The day in memory and honour of King Moshoeshoe I -March 11th
With the view and perception that culture makes an indispensable part of people’s lives and is an important source of the nation’s vitality and creativity and constitutes a key factor uniting the nations while making it distinctive from other nations, once again in history, Basotho held national celebrations and commemoration of their founder, King Moshoeshoe I on the 11th of March. Annually he is historicized and remembered in multifaceted ways and this year the commemoration was characterized by styles that are part of the country’s contemporary cultural landscapes. This day is aimed at rebuilding and uniting Basotho not only in Lesotho but Basotho as a nation all over the globe. 11th March marks the day on which Moshoeshoe died and this used to be celebrated on the 12th which was wrongly believed to be his birth date. Born in about 1786 in Menkhoaneng, he was raised and known as Lepoqo, the name serving as an archive documenting the domestic dispute of the time when Moshoeshoe was born. This was during the time when what was in the name mattered in the Sesotho culture as they (names) where significant tools through which major national calamities could be documented and safeguarded as lessons for future generations.
The celebrations in honour of Moshoeshoe transcended borders as Basotho in some parts of South Africa were also part and parcel of the beat as among others Thaba-Bosiu Mokhorong oa Khotla horse racing competition was organized in honour of the big name in Botshabelo, in the Free State. Further, to cement the idea that Moshoeshoe and his legacy have invaded hearts of many Basotho beyond the Lesotho borders, he was tributed and remembered with great enthusiasm as Basotho in Qwa-Qwa in the Free State were no exception in rekindling memory of this icon. In Matatiele too, Basotho could not be left out during Moshoeshoe’s celebrations where they commemorated with performances. Among important significances of the day was an urge to Basotho to promote and preserve their identity and an advice for the promotion of Sesotho language owing to the fact that language serves as a strong engine in defining the society. So this makes it crystal clear that it is our obligation to protect valuable heritage of our ancestors and carry forward the ancient civilization.
In Lesotho, on this Public holiday, other than in other parts of the country where celebrations took platform, under the theme of ‘peace’, major symbolic celebrations by the government dignitaries were held at Thaba-Bosiu (the national monument) and later at the Lesotho Evangelical Church at Thaba-Bosiu which houses among other national treasures the stool that Moshoeshoe, himself used when he was at this church. At the national monument, the Prime Minister and His Majesty King laid a wreath at the grave of King Moshoeshoe I. Other functions of the day included the traditional performances showcasing Lesotho’s cultural diversity. These events seek to insert identity into the country’s landscape. To further cement the weight at which Moshoeshoe and his legacy still scoop the landscape among Basotho is through the pictorial symbolism and representation that he continues to win hearts of many as evident in the local brands.
Who is King Moshoeshoe I by the way? He is son of Mokhachane and was born in Menkhoaneng in around 1786 known as Lepoqo, the name which meant to mark the social calamity of conflict that has erupted in his community at the time he was born. He was later known as Moshoeshoe, named after the victory verse lyrics he composed after raiding 500 cattle of Moeletsi, the nearby chief as he was imitating the scarping sound of the razor, ‘shoe-shoe-shoe’ to portray his victory. At the age of nineteen in 1805, he was initiated into manhood and he was thus named Letlama and Tlaputle.
During the Lifaqane wars, Moshoeshoe and his people embarked on the great trek from Menkhoaneng to Thaba-Bosiu in 1824 and it taxed them nine days. Thaba-Bosiu (translated mountain at night), according to the local popular belief was that this high mountain plateau elevated during night and took the shape of a high fortress and that’s is why it provided a great defense during the various wars including the third war against Free State in 1868. Claims made are that Moshoeshoe chose this place because he regarded it as the stronger natural fortress and also owing to the fact that it was on the left bank of the Caledon River and as a result less open to invaders from Natal. It is then in this light that Thaba-bosiu is imbued with great significance in the history of Basotho. It is, among others, referred to as a Sion of Basotho and celebrations like these of Moshoeshoe at this spot give Basotho opportunity to renew vows with their great hero. This is a landscape that serves as a symbol of nation building and has a historical significance in the history of Basotho as the mountain is strongly associated with the formation of the Basotho nation. It is on this plateau where Moshoeshoe showcased his military prowess and diplomatic skills as he repelled his enemies and attracted other nations as his people and other chieftainships as his partners. This space owing to the intangible cultural wealth it is pregnant with was declared a national monument in 1967.
The grave of Moshoeshoe I on top of the mountain also contribute to the site’s sacracy, hence why multitudes of Basotho flood to the site during major national catastrophes. Having laid out the weight of significance the site has in the national history and nation-building, laying wrath on the grave of Chief Moshoeshoe by the National Leaders was to rekindle social and cultural ties with the space. This ancestral spot has both a symbolic value and historical significance at it contributed in the Basotho nation-building, hence why the National department of Culture is putting efforts to ensure the area is awarded the status it deserves as it has all the fabric to get global recognition. It serves as a memorial and constant reminder of who Basotho are and where they were ‘manufactured and imagined’ as a nation. It is a commemorative site and thus the birthplace of Lesotho. It is in this light that it is considered sacred and a ‘faraway’ land of many miracles and prophecy.
Grave of King Moshoeshoe I -Courtesy of National Department of Culture
Most significantly, memory initiatives are platforms in which human beings come to make sense in their identity and their relationship with one another. So conscious of this, and to ensure the memory of this hero does not fade away, the National Department of Culture in partnership with the Lesotho History Teacher’s Association organized a special lecture for high school students at the Lesotho National Library where Moshoeshoe, his legacy and ideology were unpacked in order to keep his memory among young people vibrant. This was an effort to preserve Lesotho’s cultural history and identity as Basotho. A special lecture on Moshoeshoe, his ideologies, legacy and discourse were unpacked in order to reinforce and supplement the school history curriculum. The lecture suggested various angles of interpretation. It also contributes immensely towards the process of memorialisation and a deeper understanding of Basotho nation-building.
The day’s events on the 11th of March also coincided with the three-day annual heritage route taken in the footsteps of this hero from his home place to where he founded the nation called Basotho, the Menkoaneng to Thaba-Bosiu heritage route, which was in its sixth edition this year. The event attracts tourists from all over Africa and other parts of the globe. It seeks to retrace the path the founder of the Basotho has taken as he sought best refuge for his people. This is the hardcore heritage route in the trace of where Basotho come from.
Annually Moshoeshoe is commemorated for his power and wisdom and this is celebrated with traditional attire with so much pride as March is very significant in the history of Lesotho and Basotho as it excavates the memory of Moshoeshoe and his legacy. He is described by some as remarkable character of a man who practiced diplomacy in an unforgettable worldwide statesman. This is the man who gathered and gave refuge to different ethnic groups during the Lifaqane wars and out of these ‘various’ communities he ‘brewed’ the Basotho. It is in this light that the public holiday, Moshoeshoe’s day, is one of the important landmarks of Lesotho to celebrate the triumph of Moshoeshoe’s diplomacy. What made and still continue to make him outstanding was his strong belief that gaining wisdom and power as a leader, one has to first acquire qualities of clarity of mind, goodness of heart and service to one’s fellow-man. This is what made him a great king with reputation for nobility and fairness.
Lesotho’s rich musical wealth is one of the pathways through which the memory of Moshoeshoe has been kept alive over the years. This then poses a question to our leaders with regard to making efforts to ensure their names get archived and documented and become educational memories to instill their ideologies in the coming generations. What positive traces do they leave behind in order to be commemorated by generations to come? What sketches do they leave to be celebrated through music, memory, and heritage or otherwise? What legacies do they leave archived locally and regionally for coming generations, or has this caliber been destroyed by the ideology of democracy? Who will be like Moshoeshoe who has even transcended the borders as he still scoops platform in foreign cultural landscapes like the Museum Africa in Johannesburg?
These commemorations stamp the idea that culture is a productive power that not only shapes human concepts and impacts their behavior, but also contributes in no small measure to the betterment of their material as well as spiritual world.
Sebinane Lekoekoe is a Senior Archivist at the Lesotho National Archives. He writes in his personal capacity.