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  • Why the Basotho wear Basotho blankets and why you'll love them too

    12 min read

    Why the Basotho Wear Blankets Young child and mother embracing on a Basotho heritage blanket

    Why The Basotho People of Lesotho (Kingdom of the Sky) Wear Basotho Blankets 

    Men and women of the Basotho nation wear their Basotho blankets differently, but this does not alter the significance of the blanket itself.

    Young girl sitting on a Basotho blanket

    The Basotho blanket is worn over other clothing to emphasise a common identity as part of the Basotho people. The design and type of blanket depict the persons standing within the community and hold value as a status symbol.


    Basotho blankets are divided into three classes based on the material they are made from. First and second-class blankets are made from 90% wool and a 10% cotton blend, whereas the third-class blankets are made from acrylic.


    Basotho Blankets are part of Basotho ceremonies like the right of passage where boys become men and girls become women.

    The Basotho blanket is gifted to a baby at birth and as a wedding gift as well as being used in funerals where the deceased are wrapped in a blanket. Basotho blankets can be seen as the outer identity of a Basotho person because it displays their life journey and reveals their status within the nation.


    Loyalty and respect are deep-rooted in Basotho culture, and wearing blankets is not only functional but also serves to pay homage to their king, almost in a likeness of being manner. Honouring of Basotho's elders and their ancestors is taught from birth, and the blanket serves as a symbolic gesture of righteous standing within the nation.

    Lesotho: The Kingdom in the sky and home to the Basotho People

    The kingdom of Lesotho is the only independent state on the planet which exists entirely above 1,000m (3,281ft). Hence its apt nickname – “Kingdom of the Sky”

    The Kingdom of Lesotho is one of the most beautiful countries in the world


    The Kingdom of Lesotho is a small landlocked country completely surrounded by South Africa and is nestled in the Drakensberg mountains. The Basotho people of Lesotho migrated to the area in the 17th century from the northern parts of southern Africa that cover Namibia, Botswana, and Zimbabwe.


    Although the kingdom was initially a lot larger when established, much of the land was dispossessed through tribal wars and the Dutch settlers claiming farmland in the Free State province of South Africa.


    As a Bantu tribe, ( Bantu meaning several peoples forming a linguistically and in some respects culturally interrelated family in central and southern Africa.)  the Basotho were no different to other Bantu tribes with the wearing of animal skins, feathers and headgear, which pronounced the status of the person within the tribe. 


    a view of Lesotho highlands and mountain ranges

    This painting was originally commissioned after the royal tour of South Africa by Princess Elizabeth (now Queen of England).


    All this changed for the Basotho in 1860 when European settlers gave gifts to King Moshoeshoe. 1. and among the gifts was a woollen blanket. He was so impressed with the first Basotho blanket that he replaced his leopard skins with it.

    To understand why the king preferred the Basotho blanketto his leopard skin, one only has to understand how different the climate is compared to the rest of Southern Africa. Winters can be extremely cold with regular snowfalls, and the wind at such high altitudes can be unbearably cold even during the summer months.


    The Basotho grew accustomed to seeing their king wearing the Basotho blanket, and in 1897 British Queen Victoria visited Lesotho, which was then called Basuto land. She presented a blanket as a gift to then King Lerotholi Letsie. The blanket was named Victoria England after the queen and was regarded as a status symbol from then on.

    The designs or patterns on Basotho blankets each tell a story. The blankets have the customary label depicting the material used and other details that are always displayed outwards when wearing the Basotho blanket. This is done as a matter of pride and not so much as a brag.

    Basotho gentleman standing by the road side. The painting is 2 x 3 metres with a genuine gold-leaf plated frame. It took 9 months to restore the painting to its original glory.

    A brief history of lesotho and the basotho Blankets

    Bantu history pre-colonisation was largely passed down through the generations in the form of folklore, song, cave paintings and rock engravings of tribal activities like animal hunts. To a large degree, what was originally written on Bantu history was compiled by early European missionaries.


    As we all know, folklore paints a biased picture of the past where even the defeated are hailed as heroes. This is common among all people of the world, where facts are distorted to keep hope alive.


    The history and significance of the Basotho blanket have had their fair share of distorted interpretations and meaning. Distorted interpretations are common when discussing fertility, and emphasis is placed solely on the woman, but the concept of fertility in the Basotho context goes a lot deeper. It encapsulates the fertility of the soil, the growth of plant life (crops), and livestock, which all contribute to the nation's health and well-being.


    But, regardless of this fact, the Basotho blanket holds great significance to the Basotho people and because of strict controls and a deeply cultured people, the history has pretty much remained untarnished.

    a Basotho gentleman wearing a traditional Basotho blanket

    The culture and traditions of the Basotho and the importance of Basotho blankets

    The culture and traditions of the Basotho people have remained intact thanks to a lack of tribal conflict and the difficulty of travel within the mountain kingdom. Most of the kingdom is only accessible by foot or on horseback.


    Wearing of Basotho blankets became part of the Basotho culture towards the end of the 1800s, so it has a relatively recent history, and although the world has changed dramatically, Lesotho and the Basotho people have managed to keep their culture and traditions alive and well.

    Why basotho wear blankets mother and daughter embrace and hug on basotho blanket

    The Basotho blankets range

    There is a wide range of Basotho blankets especially designed for ceremonies and special occasions. Each Basotho household will have a dozen or more blankets in their possession at any given time, and it is culturally expected of subjects to wear the correct Basotho blanket that fits the occasion.


    Strict control over Basotho blanket designs is maintained, and each design must display and relate to the Basotho culture. Every design must be approved by the king, and the blankets' manufacturing is only permitted by one company in South Africa called Aranda. This is apart from the Victoria England range that was always manufactured in England but to a lesser degree nowadays.


    The rights to manufacture this range by Aranda in South Africa were granted, and instead of "Made in England" displayed on the label, it now just states "England" with the "Made in" removed.


    The list below will give you an idea of the importance of blanket design for specific occasions. It also highlights the link between the British and the Basotho nations.

    • Victoria England. This blanket is reserved for royalty only and is called the Lefitori, which includes badges of the brave, crest, crown, spitfire, Malekable (flame), traditional leopard skin and Pelo ea Morena, which means the heart of the king. The badges of the brave are a tribute to British regiments and Basotho soldiers who served in world war 2.
    • Seanamarena. which means "to swear by the chiefs", is the crown jewel of the Basotho blankets, and it dates back to the 1930s. This collection of blankets includes the Poone design that incorporates the corncob motif, a sign of fertility and wealth.
    • Motlatsi. The name means successor and was created in 2007 in honour of Crown Prince Lerotholi. The design showcases a collection of hearts on a houndstooth background, symbolising love, respect, and loyalty for the Basotho monarchy.
    • Matlam This blanket is commonly worn at wedding ceremonies, and the design differs between men and women

    Wearing a Basotho blanket.

    TIPS ON WHEN, WHERE AND HOW TO WEAR A BASOTHO BLANKET

    Basotho blankets are more like a throw than a blanket and are designed to wear as a garment. The size measures 155cm by 165cm, which is practical for a garment but too small for a bed.


    The usual way that the Basotho blankets are worn is over the shoulders, and the blanket is pinned onto clothing on the right shoulder. Alternatively, it is worn around the waist, but women also use the blanket to carry their baby on their back or in the front, and it is normally pinned at her bosom.


    The ease and simplicity of wearing and using the blanket against the elements are quite remarkable, and contrary to public belief, the Basotho only clad themselves in their blankets when it is cold. Other cultures or nations use blankets in a similar way, like the Ndebele, but they have their own unique designs which are easily identifiable.  

    Why the basotho wear blankets young girl ltying on basotho blanket

    A proud people and a proud nation

    The Basotho people are a very proud nation who refused to become part of South Africa but rather stayed as a British protectorate until their independence in 1966. Their isolation in the mountains served to preserve their heritage, traditions and culture.


    There is no private land ownership in Lesotho as all the available land belongs to every member of the Basotho nation. Each Basotho person holds the nation's responsibility and is embedded in their lifestyle to preserve and care for what they have for the greater good of the nation. The land is sacred to the Basotho, who are predominantly farmers and rear livestock, plant grain and vegetables.


    City dwellers are more westernised but still embrace their culture as their identity. This collective unity that binds the nation together shines through in their blanket designs which emphasises the important features of life in the kingdom in the sky.

    Young family cuddled up on the beach wearing Basotho blankets

    FAQ - The Questions You want Answered

    What does the Basotho blanket Symbolise?

    The Basotho blanket is a traditional woolen blanket worn by the Basotho people, a Bantu ethnic group native to the Kingdom of Lesotho and parts of South Africa.


    The blanket is an important cultural symbol with practical and symbolic significance for the Basotho people.


    Practically, the Basotho blanket is worn as a form of protection against the cold weather in the high mountains of Lesotho.


    Symbolically, the blanket is a marker of Basotho identity and represents the wearer's cultural heritage, history, and status.


    The patterns and colors of the blanket also have specific meanings and are often associated with different clans and families within the Basotho community.


    The Basotho blanket is also a symbol of the relationship between the Basotho people and the British Empire.


    The blanket was introduced to the Basotho people by European traders and became a popular item of clothing during the late 19th century.


    Today, the Basotho blanket is produced locally in Lesotho and by companies outside of Lesotho.


    It has become a popular item of clothing and a symbol of African heritage worldwide.

    What is Basotho blanket called?

    The Basotho blanket is called a "Kobo" in the Sesotho language. 


    It is a traditional garment worn by the Basotho people of Lesotho and South Africa. 


    It is made from a thick woolen material that provides warmth in the cold mountainous regions where they live. 


    The Kobo is often decorated with bright colors and intricate patterns and symbolizes Basotho culture and identity.

    What are the names of the Seanamarena Basotho blanket?

    The Seanamarena Basotho blanket is known as the "Mountain Kingdom" blanket. 


    It is one of the most iconic and recognizable designs in Basotho blanket history. 


    The blanket features a white background with bold black and yellow stripes and a central diamond pattern in various colors.

    What is the history of the Basotho blankets?

    The history of the Basotho blanket dates back to the early 19th century when King Moshoeshoe I founded the Basotho kingdom.


    At that time, the Basotho people wore animal hides and furs as clothing to protect themselves from the harsh mountain weather of Lesotho.


    However, with the arrival of European traders and missionaries, the Basotho began to wear imported woolen blankets as a form of clothing.


    One of the most popular blankets the Basotho people wore was the Welsh tapestry blanket, which was imported from the United Kingdom.


    The Welsh tapestry blankets were known for their durability, warmth, and intricate designs, and they quickly became popular among the Basotho people.


    In the 1860s, a South African textile company called Aranda began producing a version of the Welsh tapestry blanket for the Basotho market.

    The Aranda blankets were made of high-quality wool and featured designs and patterns inspired by Basotho culture and tradition.


    Today, the Basotho blanket is an important cultural symbol for the Basotho people and is produced both locally in Lesotho and by companies outside of Lesotho.


    The blankets continue to be worn as a form of protection against the cold weather and a symbol of Basotho identity, heritage, and status.

    What is special about Basotho?

    The Basotho people are a Bantu ethnic group native to the Kingdom of Lesotho and parts of South Africa.


    They have a rich cultural heritage and are known for their unique traditions, customs, and way of life.


    Here are some of the things that are special about the Basotho:


    1. The Basotho people have a deep sense of community and are known for their strong family ties and social bonds. They place great value on respect, hospitality, and generosity toward others.
    2. The Basotho people have a rich storytelling, music, and dance tradition. They are known for their vibrant and colorful cultural celebrations, such as the annual Morija Arts and Cultural Festival.
    3. The Basotho people are renowned for their horsemanship skills and have a long history of using horses for transportation and warfare. They are also famous for their traditional Basotho pony, a small but hardy breed of horse native to Lesotho.
    4. The Basotho people have a unique clothing style, including the famous Basotho blanket. This woolen blanket is worn to protect against the cold weather and as a symbol of Basotho identity.
    5. The Basotho people have a rich history of resistance against colonialism and apartheid and played an essential role in the struggle for independence and democracy in South Africa.

    Overall, the Basotho people are a resilient, proud, and culturally rich community with a deep connection to their history, traditions, and way of life.

    What is unique about Basotho culture?

    The Basotho people have a rich and unique culture shaped by their history, traditions, and way of life.

    Here are some of the things that are unique about Basotho culture:


    1. The Basotho blanket: The Basotho blanket is a traditional woolen blanket worn as a form of clothing and a symbol of Basotho identity. The blankets are made in various colors and patterns and are often associated with different clans and families within the Basotho community.
    2. Horses and horsemanship: The Basotho people have a long history of using horses for transportation and warfare and are renowned for their horsemanship skills. They have a unique style of riding called the "Basotho seat," which involves sitting upright on the horse's back without a saddle.
    3. Music and dance: The Basotho people have a rich storytelling, music, and dance tradition. They use music and dance to celebrate important occasions, such as weddings and cultural festivals. The most popular traditional dance is the "Mokhibo," which involves rhythmic movements and singing.
    4. Crafts and art: The Basotho people are skilled in various crafts, including pottery, weaving, and wood carving. They also have a rich painting and sculpture tradition, often inspired by Basotho history and mythology.
    5. Traditional healers: The Basotho people have a long tradition of using traditional medicine to treat illness and disease. Traditional healers, or "sangomas," are highly respected community members and play an essential role in Basotho culture.

    The Basotho culture is characterized by a strong sense of community, pride in their heritage, and a deep connection to their land and natural environment.

    What religion is Basotho?

    The Basotho people have traditionally practiced a form of African traditional religion that involves the worship of ancestors, spirits, and supreme beings.


    This traditional religion is still practiced by many Basotho today, although Christianity and Islam have also gained significant numbers of followers. 


    Christianity was introduced to Lesotho by European missionaries in the 19th century and has since become the dominant religion, with a majority of Basotho being Christian, mainly of the Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations. Islam has a smaller following among the Basotho, primarily among the immigrant population and converts.

    What do Basotho girls wear?

    Like all Basotho people, Sotho girls have unique and colorful traditional attire that reflects their cultural identity.


    Here are some of the things that Sotho girls wear:


    1. Basotho blanket: The Basotho blanket is an iconic part of traditional Sotho attire. It is a thick, woolen blanket worn over the shoulders to protect against cold weather. The blankets come in various colors and designs and are often associated with different clans and families within the Sotho community.
    2. Shweshwe dress: The traditional dress is made from a printed cotton fabric known as shweshwe. The dress is typically brightly colored and features intricate patterns and designs. It is worn for special occasions such as weddings and cultural festivals.
    3. Headwrap: Sotho girls often wear headwraps, which are large pieces of fabric tied around the head in various styles. The headwraps are usually made from the same fabric as the shweshwe dress and are worn as a cultural expression.
    4. Beaded jewelry: Sotho girls often wear beaded jewelry, such as necklaces, bracelets, and earrings, which are typically made from colorful beads and shells. The jewelry is often worn as decoration and can be pretty elaborate.

    Overall, traditional Sotho attire is a beautiful and colorful expression of their cultural heritage and is an essential part of their identity as a people.


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