Taking my head off to Moshoeshoe I

It is that time of the year when we take our heads off to the founder of the Basotho nation, Moshoeshoe I. He was a man with multiple lifetimes of wisdom! As I have suggested in previous blogs, despite believing in the principle of love, Moshoeshoe knew and understood that there were times when it was absolutely imperative to crush thy enemy totally and times when total surrender was the best course of action. The key lied simply in timing.

Today, I shall share with you a short story that involves his senior wife, ‘Mamohato. ‘Mamohato after being converted to Christianity decided to divorce Moshoeshoe I. He, of course, didn’t refuse. He called his people and told them that ‘Mamohato was no longer his wife but remained the mother of the heir apparent. Came the planting season and the people ploughed the fields of all the king’s wives except that of ‘Mamohato. ‘Mamohato was, as the story goes, extremely upset by this. She went to the king to lay her complaint. The king called his people to ask why they skipped her field. The people answered by asking whether or not she was still married to the king.

Allow me to digress a bit before giving the king’s response so that you may perhaps appreciate how pregnant this question was. Lesotho, as is still the case, is a hierarchical society. Around Moshoeshoe’s time it had two main tiers: “bafo”, commoners in the majority and “marena”, the kings or the general blue blooded individuals in the minority. In many ways this hierarchy was very comparable to some European class structures of that time. Below is an image for the comparison. What I haven’t captured is that the clergy, though highly debated, were at the apex in both structures, influencing (mis)appropriately the ruling class (i.e. the aristocracy).


European vs. Basotho Class Structures in the Past


Based on these structures, the primary duty of all people in the lower class(es) was to serve the aristocracy. A person through marriage could be pulled to a higher class. It really was that simple. Now here was a dilemma. ‘Mamohato who had sought for a divorce wanted the privileges that came with being a king’s wife. Moshoeshoe as the ultimate king of the land had the powers to order his people to plough her field. Taking into account the response of his people, Moshoeshoe recognised that to give such an order would be foolish. So he didn’t! Instead he went to help ‘Mamohato to plough her field and some of his loyal followers joined in.

To me, this act, however small it may be, says so much about how wise Moshoeshoe was. He understood that lest he wanted a coup, deciding otherwise would be a mistake. It may sound like I am being dramatic by talking about a coup but we are talking about a man who understood that taking anything for granted can be costly. He understood that opportunities of any kind may present themselves in the mundane. This is how he destroyed some of his enemies and this is how he built a formidable nation.

As we celebrate and honour this great leader of the soil, may we remember that the mundane is important. May we also keep our focus in the future but without forgetting to be in the present – for, who knows, we might just be presented with unbelievable opportunities. In this particular story of ‘Mamohato, Moshoeshoe was presented with the opportunity to cement his greatness by demonstrating humility (a king working the fields … imagine that!) Many might have not have seen this opportunity and might have easily fell into the trap set for them, but Moshoeshoe didn’t! He managed to take the long view on things and in the process, to re-create himself into a true king out to serve his people without regard of societal norms on what jobs may or may not be suitable for the king.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is why I am taking my head off to Moshoeshoe I. He was one of a kind! May we all aspire to learn a thing or two from him. Happy Moshoeshoe’s day to all!


Encore: 3 additional facts about Moshoeshoe I

When I started the series I wasn’t aware that there were five Fridays in August! But because I believe a promise made is a promise to be kept, I decided there should be a part 5. Problem is, I don’t know how to make it fit with my initial structure. (Yes, there was structure: from sunrise to sunset!)

After much thought, I decided my encore should entail me furnishing you with 3 interesting facts about Moshoeshoe.

  1. He protested to his father’s estrangement by living his father’s land and building his own kraal which he named Qhobosheane (translated: Fortress). His father due to Moshoeshoe’s (then called Lepoqo) growing popularity felt threatned by him (and perhaps with good reason for the young Moshoeshoe as previously stated was something else! But at that point of his life, he was a changed man and unfortunately his father couldn’t recognise that change in him. ) I shan’t really delibarate on the irony in the naming of his kraal, that in itself is an exercise that perhaps deserves a proper psychological analysis (centred on ‘father issues’).
  2. Much as he downplayed his victory in a battle with Cathcart, he gave Sir George Cathcart a beating he could never forget. It is after the beating that he decided to send him a letter in which he declared himself a British subject. A letter that perhaps helped Cathcart to save face and withdraw with his integrity intact; for he had claimed that he was going to teach the insolent Moshoeshoe a lesson he could never forget but instead fate decided he was the one in need of the lesson 😈 !
  3. Closer to his sunset, Moshoeshoe was both a divorcee and a married man. He was divorced by his senior wife, ‘Mamohato on religious grounds. She said polygamy was against God. This is interesting to me because divorce in those days was unheard of.