Lesotho Culture and Literature

By | September 19, 2021


Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy, which achieved complete independence on 4 October 1966. The 1993 Constitution stipulates that the Parliamentary Assembly be elected by universal suffrage for 5 years. The executive, judicial and legislative power rests with the government, chaired by the prime minister, who is the leader of the majority party. The judicial system is based on Dutch law. The High Court, the highest level of judgment in the country, has unlimited powers and analyzes the judgments of the Court of Appeal. Therefore we find a complex system articulated in the subordinate courts, in the local courts and in the central ones, which however have limited jurisdiction. The death penalty is in effect. The country’s armed forces are made up exclusively of the land army. Military service is carried out on a voluntary basis. Primary education, compulsory and free, lasts 7 years and is mainly entrusted to the Protestant missions, Catholic and Anglican who operate under the direction of the Ministry of Education. Secondary education takes place in two cycles: one lower, three-year, the other higher, two-year. According to a 2006 estimate, the percentage of illiterate people is 17.8%. Higher education takes place at the National University of Lesotho, at Maseru.


According to cancermatters, the typical village of Lesotho is characterized by kraal, groupings of buildings where members of the same family live; each building has a different use, and also includes an enclosure for animals. The traditional costume is a very colorful blanket, which protects from the cold and rain; the men wear the characteristic cone-shaped headdress, which according to tradition reproduces the shape of Mount Qiloane. Music and dance are part of everyday life; typical are some musical instruments, such as the setolo-tolo (stringed instrument that is played at hiatus, used by men), the thomo (stringed instrument used by women) and the lekolulo (a kind of flute). The most important event is the Morija Arts and Cultural Festival, which takes place annually and is held in October; followed by a very large audience, it offers dance, song and theater performances.


There are three literatures: one oral, one written in SeSotho and one written in English. In the oral production the songs dominate (lithoko), which exalt the feats of warriors or celebrate events of common life. Sung by the authors themselves, they are intended for the people; they come close to the poetry of biblical canticles and present considerable idiomatic richness. In the second half of the century. XIX the missionary A. Mabille, of the Evangelical Society of Paris, founded a periodical in the SeSotho language and published (1907) the first collection of traditional SeSotho texts, collected by the African Azariele Sekese (1849-1930) and followed, in 1921, by collection of celebratory songs of the Basotho chiefs, transcribed by ZD Mangoela (1883-1963). Later (1931), DCT Bereng (1900) published his collection of heroic poems, centered on the figure of the chief Moshoeshoe, which, although deriving from tradition, are essentially his work. Thomas Mofolo (1877-1948), who later imposed himself with the famous epic novel Chaka (written in 1908, but published in 1925), in which the synthesis between SeSotho culture and Christianity is accomplished. The fiction, which has given good narrators such as L. Segoete (1858-1923), E. Motsamai (1870-1959), JJ Machobane and many others, has Christian content and an African style and does not stray too far from oral fiction. The theater is also strongly influenced by Christian thought; there are BM Khaketla (1913-2001), TM Mofokeng (1923-1957) and BL Leshoai (b. 1920). In his novels and plays, BM Khaketla rebels against racial discrimination and opposes a more individualistic morality to the ancient community civilization. TM Mofokeng and BL Leshoai attempt a synthesis between the two cultures and an opening towards the West. In the 1940s, KE Ntsane (1920-1983) establishes himself as the best seSotho poet with a lyric rich in images, often satirical and stylistically innovative. In the seventies this literature decays, also due to the worsening of apartheid. All genres are represented, but the works do not reach high levels. Although the political situation has improved, in the 1980s only works of not great interest appear which are aimed exclusively at a local audience. English literature begins after World War II, with two novels by AS Mopeli-Paulus (1913-1984): Blanket Boy’s Moon (1953; trans. It., Black Fire) and Turn to the Dark (1956; Back in the dark), which address racial problems and highlight the cultural conflict between tradition and the West. Even at the beginning of the 21st century, literary production in English is very scarce.

Lesotho Culture