The Basotho Heritage Blanket
“Kobo ke bophelo”. The blanket is life.
The Basotho Heritage Blanket has become interwoven into the culture and fabric of the Basotho nation, and reflects the hallmark and signature of “The Mountain Kingdom” or “Roof of Africa”, as Lesotho is affectionately known.
The long and rich history of the blanket began in 1860 when King Moshoeshoe I welcomed a blanket gift from a French missionary and draped it ‘a la poncho’. It signified the birth in Lesotho of the blanket wearing tradition, and soon after forever replaced the animal skin karosses as the kingdom’s primary attire.
Over time, the blanket became entrenched in the Basotho culture not only as shelter against the cold, but as a bold and beautiful expression of Basotho virtues, status and unity.
The blanket has developed into a colourful array of names and designs, which symbolise and celebrate nationality and pride, birth, boyhood, manhood, womanhood, adulthood, peace, love, royalty, bravery and courage, light and warmth, union and marriage, indeed “life” itself, and even death.
So would a young bride wear the blanket wrapped around her hips to stay warm, warmth typically associated with fermentation in the making of beer, or fertilisation. At birth, the child is lovingly wrapped in a special blanket, which blanket later is used to tie the baby to the mother’s back, very much indicative of bonding.
When boyhood meets manhood, a young boy would wear a blanket before initiation, and wear another after, as proof that he has reached manhood in the Basotho culture. The wearing of this blanket, apart from its utility purpose, symbolises 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-tobe, 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.
Memorable events, such as during the coronation of a king, are mediated by a blanket, but equally as majestic and rich in meaning is the simple gesture of gifting a person with a blanket, when about to venture on a long journey.
In fact, every good wish, be it for health, peace or in the preparation for a different circumstance (“rites de passage”) is bestowed and very much celebrated by way of such a treasured gift.
Even in death, it is customary to wrap the deceased in a blanket as a gesture of warmth.
On national and public stages, the blanket also speaks. For example, the oldest Basotho blanket trademark, “Victoria England”, established at the turn of the 19th century, signifies the high regard by Lesotho of England – Queen Victoria having spread her “blanket of protection” over Lesotho in 1868 on plea of King Moshoeshoe I. Until its independence in 1966, Lesotho remained a British protectorate, but good relations with England surpassed independence and have very much remained intact. Also notable, the iconic “Badges of the Brave” blanket commemorates beautifully the Allied Forces who defeated Germany in World War II.
Other established trademarks include the royal crown jewel of the Basotho blanket, “Seanamarena”, which is produced in various vivid designs, the most characteristic being “Poone” or the “corncob” that symbolises fertility and growth.
The “Kharetsa” pays tribute, for example, 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”.
So would 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, for example.
Indeed intertwined with the Basotho way of life, the blanket has become a tradition in itself and an indicator of Basotho identity and nationality.
The Basotho blanket has now made its mark also on the big screen of Hollywood and the catwalk of the West, suggesting that its signature is in fact quite spectacular and expressive, even on the largest of stages.
Aranda Textile Mills (Pty) Ltd is the proud custodian and licenced manufacturer of the Basotho Heritage Blanket.
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King Moshoeshoe II