Lesotho and The Basotho Blanket Connection

3 min read

Basotho's wearing basotho blankets in lesotho

Lesotho "The mountain Kingdom

Lesotho, officially the Kingdom of Lesotho a relatively small, landlocked mountainous country located entirely within the borders of South Africa. Lesotho has a population of around 2 million people and is just over 11583 square miles. The entire country lies above 3,281 ft which leads to its moniker as the Mountain kingdom. The capital, Maseru is located directly on the Lesotho-South Africa border. Interestingly Lesotho is by far the biggest one of only three other countries in the world that are surrounded by the territory of another country. The Vatican and San Marino being the other two. It is also the only territory located outside of Italy and unlike the Vatican and San Marino is not a microstate. 

Basotho women standing in lesotho wearing basotho blanket

Lesotho's population consists almost entirely of the Basotho, a Bantu-speaking people. Approximately 99 percent of the people in Lesotho identify as Basotho. Sesotho is The primary language spoken regularly by the Basotho and it is also the first official language and is used government and most official institutions.

The Basotho Blanket Traditional History

According to UNESCO, they estimate, 85% of woTramen and 68% of men over the age of 15 are literate making Lesotho one of the highest rates of literacy in Africa. However, even with this relatively high rate of literacy, many Lesotho people battle to get access to the basic needs of healthcare, travel, and educational resources 

The Basotho Blanket in Basotho culture

Traditional attire revolves around the Basotho blanket, a thick covering made primarily of wool and a grass-made hat called a"Mokorotlo" a conical style hat with a unique shape and design on the top. It looks like the Qiloane mountain in a pinnacle shape The blankets are ubiquitous throughout the country during all seasons and worn differently by men and women.

 The Basotho Blanket Origins 

According to transcripts, the Basotho Blanket was originally gifted to King Moshoeshoe I, who ruled Lesotho from 1822–1870 by a British man known only as "Mr. Howell" in the mid to late 19th century, these blankets quickly gained enormous popularity in the Lesotho region and were used by herdsmen and royalty alike

Basotho blankets have very specific uses for different occasions from formal to everyday wear. The way that Basotho men wear these traditional blankets is based on the traditional Kaross, a traditional animal (primarily sheep) skin cloak although their transformation to "factory-woven textile" is attributed to King Moshoeshoe I.  

The animal skin Karosses were becoming increasingly difficult to source and there was frequently insufficient quantity to supply the Basotho nation. By around 1872 a large majority of the traditional Kaross were replaced by poor quality cotton made blanket. In 1876 the Then king secured the production 

Basotho herdman on horse wearing basotho blanket

The Basotho Blanket securing the heritage

The King secured the production of "special blankets" in 1876 after meeting with Scottish textile manufacturer Donald Fraser. These new blankets were not only sturdier but they could also be fashioned in a way that more resembled the Kaross and they therefore quickly replaced the poor quality imported cloth that the people of Lesotho were previously wearing.

The Basotho Blanket in popular Culture

Louis Vuitton's designs for the 2017 menswear collection featured designs from Basotho Blankets which caused controversy in South Africa with accusations of cultural appropriation.[1]

In the 2018 films Black Panther and in Avengers: Infinity Wars, W'Kabi and his tribesmen appear in many scenes wearing the Basotho blanket. Given that the actors in the film were not from Continental Africa, several continental African groups viewed the appropriation of these cultural symbols as inappropriate for use by diasporic Africans. The movie however brought the blankets to international attention and an increase in sales.

The Basotho Blanket  Today

The traditional Basotho blanket still plays a very important role in the daily life of the Basotho people and despite urbanization, the Basotho remain loyal to their traditions and treasure it. 

The wearing of blankets by the Basotho as part of daily life intrigues visitors to Lesotho and the surrounding Eastern Free State. It seems to be a form of westernization however, with a closer look, the wearing of Basotho blanketreveals a sociocultural phenomenon with a unique history. To the Basothos, besides the practical value of the blankets, there are social and symbolic values inherent in the blanket, national identification has become one of the most important, announcing: "I am a Basotho". 

Basotho man wearing basotho blanket dressed in suit

 Refernces

[1] "Fab or cultural faux pas? Louis Vuitton's Basotho blanket-inspired collection". Retrieved 2017-09-23.

Steve Watts
Steve Watts


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