Depicting culture through fashion

Former Miss Botswana Boingotlo Motlalekgosi (2003) rocking the Sotho hat1
Former Miss Botswana Boingotlo Motlalekgosi (2003) rocking the Sotho hat1

Cultural traditional stories have been told in different forms such as oral tradition, texts and pictures. Lesotho culture has also been depicted in different forms, but the most striking is their sense of fashion, which tells of their culture and tradition.

They are unlike most countries in southern Africa who have fully adopted the western style of dress with the youth having adopted the pop culture.

Basotho are unfazed and still stick to their traditional style of wear.

Basotho are easily spotted with their traditional wool made blankets (Seanamarena), which they use to wrap themselves with right round their bodies.  Their conical woven hats made from grass and long sticks have different designs.

During my recent visit to the Kingdom of Lesotho, I was charmed by their indigenous dress code to the extent that I had to ask one of my journalist friends Lerato to help me understand it.  Lerato introduced me to Vuyane Monyake an elderly woman who has a good understanding of the Sotho dress code and easily explained it.

“If you have noticed the blankets have different designs and colors. These tell different stories of Basotho,” said Monyake. 

The common blankets have designs of the harvest and images of crops.  Others have mountains depicting the mountainous kingdom and some show the British protectorate and commonwealth countries showing Queen Elizabeth II’s crown, fighter bombs, New Zealand and Indian emblems.

Monyake stated that these blankets are worn on different occasions such as weddings and other ceremonies.  She also hinted that there are different styles of rocking these blankets, depending on the mood and occasion that one is in.

She further said that across Lesotho, every district has a signature blanket that it is well known for.

The disappointing thing is the blanket culture is eroding in Lesotho, especially in the capital city Maseru where a number of people have adopted the western and pop culture.

The conically woven hat has been a well-known signature and symbol of Lesotho.  It is also on the flag of the kingdom.  It is found in every corner of Maseru, in fact it is the first to greet one the moment one crosses the border from South Africa to Lesotho, as there is a big number of vendors selling it.

“Legend has it that when Basotho were seating on top of Thaba Bosiu looking across at the conical mountain Qiloane they designed the hats in a similar shape,” narrated Monyake.

Studies also show that the woven hat with a distinctive topknot is a symbol of Lesotho’s unification.

The hat, which is fairly heavy, is meant to protect people from different weather conditions such as the sun and cold.  Manyake also mentioned that the hats vary with cultural occasions such as initiation, court officiating and celebratory ceremonies.

The Sotho-style of walking around carrying sticks was at some point adopted by young urbanites.   They used to walk around carrying it, while an elderly gentleman walks carrying a stick as a sign of pride.

“Walk on rough terrain as a cattle header the stick is for balance even though they hold it up high when singing, there are different types of sticks. 

“There is a straight stick with a round knob on one end, which is a bit short.  That one is for war.  The walking stick is decorated with insulin wire,” she said.

Heard boys have used the sticks in different ways such as conducting a heard of cattle in a grazing land and stick fighting.

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