Thaba Bosiu cultural village, a place with intriguing stories

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Staff Writer

PERCHED some 1 804km above sea level in the east of Maseru is Thaba Bosiu, a place whose history oozes with the stories that define Basotho.

The sandstone plateau which is situated 24 kilometres from the capital city, lies almost desolate with little significance which is unlike its actual relevance.

While little significance and attention is allotted to Thaba Bosiu, it is probably the most historically significant mountain for this country owing to King Moshoeshoe I’s fortress.

The mountain itself is a story for another day, at the foot of the mountain in the north-west, lies Thaba Bosiu Cultural Village, a fine resort with modesty facilities for tourists and conferences.

A recent visit to the village by the Lesotho Times unearthed some exhilarating stories of how the late King Moshoeshoe I lived with his people.

While the facilities of the resort; including conference rooms, 41 self-catering accommodation units, a 1000-seater Amphitheatre; it is the museum at the centre of all the buildings and the model village of 40 huts lying in the southeast corner of the property that have the most exciting stories. The resort also has the Shoeshoe Restaurant and a bar, the 300-seater Fika le Mohala Conference Hall (cinema style seating. The hall is ideal for weddings, meetings and conferences, performances and movie screenings), Mafube Hall (1 and 2 with a maximum capacity of 40people and can be used for meetings and business luncheons), Shoeshoe Boardroom (capacity of eight to 10 people), stalls for craft and King Moshoeshoe I statue.

According to Tumeliso Mokhethi, the administration manager at the village: “The Cultural Village is intended to play a role in protecting and preserving Thaba Bosiu and the Cultural Heritage of Basotho, showcasing it to local and international tourists”.

“The museum tells a story of the origins and development of Basotho nation and some of the people, events and ideas that have shaped the nation.”

Moiloa Rantoeleng, a guide at the village marshals the Lesotho Times around the resort detailing the significance of some of the features.

Mr Rantoeleng narrates how the miniature huts replicate the way Basotho lived since the 19th century and the dynamics that their construction has gone through over the years.

Originally, Mr Rantoeleng said, Basotho used to build their houses with poles and grass until the arrival of two Irish soldiers who introduced the rontabole (round double/rondavel) a two-course design built from stones, mortar, poles and thatch.

The houses were built forming circles for security reasons.

“Each time an enemy attacked, the first thing for those who are being attacked was to ensure that they put out the fire to ensure that their houses are not burnt during the battle. Back then, there was no matches so, if anyone wanted to burn their house then it would take a long time to light a fire.”

King Moshoeshoe had a staggering 136 wives and each wife lived in her own hut. The King himself lived alone in his hut and would occasionally summon his wives in turns to entertain him. Of the 136 wives, there were four principal or senior wives. According to Mr Rantoeleng, the rest of the wives were allowed to mate with any willing clan’s men since King Moshoeshoe could not satisfy all of them.

The situation was worsened by the fact that large numbers of men were often killed in wars so much that at one time, according to Mr Rantoeleng, there was a ratio of one man for every seven women.

“During his time, most wars were for women and cattle. This meant whenever they went to war, as part of the spoils they were bound to come back with women. Morena Moshoeshoe’s principle was that since most of these women would have been captured and their husbands would have been killed, then it was the duty of his clan’s men to meet the women’s sexual needs.

“Some of the women were married just to maintain peace. Whenever Morena Moshoeshoe noticed there was potential for a war erupting, he would engage the chief of the other tribe and ask for the hand of his daughter in marriage. When they became in-laws, then there would not be any fighting.

“Since Morena Moshoeshoe could not satisfy all the women alone, he came up with a plan that made it the responsibility of all the clan’s men to mate with the women except his four principal wives. What would happen is no one was allowed near the four principal wives but any man would get into the hut of any woman he wanted for sex.

“When a man visited a certain woman, they would insert their fighting stick into a hole that would be at the entrance. Once another man came and saw the stick at the entrance, then he would pass. Even Morena Moshoeshoe himself respected this rule to ensure that order was maintained,” Mr Rantoeleng said.

Ms Mokhethi said while business is low at the village, they host almost 2 000 learners from different schools who visit the facility for study tours.

“We have a very limited number that comes here to stay but we have almost 2 000 students from schools and another 300 regional and international tourists monthly from February to April and then from August to December.

“Our marketing team, visits various schools locally and in the Free State province of South Africa.  We are yet to extend our visits to other provinces. Also, we partake annually at the World Travel market in Cape Town in April and the Travel Indaba in Durban every May.

“The facilities are generally underutilised for instance the Amphitheatre because of its open top but we have made provisions in the current budget that include the roofing to ensure increased usage,” Ms Mokhethi said.

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