Water and Culture: Lesotho
Water in Africa
- Africa, Lesotho
by MaryAnn Camp, Ha Rantubu, Lesotho
Having lived in Hu Rantubu, Lesotho, now for 15 months, I have learned several cultural rituals connected with water. As in a lot of cultures, the religious ceremony of baptism is one. I have seen water sprinkled over a baby's head. Another religious observance is during the phu phu, or funeral—water is sprinkled on the casket with a small branch (representing an olive branch). The water has been blessed by the clergy and, therefore, becomes holy water. After the sprinkling of the water on the casket, the remainder is poured over the casket at the gravesite before lowering the casket.
Another ritual where water is used is if a witch doctor has put a curse on you or your family and you want to break the curse. One fills a clay pot with water and takes it to a place of water, for example, a pond, creek, or river. The pot is laid near the water and with a stick, a swift blow is delivered to the vessel, releasing the contents into the nearby water source. This is supposed to break the spell or curse.
by Claire Hilger, Christ the King Mission, Qacha's Nek, Lesotho
Lesotho is a very dry country, so water is revered. Rain and snow are greeted by dancing and singing. We had no snow this year, and it is very dry. People are not planting and are worried that there will be no harvest this year. To alleviate the problem, one of the nuns from the mission asked some students to play the lesokoana game. (A lesokoana is the thick stick used to stir papa, a thick porridge of maize meal that is eaten at every meal with vegetables or meat.) Each family has its own lesokoana, which is cut from the branch of a tree; the bark is removed and the stick becomes smooth with use. A few of my students accompanied me to the edge of the cliff where we could watch the game.
One girl is chosen to go into a house in a neighboring village (about an hour's walk) and steal the lesokoana. Once she has it, the girls of that village chase her and try to get it back. If she does not get away, she has to go back and steal it again until she gets it.
After two tries, Pulane was able to throw the lesokoana ahead to Neo, who ran until she passed it to Lerato, waiting up ahead. Using this relay method the girls were able to bring the stick safely to us at the top of the plateau. By this time it was dusk, but the girls went back for another stick. I went to get dinner. A few hours later they ran through the mission triumphantly carrying the two sticks in front, singing rain songs. They then made a ceremony at the chief's house just outside the mission.
A few nights later I woke up to the sound of heavy winds and rain. The next morning there was a knock on my door. "Do you see, Ms. Claire, the lesokoana thing has worked!"
How could I argue with such proof?
by Becki Krieg, Qacha's Nek, Lesotho
After an exhausting flight, my Peace Corps training group finally arrived in the country of Lesotho. We all looked out the window of our plane to steal the first glimpse: a breathtaking view of a sunset full of reds and oranges coloring the mountainous skyline. This was it. This was what we had been waiting for: The Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho.
As we exited the plane, a group of currently serving Volunteers greeted us with banners and cheers. But what stands out in my mind is their singing of the Lesotho national anthem, Pina ea Sechaba. The anthem ends with a chanting of the Lesotho motto, "Khotso, Pula, Nala." I decided those would be the first words I learned in the local language, Sesotho.
As our Sesotho classes began, I had my chance to learn about "Khotso, Pula, Nala." The English translation is "Peace, Rain, Prosperity." I was surprised that rain would be a part of their motto. I had always thought of rain as being somewhat negative. I know we need rain, but I always thought of rain as something that chilled my bones, darkened the sky, and ruined my plans for a day at the park or a ball game.
But the people of Lesotho view rain in an entirely different way. This country is very mountainous, rocky, and dry. The people do not have much money, so in these harsh conditions, they must grow enough food for their families to survive. They depend on water—to the extent that it is truly a national wish. The people of Lesotho ask for rain proudly, loudly, when they raise their voices to sing the national anthem, "Khosto, Pula, Nala!"
by Amy Bratsch, Ha Thamere-Qutin-Mt.Moorosi, Lesotho
The people of my village of Hathamere, do not have ceremonies that are held to celebrate the value of water. However, they do have many songs and dances that small groups or individuals will frequently perform in relation to water. The people dance and sing when they need water and when they have just received it. Music is a vital part of their lives, so singing and dancing about something as important as rain and water is a natural response.
by JeanMarie Mitchell, Ha Tebelo, Lesotho
The Basotho people fear rivers and lakes. They believe snakes live there and are also afraid of them. They do not know how to swim or fish. However, one time I heard a story of a woman who was born a sangoma (a witch or traditional doctor or healer) and she did not want to be one. She kept having dreams saying she must "go to the lake and get the cup of blood," in order to be free. But she feared the snake in the lake. So, she kept having sudden illnesses—for example, losing her voice, joints hurting so much she couldn't walk, rashes, and once she could not use her feet—all because she refused to follow the way of life of a sangoma. (Apparently sangomas have dreams that tell them certain things to do). To this day she still refuses sangoma life. Yesterday I saw her and she was ill and could not speak. If only she did not fear "the snake in the lake," she could fetch her "cup of blood" and be free!