An interlude in a Sotho Praise-Poem from Lesotho. The poem is addressed to Nathaniel Makotoko, one of the Sotho’s most famous military commanders.

Meeting him in 1879, the missionary Francois Coillard wrote, “Nathanael (sic) is no longer the young man of old, vigorous and valiant. Of those bygone days, nothing is left him but the scars which recall the dauntless courage he displayed in fighting for his country, defending the fortress of Moshesh.” See also Mosheoshoe.

This extract celebrates an episode of calm and relaxation between battles, when the men enjoyed a night of hospitality and peace.

The armies left the Great Place in full strength:
And when we arrived at the place of Lesaoana, (1)
At the wall of my father’s, of Rannehela,
Light-coloured person of Rasenate,
Fitting to grace the men as they moved,
He found for us a hollow place and hid us,
And he gave us pipes and we smoked
And waited for the Morning Star to appear.

The night passed away and he marshalled us,
And he made us disappear beyond the rise,
And we carried our guns and we mounted;
Withstood the cold and hunger.

It was spring, and the wild olive trees were blooming,
The willows too, and the blooms were on the twigs;
Among the grasses the most beautiful was the diritshwane,
Among the birds were such as the masked weaver bird.

D.P. Kunene,
from Heroic Poetry of the Basotho (1971).


Footnotes

  1. The names in lines 2-4 are of local villages.