotho is a country of song and dance. If ever there exists a switch for national pride and joy, then the first three seconds of the sound of the accordion accompanied by an almost praise singer-esque wail would be my switch for Lesotho. I smile from within whenever I see and hear M’e Puseletso live with her grandchildren on stage. Litolobonya (a hip gyrating dance) and Mokhibo (an upper body dance done standing or kneeling) are simplistic yet highly captivating. And nobody can tell me anything negative about the Balisana (heardboys) clad in traditional blanket with stick in hand when they dance moving their shoulders and necks in ways that make those the most interesting body parts.
To complete my Lesotho pride, I would have to include the language of the country, Sesotho. I am a linguaphile, and unfortunately for years I have been told and taught of the languages of others as being more beautiful or useful than my own. So, I was never formally taught nor put emphasis on learning Sesotho well. However, over the past few years I have discovered the power and beauty of the language. I believe that, like English, when spoken well with great command of the language, Sesotho is an outstanding language with riddle like idioms and means of expression. It is a language where joy is consumed and we like and love the same.
It is the simplicity of Lesotho that I really cherish, from her natural beauty to our people, traditions, music, dance, and language which collectively make Lesotho unique. It is why I am proudly Mosotho, and will argue with any person who believes that Lesotho should just become another province of South Africa. To those people I say: You clearly have never driven through the borders and felt and appreciated the changes in air – or you have never had a Maluti beer.
by Relebohile Phoofolo