21 min read
The Basotho heritage blanket has deep cultural significance to the Basotho nation. The designs symbolize fertility and growth. Its tight, thick weave is soft, warm, and repels rain and wind, just as it has been designed to do for over a century.
TheBasotho blanket has expanded into a colorful array of diverse and distinct names and designs. Every style symbolizes and celebratesLesotho's nationality, rites of passage, peace, love, royalty, bravery, and courage, and above all warmth.
The oldest Basotho blanket trademark, “Victoria England”, established at the turn of the 19th century, signifies the high regard by Lesotho for England, Queen Victoria having spread her “blanket of protection” over Lesotho in 1868 on the plea of King Moshoeshoe I.
Until its independence in 1966, Lesotho remained a British protectorate, good relations with England continue to this day. Both Prince Harry and Prince have a close relationship with the current Lesotho Royal Family.
The iconic “Badges of the Brave” blanket commemorates the Allied Forces who defeated Germany in World War II.
This authentic Kharetsa Basotho blanket has deep cultural significance to the Basotho nation. The Kharetsa design of a Spiral Aloe, found only in the Maluti Mountains of Lesotho symbolizes the "heart of the nation".
Its tight, thick weave is soft, warm, and repels rain and wind, just as it has been designed to do for over a century.
The Basotho blanket is perfect for snuggling on the couch or lying on in the sun. Fun fact: Famous people that own a Basotho blanket include Worn and owned by Prince Harry, Nelson Mandela,and Pope John Paul II also ThulaTula is the only place in the U.S to be given the blessing of the Basotho Nation to sell their heritage Basotho blanket.
The “Kharetsa” pays tribute to the Spiral Aloe, found only in the Maluti Mountains of Lesotho, whereas the “Motlatsi” features a series of hearths that signify the “heart of the nation”.
The “Khotso” talk of peace, or the “Malekabe” of flames or fire, the “Nkwe” of royalty, strength, courage, victory, and wisdom; and others of prosperity, wealth, and succession.
The Basotho blanket is immersed in the Basotho nation's way of life, the blanket has become a tradition in itself and an indicator of Basotho identity and nationality.
The Basotho blanket has also caught the eye of the Western fashion world, it was used by international Fashion house Louis Vuitton Louis in their 2017 menswear collection featuring designs that take inspiration from the Basotho blanket.
Lesotho and Sani Pass the access to Lesotho from Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa
When she agreed to his request, he spoke of her “spreading her blanket” of protection over the country, and so began an enduring path with England.
Lesotho became a British protectorate in 1868 when peace was established. The benevolent relationship between Lesotho and England remains intact today and transcended Lesotho's independence in 1966. England's protection at the time sparked off trust and gratitude that paved the way for the embracement of foreign cultural goods.
During the early 19th century, missionaries, settlers, pastoralists, travelers, adventurers, and traders all entered and explored Lesotho. With it, they brought along diverse cultures, religions, and enterprises.
The blanket was part of a wide spectrum of European cultural goods introduced to the Basotho during the 19th century. Missionaries and traders had some noticeable effects on the Basotho community, which extended to a certain moral and even dress code.
The traders, gravitating to mission stations, exhibited their exotic goods and purchased by the Basotho. Traders were instrumental in establishing trading stations and, having an air of friendliness about them, they were soon trusted for advice and help.
There is enough evidence that the Basotho used an advanced filtering process when it came to western cultural goods. Certain features were embraced, others hated or resisted.
It's written about Moshoeshoe that “ a great cloak of leopard skin, as supple as the finest cloth, was allowed to fall negligently about his waist, its folds covering his knees and feet”. This reveals to us that Moshoeshoe was aware of the significance of clothing as a sign of status and prestige. Many of the writings of that time refer to Moshoeshoe's outfits.
The blanket was described as a “Beautiful wrapper made of light blue pilot cloth, heavy and hairy”, and Moshoeshoe was delighted with the gift and wore it over his shoulders like a poncho in a way not far removed from the way traditional animal skin mantles (“karosses” / “cloaks”) were worn by the Basotho.
Moshoeshoe's longing for the exotic and the wearing of his blanket gift more than likely helped in the acceptance of the “strange and foreign”. Moshoeshoe was likely a trendsetter or in today's terms an influencer to his people.
The way heritage Basotho blankets is made has evolved over the years The Mill, Aranda Textile Mills is the oldest blanket manufacturer in South Africa established in 1953 and is located in Randfontein just west of Johannesburg. It is a 4th generation, locally owned, family business. Aranda is the exclusive manufacturer of Basotho Blankets, with the blessing of the Basotho Nation.
All Thula Tula blankets are sustainably and ethically crafted in South Africa using unionized labor. They are the industry leader in utilizing low-impact and socially responsible practices and is adherent to, and proudly exceeds, the most stringent worker friendly regulations in the world. Aranda maintains regular BSCI (Business Social Compliance Initiative) audits. All Cotton is sourced from a local gin and they are also a key supporter of the local cotton industry. All microfiber raw material is sourced from ethically certified European manufacturers.
Aside from its construction and aesthetics, the marvel of the Basotho blanket lies in its deep-rooted meaning to the Basotho people and that it became interwoven into the fabric of the Basotho nation's culture.
The blanket transcends its functional (yet pivotal) use as a form of protection against the elements and extends boldly into symbolic virtues that celebrate nationality and rites of passage.
The Basotho people had accepted, embraced, and transformed a gift, a gesture, of centuries ago, into something quite magnificent, unlike any other nation.
When, where, and why the blanket is worn, carry nuances that elude the uninformed. The inherent feeling for uniformity is satisfied, with enough variation in the blankets to point to the status of a person. The excitement generated by forming part of a visually recognizable group at time surpasses the meanings which were previously traditionally attached to the blanket.
New significance is now added to the existing symbolism when the blanket is donned. It makes a statement to fellow Basotho and also the world outside; a statement of nationality and the pride of being a Mosotho (a Basotho person).
The ingenuity of the creation of the Basotho blanket is unique. That certain names, designs, and colors have certain symbolic meanings that are unobtrusively decoded by wearers.
Great changes in design and manufacturing have proven futile in the past. This indicates the sensitive manner in which the blanket trade needs to be handled, which indeed transcends typical commercial purpose and use.
The Basotho blanket is worn in many different circumstances. The most humble surroundings, as well as in the most important places.
The Basotho feel that “appearing in a blanket adds gravity, elegance and a certain symbolism to the event”. It is said that when wearing a blanket, a person should walk slowly and graciously.
When hard work is expected, the blanket is either discarded or doubled up and hung over one shoulder by men. Men also fasten the blanket on the right shoulder, leaving the right arm free for movement or action. Conversely, women fasten the blanket in the front.
Traditionally, women carry their babies on their backs, a way of caring for the young. For this task, at least two shawls are used, one to fasten her child to her body and the other to cover her child and her shoulders.
A blanket worn by aBasotho reveals a diversity of information to members of the community, and in fact, touches every aspect of the life cycle.
A young Basotho women standing in front of an incredible waterfall in Lesotho wrapped in a traditional Basotho blanket. Lesotho is an incredibly beautiful place.
Entrenched in the nation is the motto “Kobo ke bophelo”, which means “The blanket is life”, and which finds its way quite vividly in rich symbolism and ritual.
A young bride will wear a blanket wrapped around her hips to stay warm. Warmth is typically associated with fermentation in the making of beer, or fertilization.
At birth, the child is wrapped in a special blanket, which blanket later is used to tie the baby to the mother’s back, which works to strengthen the bond between mother and child.
During Basotho rites of passage, a young boy will wear a blanket before his initiation into manhood and a different blanket after, as proof that he has reached manhood in the Basotho culture. The wearing of this blanket, apart from its utility purpose, symbolizes emergence from the status of boyhood to that of manhood.
As a gesture of union, typically how a Westerner would present an engagement ring to his bride-to-be, a husband would present his bride with a wedding blanket. The blanket may also form part of “bohali”, the gifts given to the bride’s parents as part of the agreement or union of marriage between families.
A young Basotho is preparing for an initiation wearing a Basotho blanket
Basotho Blankets are used extensively in celebrations of all types, from small get-togethers among friends to the coronation of a king. The Basotho are equally as majestic and rich in meaning as the simple gesture of gifting a person aBasotho blanket.
Every good wish, be it for health, peace, or in the preparation for rites of passage Basotho blankets are bestowed and celebrated
Even in death, it is customary to wrap the deceased in a blanket as a gesture of warmth. The metaphorical use of the blanket as the symbolism of warmth, security, peace, or pleasantness, “maybe in essence only understandable to the Basotho”. Even if not fully understood, it is impossible not to take notice of its beautiful symbolism.
On national and public stages, the Basotho blanket is often worn by dignitaries and public speakers.
Memorable and historic moments often are celebrated in the special design or gifting of a blanket.
Such moments include the visit of Pope John Paul II to Lesotho in 1988 (“Katelo ea Morena Papa”), which visit was commemorated with a blanket gift and which blanket resides today in the Vatican in Rome.
In 1989 the historical event of King Moshoeshoe II installing his heir, Prince Letsie III, emphasized the visibility of the blanket as “thousands of Basotho, wearing their traditional blankets”, gathered to see this memorable event.
During the mid-1980s King Moshoeshoe II expressed his concern about the Basotho nation becoming more westernized and pointed to an old Victoria England design, which blanket was no longer on the market at the time. It was decided to revive production and the blanket became the “Malekabe” of today, which signifies “flames” or “fire”.
Only years after, when Queen Mmamohato showcased the blanket on many public occasions did it become popular.
The close and cherished relationship between the Royal Family of Lesotho and the Basotho blanket manufacturer has been in existence for many decades, and still, today remains very much intact.
Considered a mentor, Queen Mmamohato was often visited and consulted at the Royal Residence in Matsieng, and so Basotho blanket designs and developments were typically discussed.
It is recalled with fond memories that the blanket for the Royal wedding of His Majesty King Letsie III in the year 2000 was designed with Queen Mmamohato in the heart of the Royal Residence. In tribute to Queen Mmamohoto, the “Marona” was later created, “Marona” meaning “Mother of All”.
As traders played a key role during the birth of theBasotho blanket in the 19th century, they are still very much integral to the distribution and accessibility of the blanket, and even at times party to new blanket designs.
As such, the “Moshoeshoe” blanket was created by Mme Libusing Titi from Maseru and launched in March to coincide with Moshoeshoe Day, celebrated on 11th March.
The“Moshoeshoe” blanket features the icon of King Moshoeshoe I, founder of the nation, the Qiloane Mountain, and the Basotho Shield.
The center of the blanket showcases an arrangement of the Basotho Shields which forms, at its center, the Victoria Cross, as a gesture of tribute also to Queen Victoria, who likewise played a treasured role in the history of Lesotho.
The “Linare” was created by Motsamai Moloko, originally from Leribe in Lesotho. The iconic Buffalo features boldly on the blanket and signi.es the traditional symbol of Leribe. Furthermore, its colors of black and peacock, on the back of natural over-stripes, display the colors of Leribe.
The “Linare” was developed for the celebration of the birthday of King Letsie III in Leribe in 2005. As such, a unique blanket is created for each unique area where the birthday of His Majesty is annually celebrated on 17th July.
New series of stamps was released in 1990, which underlined the importance of the blanket in the public life of the Basotho.
Blankets also feature strongly on most of the posters and postcards of the Lesotho Tourist Board.
An iconic blanket was developed after World War II, designed to honor the British and Allied Forces who fought in the war, and in memory of the Basotho's who lost their lives.
It deeply celebrates bravery, power, and conquest. The blanket, called “Badges of the Brave”, depicts thirteen iconic and meaningful emblems associated with the brave Forces.
The British Royal visit in 1947 emanated in a symbol of the crown appearing in the blankets, which reenacted a certain touch of royalty in the wearer.
The acceptability of these blankets that ensued illustrates a traditional love, admiration, and adherence towards England.
It is believed that “because the blanket is so intertwined with theBasotho way of life, a Mosotho dressed in a blanket has become synonymous with Lesotho”.
It is said that “today the Basotho cannot go without the blanket”. At times, it's expected of him to appear in a suit, but at other times he must appear in a blanket as well as his western clothing.
Unique names and designs have been carved into Basotho heritage over more than a century, and the collaborative ingenuity, therefore, continues as vividly as ever.
Although the blanket had an identity much earlier on, it is with the present flourishing of Lesotho nationalism that this identity has now been cemented in Basotho culture.
The prediction of the Basotho people that the “blanket will not stop” has come true. The entrenchment of the blanket into the everyday life of the Basotho seems to be a fact as it is interwoven with every aspect of the social and public lives of thepeople who wear the blanket.
It cannot be denied that the blanket has, through a process of evolution, become a tradition in itself and an indicator of Basotho identity and nationality.
May the beauty, love, and meaning of the Basotho blanket live on. History and indeed the Basotho people say it will. Thula Tula is the proud custodian and licensed U.S distributor of the Basotho Blanket.
The article is written with central reference to, and extracts of, a research document, “The Basotho blanket, borrowed but traditional”, written by Myrtle Karstel for the National Museum Bloemfontein and published in 1995.
The article also includes central input from Tom Kritzinger, who has been instrumental in the development and prestige of the Basotho Heritage Blanket over several decades.
Other contributors include:
The Other, Getaway Magazine, Joël Tettamanti
A Basotho blanket is called a "Seanamarena" in the Sesotho language, spoken by the Basotho people of Lesotho and South Africa.
The Seanamarena blanket is a traditional garment worn by the Basotho people, and it is often brightly colored and intricately patterned.
The blanket has become a symbol of Lesotho and is often used as a gift or for ceremonial purposes.
The Basotho blanket is an essential symbol of Basotho culture and heritage.
It is considered a treasured item and is often passed down from generation to generation.
The blanket is worn by both men and women and has several symbolic meanings:
The origin of the Basotho blanket can be traced back to the 19th century when European traders began introducing woolen blankets to the southern African region.
The blankets were initially used for trade and as currency, but they soon became popular among the Basotho people for their warmth and durability.
It is believed that King Moshoeshoe I, the founder of the Basotho nation, was gifted a blanket by a French missionary in the early 1800s.
The king was so impressed with the blanket that he began wearing it as a cloak and encouraged his subjects to do the same.
Over time, the blanket became integral to Basotho culture and identity.
In the early 1900s, the South African textile company, Aranda Textile Mills, began producing woolen blankets for the Basotho market.
These blankets were designed with colorful and intricate patterns inspired by traditional Basotho motifs and symbols.
Today, Aranda is still one of the leading manufacturers of Basotho blankets, along with other companies in South Africa and Lesotho.
Traditionally, the Basotho blanket was made of wool from the Merino sheep, which produces high-quality wool.
However, today's blankets are made from a variety of materials, including synthetic fibers, cotton, and mohair.
The blankets are typically woven on large looms, allowing intricate designs and patterns to be created.
The blankets are known for their thickness and weight, which make them warm and durable.
The blankets come in various sizes, but the most common size is around 1.5 meters by 2 meters.
The blankets are also known for their vibrant colors and bold patterns, which often feature geometric shapes and traditional Basotho motifs.
The manufacturing process for the Basotho blanket involves several steps, including dyeing, spinning, weaving, and finishing.
The finished product is a highly valued item that is treasured by the Basotho people and has become a symbol of their cultural heritage.
For several reasons, Sotho men wear blankets, specifically, the traditional Basotho blanket called the Seanamarena.
Firstly, the blanket is a symbol of Basotho culture and heritage, and wearing it is a way of expressing pride in their identity and traditions.
Secondly, the blanket is practical and protects against Lesotho's cold and mountainous climate. It is made from thick, heavy wool that provides warmth and insulation, making it ideal for chilly weather.
Thirdly, the blanket is a status symbol indicating a person's social position or authority.
For example, a king or chief may wear a more ornate and elaborately patterned blanket to show their status and power.
Lastly, the Basotho blanket plays a vital role in traditional Basotho rituals and ceremonies, such as weddings, funerals, and initiation ceremonies.
Wearing the blanket during these events shows respect and adherence to cultural norms and traditions.
Basotho and Lesotho are not the same, but they are closely related.
Basotho refers to the ethnic group native to the southern African region, primarily in Lesotho and parts of South Africa.
The Basotho people have their language, culture, and traditions and are known for their skills in agriculture, weaving, and other crafts.
Lesotho, on the other hand, is a landlocked country located entirely within South Africa. It is home to most of the Basotho people and is known for its mountainous terrain, rich culture, and unique history.
Lesotho gained independence from Britain in 1966 and is now a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of government.
So, while Basotho and Lesotho are not the same, they are closely connected in culture, history, and geography.
There are several types of Basotho blankets, each with its own unique design and meaning. Here are some of the most well-known Basotho blanket names:
These are just a few examples of the many existing Basotho blanket designs and names. Each blanket has its history and significance within Basotho culture.
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