It was one of those spontaneous moments. You know, the kind that only happen in the middle of taking some coffee. The hey we should totally travel next weekend! moments. The where should we go? Lesotho! I’ve never been there!
I’d never been there either.
Having spent a considerable amount of my life in South Africa, I’d grown accustomed to the delineation of the Basotho people. I would never forget to include them in the map, and would take offense, on their behalf, if someone failed to acknowledge their statehood. But I guess I just hadn’t made the conscious effort to visit the country.
So a few years later, a friend and I decided to take our chances and check it out.
The Kingdom Of The Sky And Why It Matters
I didn’t read much about Lesotho before heading there. Partly because I wanted to try my hand at keeping the experience authentic, pure, void of any pollution from ill-formed opinions about the country.
All I had in mind was the depiction of a proud standing woman, in all her traditional majesty, gallivanting through the mountains.
What I experienced was not much different, save the many, many Basotho wearing the heavy blankets in Maseru’s hottest day! (But, as they continuously said — it is their culture)
Our first stop was Thaba Bosiu, an extensive plateau that hosted Basotho men and women during various battles, during the reign of Moshoeshoe I. Hearing the stories, myths and beliefs surrounding the mountainside was something exquisite.
Coming from Maputo, a rather flat city, it was difficult for me to understand why mountains are so important in the history of Lesotho, and, ultimately, in shaping the interactions of Lesotho’s people.
The belief that the mountains “grew at night”, as a reaction to the strength of the Basotho, and their impenetrable stronghold, echoes in the way they speak about their culture.
There is a certain reverence for the mountains that is hard to articulate. I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that some initiation rites, in several African cultures, take place in the mountainside.
The need for constant elevation, our elevation, is perhaps indicative of our desire to get closer to the supernatural.
A long shot, at first, but not really, if you understand that African heroes and revered figures were always associated with supernatural strength and abilities. It seems that higher up we get, the more powerful — and revered — we become.
The Myth Of Enclosure and Non-Existence
To everyone who hears about Lesotho, and then googles it, there is a dissonance that arises. How can this be a country… inside a country?
I must say, most South Africans I’ve met share a sense of entitlement, a slight mock, that “ha, Lesotho is a country?” joke that we must always ignore in their discourse. I became curious about the relationship between the Basotho and the notion of statehood.
Historically, Basutoland became a protectorate of the British Government when other surrounding districts were beginning to engage in conflict, much reminiscent of Botswana’s formation.
The words of the Moshoeshoe I at the time were:
I am giving myself and my country up to Her Majesty’s Government under certain conditions which we may agree on between your Excellency and me.
Eventually, Basutoland evolved into what is now one of Africa’s oldest monarchies, The Kingdom of Lesotho. It exists, or co-exists, with the many stereotypes that continue to misinform its neighbors.
The blatant, though unconscious, failure to recognize Lesotho as a state is something that often contributes to an ambiguous notion that Lesotho is simply on an ongoing struggle political and military liberation. Which, like any Southern African state, is — to a certain degree — true.
This denial, then, to a certain extent, solidifies the Basotho pride, the wearing-blankets-during-summer kind of pride, that shapes and informs the reproduction of culture, of tradition.
Remembering the conversations we had, though short, but extremely insightful about the daily life of Basotho only serves to confirm that I’ve not met a prouder nation. (except Ethiopia!) A nation so in touch with their history, present and future.
What Now Anyway?
Lesotho left me with a bittersweet aftertaste. I wish I would stay there longer, much longer — and linger.
I also wish I’d read more, but I feel such a disconnect between the literature and the quotidian of Basotho people that makes me uncomfortable.
Definitely, I believe that Lesotho is one of those countries we simply to experience and contemplate, without the need for too much anthropology.
I left with the promise that I would go back. And I will.