Cultural Practices of the Basotho

Music at Ceremonies

©Dr Peter Magubane
Basotho men in front of their home with instruments.
The Basotho delight in song and dance, which accompany many ceremonies and social activities. Song is also used to mark the experiences of men's long absences as labour migrants: men compete to recite lifela tsa litsamaea naha 'songs of the travellers' about their experiences in mine hostels and underground, and women use a similar form of recitation to lament their lives as grass widows. The most common dances are the mokorotlo, the mohobelo and the mokhibo. The mokorotlo is performed by men for the chief on important occasions, such as political meetings, or when the chief and his followers go on a tour of inspection. It consists of rhythmic swinging backwards and forwards, combined with a regular slow foot stamping; the leader sings in a high-pitched voice which is followed by a deep throaty refrain from the group.

From time to time, one of the men breaks from the group and leaps and prances before the chief, miming a battle attack. He is egged on by the others who stop singing and call him by his dancing name. He may also recite his own or the chief's praises. He then returns to his rank and the slow dancing movements continue. The mohobelo, performed by men, requires energy and endurance and is danced mainly in the evening, for amusement and entertainment.

Special Dances

©Dr Peter Magubane
A Basotho woman plays a drum at an initiation ceremony.
The mokhibo is a women's dance performed on the knees, the body gently rising and falling as the hands are swept upwards. An informal choir stands behind the line of dancers, singing and clapping. The maqekha is a special dance that forms part of the first rites of girls' initiation.

The Basotho have a variety of musical instruments. The morupa, a small drum used at girls' initiations, is made from a clay pot over which a taut skin is stretched, and is struck with flat hands. The lekoko is made of a roll of hardened cow skin which is beaten with sticks, producing a dull thumping sound. Its use is restricted almost entirely to maqekha seances.

The lesiba consists of a horse-hair stretched along a stick between a quill and a holding bracket. Light sucking against the quill causes the horse-hair to vibrate, producing a haunting sound commonly accompanied by the player's voice. The thomo consists of a bow, across which a horse-hair or thin wire is stretched, and which is tautened with a wire fastening in the middle. The bow is attached to a calabash - or, in recent times, an old oil tin - which acts as a resonator. The instrument is played by plucking the string or picking it with a stick.