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Customs of Lesotho

Marriage and Family

Lesotho has a strong patriarchal society centered on the family. However, because men often work outside the country during much of the year, the women make many family decisions and do most of the farmwork. Women also work on the roads and in service occupations; more than 36 percent of the labor force is female.

While nuclear families live alone in cities like Maseru, extended families in rural areas often share a motse, or compound. Adult children usually remain with their parents at least until they marry. When a woman marries, she moves to the motse of her new husband, which may be shared with his parents and others. One man will be the head of this extended family motse. A motse usually includes several buildings, a living space for animals, and a garden. The rontabole is a circular home built of stone and sticks held together with cow dung. Before it dries, people often draw intricate designs in it to beautify the home. The walls are thick, the roof is thatched, and the windows are minimal to keep out cold. The diameter of the main home reflects the economic status of the family. The interior is not divided but functions as one large room. Families usually have separate buildings for sleeping, cooking, and storage.

Family members are expected to help one another. All those living in a motse contribute to the family’s welfare by doing chores, cooking, minding the cattle, raising chickens, working for a wage and sharing part of it. If one member of an extended family (even if outside the motse) falls on hard times, others in the family are expected to help if possible, although they are not expected to sacrifice their own needs. When a man dies, his possessions are divided among his brothers and sons, who are expected to provide for the man’s wife and any other women who were in his care. The family is a considerable source of pride, and the ability to father or bear a child is an important demonstration of one’s potential. The more children one has, the more respect one is given.

Eating

The normal diet of the Basotho consists of phoofo ea poone or mealie meal (maize meal), rice, potatoes, vegetables, and fruits. Nama ea khomo (beef), nama ea khoho (chicken), and nama ea kolobe (pork) are popular meats. Cold cereals are becoming popular for breakfast, which is often eaten around 10 am. The main meal is in the middle of the day and traditionally consists of moroho (cooked greens), nama (meat), and papa (maize mush). The evening meal is served around 7 pm and contains the same types of foods as were eaten at lunch.

In the capital, Maseru, the common style of eating is with the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right. In villages, people often eat with their right hand or use a fork, depending on the food. When families are not able to sit down together for a meal, food is left simmering on the stove. When someone is ready to eat, he or she takes what is wanted and eats alone. Traditionally, women and children eat after the men and important guests have finished. Each person has a separate dish from which to eat. It is polite to finish everything on one’s plate.

Socializing

Greeting customs vary, but in general Basotho shake hands and say either Lumela (“We believe the same”) or Khotso (“Peace be with you”), followed by U phela joang? (“How are you?”). If acquainted, people make polite inquiries about each other’s family. A more formal greeting, Le phela joang? is used to inquire about the well-being of a group or family. Typically a person asks where the other has been (O tsoa kae?) and where he or she is going (O ea kae?), and an explanation is expected. The greeting process can take several minutes before evolving into conversation, and people may hold the handshake for some considerable time. When two people are passing on the street, or do not expect to engage in conversation, only the two basic greetings are used. There is also a formality to farewells. When leaving, it is customary to say Sala hantle (“Stay well”), while the person staying responds with Tsamaea hantle (“Go well”). Titles are used to address others in very formal situations; otherwise, first names are used.

The Basotho enjoy having guests. Most rural visiting is done without prior arrangement because telephone and mail services are limited. Upon arriving, a visitor knocks on the door and says Koko? (“Are you there?”). The hosts, recognizing the voice, respond with Kena (“Come in”). Even if the door is open, it is extremely discourteous to enter without announcing one’s presence. When visitors arrive, even if unexpected, the hosts will often invite them to stay for something to eat and, if they are far from home, offer them shelter for the night.

Socializing among the Basotho takes place in the home, at public gathering places such as the market, or as part of a pitso (town meeting). A pitso is usually called by the local chief to share important news or to discuss something. If the news is good, an impromptu party may occur.

Recreation

Soccer is the most important sport in Lesotho. Visiting is one of the main leisure activities. Most social gatherings involve some sort of singing.

Holidays and Celebrations

Official holidays in Lesotho include New Year’s Day (1 January), Army Day (20 January), and Moshoeshoe’s Day (12 March). Tree Planting Day (21 March) is important because Lesotho is subject to severe soil erosion and has virtually no forests. The government has sponsored several projects encouraging tree planting to provide timber for future building and fuel supplies, and to guard against further erosion. Other national holidays include Family Day (first Monday in July), Independence Day (4 October), National Sports Day (first Monday in October), Easter (Friday through Monday), and Christmas (25 and 26 December).

Source: Encarta Interactive World Atlas