The origin of the Basotho blanket goes back over a century. In 1860, King Moshoeshoe I, the founder of of Lesotho, was given a wool blanket as a gift. The King loved the blanket so much, he abandoned his traditional leopard-skin kaross in favour of the blanket.
The Basotho people soon followed suit and to this day the blanket is an inherent part of their lives and culture. You will see blankets of varying colours and patterns at all important life events, from marriage to childbirth to the coronation of kings.
Versions of the Basotho tribal blanket, or ‘Seanamarena’ in Sesotho, are also worn in every day life by herd boys, grannies and even children to keep warm. Lesotho is the only nation south of the Sahara that identifies the culture of an entire country through a nationalistic article of clothing like the Basotho blanket.
Many people in Lesotho live in farming and animal husbandry based communities and therefore wear clothing that is suitable for this lifestyle. For example, herd boys wear large rain boots, referred to as gum boots, to wade through the muddy mountain terrain with their animals.
Most herd boys also wear woolen caps or balaclavas year-round to protect their faces from cold temperatures and dust blown around by the strong mountain winds.
Women usually wear long dresses and skirts in vibrant colors and patterns with blankets around their waists, and for special occasions (like church or weddings) they wear a traditional Basotho dress called the seshoeshoe. Seshoeshoe are worn in endless varieties of designs, patterns and colours. Wearers purchase seshoeshoe fabric and then work with a seamstress to create their preferred design.
Young men and women usually wear more casual clothes like jeans and t-shirts.
Basotho Hat (or Mokorotlo)
The Basotho hat is another traditional item of clothing worn to this day. The conical woven hat with a top knot is made of local mosa grass and can be seen and purchased all across the nation. The mokorotlo is also the national symbol and can be found on the Mountain Kingdom’s flag.
Mount Qiloane (below) is said to be the inspiration for the mokorotlo.
In Lesotho, school uniforms are mandatory. You’ll see school-age children running around in uniforms (colours and styles vary by school), until they change into their street clothes after school.
As I traversed the tarmac in the rain to the small plane that would take me from Lesotho to Johannesburg, the skies were foreboding with a steady rain.
So little, so late. I am haunted by the sight of the fields, especially in Thaba Tseka. Corn that should be shoulder height is less than a foot; fields that should be bursting with produce are unplanted or dying well before maturity. The sight of the dry streams and river beds, women washing in shallow muddy puddles, and children pushing wheelbarrows up and down the mountain roads to find water makes the issue clear and terrifying. As I leave, the nights are cooler; the mornings crisp. Winter will come – as inevitable as the sunrise and with it cold and hunger.
The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation recently issued a warning that the state of malnutrition for under-five-year-olds in Lesotho is critically high. According to the report released last week, the national malnutrition rate has risen to 33% of children suffering from malnutrition and 50% from anaemia.
I will miss the sound of cows, sheep and horses waking me up. I will appreciate my showers more. I will be more grateful for what I have.
A generous partner foundation in Denver, Colorado has purchased a brand-new computer lab for our Pitseng Centre with 22 new computers. It is so exciting to think of how this will revitalize the community and give students, youth and adults a chance to learn marketable skills. Of course, they will also take life skills during their two-month course – that is the deal! The chief and local counselors have already signed up! Discouraged and disengaged out-of-school youth, always so hard to reach, will have a purpose and a chance to change their lives and behaviour. Young mothers will begin to believe they can move on with their lives. We expect the delivery in a few weeks.
The community cannot wait – this is the most exciting thing that has happened since we opened the Centre in June 2008!
The past two months in Lesotho have been packed. What stands out the most though is the tremendous efforts our communities and beneficiaries expend to show how much they love and appreciate our work. We get constant messages, letters and speeches from our beneficiaries of all ages – more grateful and heartfelt than you can imagine – to thank us – to thank you – for caring so much about them and their lives.
One example is a speech a young woman made at the intensive Leaders-in-Training graduation last week:
The Help Lesotho staff have always seemed to understand that attitude is contagious. Thanks for your positive attitude when we found ourselves dwelling on the negatives of life. You help us count our blessings instead of our troubles. Your optimism was contagious, it gave us the courage to dream and the faith to believe that our dreams can come true. Thanks for the lessons about life. By your words and actions, you have taught us about love, discipline, hope, courage, responsibility and more. One of life’s greatest ironies is there’s so much to learn in so little time. That’s why we value the wisdom you’ve shared with us. You cared enough to teach, and we won’t forget.
Thanks for your care, your concern, your help and your kindness. Even in your busiest moments, you always made time for us. Through your words and deeds, you have taught us a lesson that will last a lifetime; the power of compassion. We will be forever grateful.
Thanks for listening to our dreams and thanks for believing in them. When we summoned the courage to confide in you, you supported us, you encouraged us and you trusted us. If you harboured any doubts, you hid them. Please know that your faith was effective. Because you believed in us, we can have faith and believe in our dreams, too.
When I meet our grannies, as old and poor as they are, they are dressed neatly in their finest Seshoeshoe dresses with gifts of song and dance. They are bursting with speeches to share what they have learned and their plans to make life better for themselves and their children. They write songs of thanks. They hold my hands as if ever to let them go.
Our Help Lesotho family is enormous and loving – it is amazing. Just one example was the reception we had at a mountain school a 50-minute horse ride up into the clouds. We were met by the entire community with traditional songs and dances. The 156 children in this tiny primary school wore the track suits we had provided last year – to replace their threadbare clothes. They wore the Toms shoes we had distributed instead of bare feet.
I took our international guests to a VERY remote village to meet some grannies. The whole village turned up – a village of old grannies and children. One rarely sees a man or youth. The men have died or left and the youth have gone to seek work and a better future. With the help of our local staff, I had pressed upon them beforehand that they should not prepare food. The Basotho are so generous and hospitable but it is too painful to take food from their meagre supplies. I struggle with how to graciously keep them from making these enormous meals when I come. After a wonderful visit, a spokeswoman from the grandmother group in that area handed me the equivalent of CAD $5 in small bills for us to purchase drinks in town to compensate for the lack of opportunity to provide us with a meal. I know very well how much that money represents to them and was almost in tears to accept – which I must. They gave us handmade pots and brooms. Such generosity is beyond humbling – the widow’s mite!
As I return home to Canada, I am racking my brain to think of more ways to engage people in this amazingly powerful work. It truly matters – and the Basotho are counting on us.
We so appreciate the few large donors we have. Their consistent, generous donations help to reduce our reliance on the often uncertain availability of grants and ensure we can provide the services we know are needed so badly. Finding more such large donors is a constant challenge that keeps me awake at night. I believe completely that if people could see our work they would be so happy to support it. This is what each person who sees our work in person tells me!They proudly showed us the repairs to the holes in the concrete floors of their classrooms. They ask for nothing. They cheered and made a public announcement when I told them they will soon be receiving solar lights for their dungeon-like classrooms and for every student to bring home, thanks to your generous support.
So much has been done since my first visit in August 2004, and so much is yet to be accomplished. I am very excited as we complete our strategic plan for 2016-2019. Our growth and implementation has been targeted and successful. We know what we need to do and how to do it. We are ready!
Thank you for walking this journey with us – it is such a privilege to do this together ….. and as this little mountain school says:
God bless Help Lesotho 2016!
With my love and appreciation,
Read Peg’s other 2016 ‘Letters from Lesotho’.
From cataracts to crystal clear: Forty-one grandparents have restored vision thanks to free cataract surgery in Lesotho.
Read more about this astounding service here.