Sotho Culture, Food and Tradition

Africa is a continent rich in diverse cultures, each with its own distinct identity. The Sotho people, also known as the Basotho people, are a group of people who originated from Southern Africa, now known as South Africa, and have their own unique identity. Clan names, which define their ancestral roots, are used by the Sothos to identify themselves. The Bataung, Basia, Bafokeng, Makgolokwe, Bakuena, and other clans are among them. Bakuena makes up the majority of Lesotho’s royal dynasty.

The Origin Of The Sotho People

The early Sotho origins remain unknown to date, however, it is gathered that during the formative years of the Sotho people, ironworkers, who were likely Sotho-speakers made their settlements at Phalaborwa around the 8th century, as well as at Melville Koppies in the Johannesburg towards the 11th century.

The various tribes of the Sotho people co-existed peacefully until 1822 when they were attacked by fugitive Nguni fleeing Natal. Those who survived the onslaught fled to the north, east, and south, eventually becoming the Basotho nation. Agriculture and animal husbandry were the primary sources of food for the Basotho nation. Men and boys would look after the animals’ needs, while women toiled in the fields and collected water from springs.

Sotho Clothing as Part of Sotho Culture

The Sotho traditional attires are very distinctive and have a lot of significance attached to them. They had their unique way of dressing, depending on the age of an individual or the occasion. Here are some of the notable Sotho attires:

  • Sefaha sa letsopa: These are clay bead neckpieces used by women.
image source
  • Thethana ea banana: This is a type of garment made of clay beads and usually worn by girls.
  • Mose oa lekoko: These are skirts made of woven fiber or cow skin.
  • Tseha: This is a sheepskin undergarment that is cut into a triangle form and knotted around the torso to protect the private parts. This attire is worn by young boys and as they grow older, the length of the Tesha increases.
  • Mokorotlo: This is a headgear that is conically shaped made out of grass. Other head wears indigenous to the Sotho are Moliha-nyeoe, ts’ets’e Kuoane, kharetsana, and sekola. These are all examples of animal-skin hats, with sekola typically worn by warriors.
image source
  • Basotho blanket: the chiefs of the Basotho tribe wore a special blanket fashioned by men. This blanket was known as lehlosi, and it was constructed from wild cats or leopard skins.
image source

Sotho Language Is Very Rich & Well Developed

The Sotho language sometimes known as Sesotho, is a Bantu language related to Setswana. Proverbs, idioms, and particular modes of address reserved for elders and in-laws abound in Sotho.

The distinction between Southern and Northern Sotho people is based on the two groups’ dialects. Lesotho speaks the Southern version of Sotho, while the Northern Province speaks the Northern form – Sepedi is the name of the northern dialect. For several terms, Southern Sotho uses click consonants, whereas Sepedi does not. Southern Sotho currently uses two spelling systems, one in Lesotho and the other in South Africa. Khotso, le phela joang? (roughly, “Peace, how are you?”) is a frequent greeting in Lesotho. The term joang (how) is written jwang in South Africa, while khotso is spelt kgotso.

More so, the coining of Sotho names usually reflects the parents’ or community’s ideals. Lehlohonolo (Good Fortune), Mpho (Gift), and MmaThabo are all common surnames found both in the Nothern and Southern Sotho areas. The use of names to allude to occurrences is also possible. A girl born during a rainstorm, for example, might be called Puleng, which means “in the rain.” Individuals may also be given the name of a clan hero. However, surnames are generally derived from the father’s side of the family.

Rites of Passage Among the Sotho People

The various rites of passage are very important aspects of the Sotho culture and they include the following:

Rites of Birth

Women are assisted in childbirth by female birth attendants. When the father’s firstborn child is a girl, relatives and friends would traditionally immerse him in water. The father was thrashed with a stick if the firstborn was a boy. This rite implied that although males’ lives are consumed by battle, girls’ lives are consumed by household responsibilities such as collecting water. The child will then be kept in a specially marked tent with the mother for 2 to 3 months following delivery after which the baby will be brought outside to experience the first rain.

Initiation Into Maturity Rites

In the Sotho culture, boys and girls are initiated into maturity through elaborate rites. Initiation for boys entails a long stay in a lodge at a remote location away from the settlement. The lodge might be quite big, with dozens of initiates known locally as bashemane. The boys are circumcised while in seclusion and are taught proper male behavior in marriage, special initiation customs, code phrases, and signs, as well as praise songs. The end of initiation in Lesotho is marked by a community event during which the new initiates known as makolwan, sing the praises they have written. According to Sotho’s traditional beliefs, a guy who has not been initiated is not considered a full adult.

Girls initiate known as bales, similarly entails seclusion, but the bale’s ceremonial houses are usually near the settlement. Bales usually wear masks and skirts made of goatskin, and they smear a white chalk powder on their bodies. They are sometimes observed in groups approaching relatives’ homes, singing, dancing, and making pleas for gifts. The girls are put to pain and endurance tests in some clans. After the whole process, the initiates, now known as Litswejane, wear cowhide skirts and anoint themselves with crimson ocher after their period of isolation. There is no surgical procedure involved in the initiation of girls.

Burial Rites of Sotho People

When someone dies, the entire community comes together to bury the person. Friends and family make speeches at the burial and the adult men take turns shoveling soil into the grave. Following that, everyone in attendance washes their hands as a group. A funeral feast may also be held.

Sotho People Have Unique Music & Dance Routines

As an accompaniment to dance, Sotho traditional music emphasizes ensemble singing, chanting, and hand clapping. Drums, rattles, whistles, and handcrafted stringed instruments were among the instruments utilized. The lesiba, for example, is formed of a pole, a thread, and a feather. The feather works as a reed when blown, providing a rich, resonant sound.

More so, Lesotho has developed a distinct migrant worker subculture as a result of generations of mine labor. This subculture produced its own set of songs and dance steps. Synced high-kicking steps are used in mining dance. The lyrics of one song, difela, relate the migrant laborers’ adventures, preferences, and perspectives. Dance tunes played by small ensembles on drums, accordions, and guitars are also popular in Sotho.

Sotho Traditional Wedding Ceremony Procedure

image source

Lesotho’s traditional wedding is similar to other African traditional weddings, beginning with lobola discussions, in which the potential bride and groom’s families meet to negotiate the combining of the two families through marriage.

Arranged marriages were popular among Basotho leaders and chiefs’ offspring in the past and still are among a select few today. For a groom’s father to approach a bride’s family, ancestry and kinship ties were significant – it was customary in those days, and still is in some circles now. He would then ask for a calabash of water if they were receptive and if the parents of the bride give their consent, the groom with a few of his friends would then formally visit her to know her personal stand concerning the match or agreement between both parents. If she agrees, she would then give him a scarf ‘moqhaka’, and offer him food – the groom-to-be would then refuse the offer, accepting would imply that ‘he came for food not love’.

Although the couple may have never met, they usually approved the choice made. But today, things have changed as individual choices have become the norm.

Sotho Lobola Negotiations

Prior to the invention of money, a person’s worth was determined by the number of his or her herd of cattle. It’s hardly unexpected, however, that successful talks would result in the groom paying in “cows” to secure his bride’s hand in marriage. Bohali, or ‘bridewealth,’ was the term for this type of transfer. Cattle and other livestock payments indicated that children would be born into the father’s clan and kin-group rather than the mother’s.

Bohali were more or less fixed at 20 cattle, 1 horse, and 10 sheep or goats, but they were rarely paid in whole. Following a cattle transfer of up to ten cattle, additional payments indicated that the two families had become closer. However, until the payment was made, the pair were not allowed to have sexual relations or live together. More so, the first bohali transfer, of 6 cattle or their cash equivalent, acknowledges the groom’s sexual relations with his wife, but it does not grant him the right to claim her children as members of his kin group – at least ten cattle or their cash equivalent must be transferred and acknowledged publicly for this.

Both families would then go on to exchange gifts such as a bottle of wine or whisky, dishes, or blankets after successful negotiations. The families would also proceed to decide on a date for the conventional wedding, which would see the bride taken to the groom’s parents’ house. Following that, the two households slaughter cows and share some of the blood. The groom’s family then gives the bride a new first name, signaling that she has been accepted into the family. This new name could be the name of a female family member, such as a grandma.

Only close friends and relatives were normally invited to the traditional wedding to celebrate with the new couple in the past. However, even if they were not invited, community members can now attend a conventional wedding. In addition to the traditional wedding ceremony, many modern Sesotho couples (like many other Africans) have a white wedding ceremony, especially if they are Christians.

Sotho Traditional Food

The traditional food of the Sotho tribe is very rich and diverse. They had a diet that consisted of various foods such as maize, millet, melons, pumpkins, peas, beans, and groundnuts. They also domesticated animals for food and they included sheep, goats, fowl, cattle amongst others.

Seasonal foods such as wild berries and other wild fruits are also featured in their sustenance. More so, during traditional ceremonies, they had traditional alcohol known simply as jwala, which plays an essential role in their culture.

Other Sotho Festivals

Lesotho festivals are largely centered on Christian norms, as well as the country’s rich culture. There are also independence festivals and activities commemorating the turbulent times that preceded the current political stability. Some of these popular festivals include:

Moshoeshoe’s Day

Every year on March 11, Sotho people gather to commemorate Moshoeshoe the Great’s life and reign as Lesotho’s first king – he died in 1870. The king, a gifted leader, and diplomat, was responsible for the preservation of much of the country’s cultural legacy, as well as the establishment of Christianity through his acceptance of European missionaries.

Family Day

Family Day, which takes place in early March every year, honors one of the country’s cultural pillars. Workers travel down to their villages for the day to eat, drink and have a good time with their families.


Easter week, generally in April, is the most major religious event of the year, with all the traditional parades, church attendances, and family gatherings. Most Sotho people are devout Christians, and Easter Sunday is a day of pure delight for them.

Morija Arts and Cultural Festival

The Arts and Cultural Festival, Lesotho’s most popular festival, takes place in and around the capital every September or October for five days. Theater, poetry, dance, music, song, crafts, art displays, and everything in between are all featured. The event attracts tens of thousands of tourists and features jazz, modern music, African films, and much more.


A good number of Sotho natives are Christians and the faith’s major festivals are observed with church services, family reunions, and acapella Christmas hymns with wonderful full-voiced African harmonies. The midnight mass on Christmas Eve is a must-see event.

New Year

The celebration of the New Year is marked by street celebrations, fireworks at midnight, and parties all around town, as is customary in Africa.


Featured Today

Related Stories