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Sunday, April 09, 2017

Moshoeshoe Day

Police horses en route to Thaba Bosiu
in preparation for the
Moshoeshoe Day ceremony.
Every March 11th, Lesotho celebrates Moshoeshoe Day. King Moshoeshoe I is the father of the Basotho nation.

In the 1800s, Basotho were spread out throughout the land now known as Lesotho and Orange Free State in South Africa. Moshoeshoe was the chief of the Bakoena or Crocodile clan. He and his clan were living in the area of Bothe Bothe, including on Thaba Mopeli (a mountain near the camptown of Botha Bothe today) and at LiphofungCaves.

As Zulu clans were pushing west, they began encroaching on Basotho lands. Thaba Mopeli was proving itself to be difficult to defend as it did not have water on the top of the mountain. Moshoeshoe and his clan walked from Botha Bothe to Thaba Bosiu. Unlike Thaba Mopeli, Thaba Bosiu has natural springs on its flat surface, making it a better and safer place to build homes. It turned out that Thaba Bosiu was an unusually secure site to defend. The name Thaba Bosiu means Mountain of Night. It was given this name after Moshoeshoe and his warriors successfully defeated the Zulu warriors at night. Legend has it that they burned herbs that made their enemies hallucinate and think the mountain was growing taller as they climbed the steep, rocky path to the top.
Looking up Thaba Bosiu
Moshoeshoe was also able to unify the other clans and claim the land known as Lesotho. In doing so, he became the first King of the Basotho people. He eventually asked for the Basotho nation to become a protectorate of the British government as formal colonization of Africa was occurring in Europe. This move helped to protect Lesotho from the Boers (white persons of Dutch origin living in South Africa) and then during decolonization, it contributed to why Lesotho is its own country today instead of a part of South Africa.
Cultural Celebrations

Moshoeshoe Walk 2017
Photo from PCV Katie DuBose
Around the country, Moshoeshoe Day celebrations include Cultural Day Competitions or Sports Competitions for most schools. Every year there is also a Moshoeshoe Walk that starts two days before March 11th, in Botha Bothe. Ambitious participants walk 72 miles from the 9th to the 11th, ending at the Thaba Bosiu Cultural Center at the bottom of the Thaba Bosiu mountain. King Moshoeshoe I was buried atop Thaba Bosiu, so the official government celebration occurs there every year with a ceremony before everyone climbs the mountain and lays a wreath at King Moshoeshoe’s grave.

Posing with the new King Moshoeshoe I statue at
Thaba Bosiu Cultural Center on Moshoeshoe Day.
Like King Moshoeshoe I, I recently moved from Botha Bothe to Thaba Bosiu in Maseru. This made observing Moshoeshoe Day far more interesting as I reflected on having followed his path through Lesotho.

As for my own celebrations, a friend came over and together we walked the half an hour to the Thaba Bosiu Cultural Center after the just after the government ceremony had concluded. We posed with the new King Moshoeshoe statue and checked out the cultural village highlighting traditional building methods and lifestyles for each clan. Then, we relaxed and got burgers at a nearby restaurant while awaiting the arrival some friends that were ambitious (and crazy) enough to do the Moshoeshoe Walk. 

Despite having visited the Cultural Center multiple times during my time in Lesotho, there was definitely something special about being there on Moshoeshoe Day. 
In front of the traditional home of
my family's clan.

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