The secret language of Basotho blankets MzansiBride

Winona Griggs

The Basotho Blankets: Unraveling the Mysteries of Lesotho’s Colorful Tradition

Everywhere I look in Lesotho, I see vibrant Basotho blankets adorning the locals or gracefully laid out to dry in the open air. These magnificent pieces hold a hidden language, a secret code that beckons me to understand its meaning.

Today, I’m fortunate enough to have ’M’e ’Masetho Elizabeth Letsie, the Basotho blanket ambassador, offer me a glimpse into this captivating world. Ever since her childhood, she has been captivated by the allure of these blankets. Now, she generously shares her knowledge through a mesmerizing “blanket presentation” for anyone who shows an interest, including myself. After her shift at the Semonkong Lodge, we made our way to her cozy home nestled beside the village’s general store.

So here I am, pulling out blankets one by one from my cupboard. Let me tell you, these Basotho blankets are more than just pieces of clothing – they’re symbols of status and a vital part of public and private life. Back in the day, the Basotho people used to wear animal skins from cows, sheep, or goats. But let me be honest, those skins weren’t exactly warm, especially in Lesotho’s high-altitude climate.

Now, imagine this: Lesotho is a country with towering peaks, some reaching over 3000 meters. It even holds the record for having the highest “lowest” point of any country in the world, sitting at 1000 meters above sea level. So, it can get pretty chilly, even in the middle of summer. That’s why I can’t help but appreciate the moment when King Moshoeshoe received a cozy British blanket from Birmingham back in the 1860s. Can you imagine his joy?

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Back in the old days, only royalty had the privilege of owning blankets. But times have changed, and now blankets have become an essential part of everyday life for most Basotho people.

These blankets come in three different classes, all crafted by Aranda in Port Elizabeth. It might be a bit tricky to distinguish between the first and second classes at first glance, as they are both made of 90% wool and 10% cotton. However, if you look closely, you’ll notice that they have slightly different patterns.

Let me tell you a little secret – the first-class blankets are something special! Their patterns are more intricate, with extra twirls and swirls that make them stand out. That’s why they come with a slightly higher price tag, ranging from about R650 to R700. The cost of wool in a particular year also affects the final price. On the other hand, second-class blankets are priced between R400 and R450. They are still beautiful, but the patterns are not as extravagant as those of the first-class blankets.

Now, let’s talk about the third-class blankets – the most affordable option. These blankets are made from 100% acrylic material, which makes them lightweight and less expensive. They can be yours for as little as R150 to R200. So, if you’re on a tight budget or looking for a practical choice, the third-class blanket is a great option.

As I tell you about the blankets, you’ll quickly realize how practical they are. They keep your body at a steady temperature, except when it gets really hot (although the Basotho people seem to wear them regardless of the weather). In everyday life near Maseru, you won’t see as many blankets because people have become more westernized. However, during special occasions and celebrations, you can be certain that the blankets will make an appearance.

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There are many different patterns on these blankets, each with its own meaning. Some patterns are inspired by daily life, like the maize cob or wheat patterns, which symbolize fertility and prosperity. Of all the patterns, my favorite is the heart pattern. I also learned that the royal pattern consists of crowns. In fact, we were shown a 90-year-old blanket with the words ‘Victoria England’ on a label. It’s fascinating to know that even today, the royal family of Lesotho has to approve all new patterns.

I still have the first blanket my husband bought me – it holds a special place in my heart. There’s also a beautiful pink-and-blue one my mother gave me when my first son was born. These blankets are like treasures to me, and I take great care of them. You see, using soap powder on a blanket is a big no-no!

Just when you think you’re becoming an expert on blankets, you realize there’s so much more to them. The way a blanket is worn can speak volumes about a person. Men and women have different ways of wearing their blankets, and this tells a story. For example, a father’s way of wearing his blanket can give hints about whether he’s arranging a marriage for his child. Isn’t that fascinating? You can even determine if a woman is married or if she’s had a child just by how she wears her blanket.

‘You know, for special occasions like weddings and new babies, we have a special kind of blanket. And there’s a different kind of blanket for initiation too,’ she tells me. It’s interesting to see how boys wear their blankets differently before and after circumcision. And believe it or not, even when you pass away, you’re buried with a blanket to keep you warm.

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If you want to learn more about this, just ask at Semonkong Lodge. I guarantee you’ll be captivated by ’M’e ’Masetho’s deep love and understanding for these Basotho treasures. It might just change the way you look at people.

If you want to learn more about this, just ask at Semonkong Lodge. I guarantee you’ll be captivated by ’M’e ’Masetho’s deep love and understanding for these Basotho treasures. It might just change the way you look at people.

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