Preserving our cultural heritage

Preserving our cultural heritage

Heritage is not an easy aspect of human existence to deal with, and it is even harder to comprehend matters or issues related to it in a country that is a former colony (protectorate in the case of Lesotho).

This is due to the fact that colonialism came with structures and policies that ‘de-structured’ the existing structures, norms, and laws that are salient to the maintenance of the lines of the progression of heritage.

Most of the matters and core aspects related to heritage such as the culture, the customs, the tradition, the knowledge systems often become the first victims; ancestral cultures, core customs, vital traditions, and the indispensable systems of knowledge get lost in the deluge of new institutions that colonialism installs upon arrival.
We are left with vestiges of the old way, pieces of a book of indigenous history whose pages of oral and written history have gotten lost with the passage of time.
It is with a feeling of reverence when one sees an institution work hard to re-gather the lost tatters of the book of heritage of the Basotho.

Through the guidance of a gargantuan figure, Ntate Stephen Gill of the Morija Museum and Archives (MMA) and Pusetso Nyabela, a documentary that retraces the lines of succession in the Lesotho monarchy has been released and the screening two weeks ago at the Victoria Hotel.

The director, Retšepile Makamane, is an interesting figure to speak with, deep in her analysis of the issues pertaining to the cultural heritage of the Basotho of Lesotho, and bold enough to present the views that many of us refrain from tackling in the light of our cultural heritage (because they are considered taboo).

I first met her at the Renaissance Restaurant, and the name of the place is very much similar to her quest to see to the rebirth (for renaissance means “rebirth”) of our cultural heritage; our knowledge of the history of this kingdom needs to be re-birthed through the efforts of such individuals as she: for women have performed the salient role of the midwife in the delivery room and in the passing of language, lores and mores since the beginning of human history, and she is in my view the appropriate midwife in the vital task of igniting our synapses of memory.

Very humble, she walked into the restaurant where I waited with a coffee to calm the anxiety of meeting a figure Ntate Gill had mentioned as “very talented”.
Questions prepared in advance were hardly used, because the words in her speech from the first moment were a lesson and a revelation to me that I knew way less than I thought I did in terms of the history of this land of our forefathers (and a later meeting at the launch hosted at the Victoria Hotel revealed that I was not alone in this aspect).
I knew from the earliest moment that (Ms) Makamane’s quest to uncover the real truths hidden in our history, for the sake of a clear national cultural history, is a task as sacred as the psalms are to the pious.

Often cursory in our confrontation and interaction with issues that are core to the understanding of our citizenship and nationhood, we miss out on issues that are vital to our “Bosotho”.

The only fortune is that there are institutions like the Morija Museum and Archives that provide the much-needed support and guidance to individuals such as Retšepile to retrace the path back to the grassroots, where we were once great, and we can recapture that greatness if we know exactly what it is that happened.
She speaks of the significance of oral tradition and how it is the perfect tool for expressing history.

A viewing of the documentary reveals the significance of oral tradition in the recounting of the story of our kingship.  Heard through the words of elderly citizens from the villages of Matsieng, Phahameng, and Makeneng, the lines of the evolution of the monarchic lines of ascendancy sound clearer than they would in some other historical narrative; this I guess being the result of the fact that this historical narrative is largely done by old women, those same storytellers and matriarchs members of the audience are familiar with from a young age when the Litšomo (mythological folk tales) are being narrated.

One hears the narrators use the familiar “Ho thoe” (it was said) throughout the 54 minutes of the documentary, which is a more reverend phrase based upon the “Ba re e ne re” (they said it was said).

This proves a masterful stroke, because the familiarity of the speaker of the language who forms a part of the audience is vital, and she reveals in her words, “Sesotho’s exploration of reality, its richness as a language, and its depth when it comes to the exploration of the vital cultural and traditional meanings is unsurpassed”.
One can tell that this tale was told for a purpose, by an individual whose purpose is to retrace the lost paths in our history, and who fortunately has the support of an institution (MMA) that keeps the history of this land close at heart.

We have to know who we are, but to know, we have to know who we were before we got here.
Retšepile mentions that the growth of an artist or the individual is dependent upon the kind of platform they get as young children.

The kind of support one gets as an artist in pursuit of a vision should not be limited by such issues as lack of funding, or as is the case, the artist should be allowed to express their vision and not the wishes of the funding body because this “limits the individual voices that would strengthen the local art and filmmaking industry”.

She shows that such an industry is a good tool to foster the much-needed national identity, and the history, the monuments, and heritage would actually be of more sense if the local filmmaking industry focused on issues such as the citizen’s relationship with the Royal Family and the significance of the succession of the royal line in the understanding of the nation’s cultural and political history.

She gives the image of the Litema (patterns), and how generations of women have over the passage of time been core to the understanding of our nationhood by bringing their own various and overlapping patterns (stories and perspectives) to a single house (the story and history of our monarchy and kingdom).
All of us know that a traditional Basotho house is plastered with a mixture of dung and mud, after which the matriarch draws patterns of her kind on the walls; this process is done from one generation to the next, for as long as the house is still standing.

This tale she tells through the oral renditions of old matriarchs with regard to the succession of the royal line through history follows a tradition one can see as reminiscent to the patterns drawn on the tale of the royal hut over the ages, only this time the etchings are being done by a young woman through the guidance of the lips of the old who are in essence passing the oral history baton on.

Ho Llela Borena (Yearning to Reign) is not just a cry by an individual village for the return of kingship; it is a tale whose quest is to help the nation to know their royal family, to understand the patterns thereof fully, so that one can truly understand their identity.

A personal view is that one who does not know themselves can never understand their true greatness, and so they forever yearn, and are in every essence searching in the dark blind.
She reveals a personal view at the end of the meeting that education about kingship should be given adequate priority, that the dialogue of what unites us with kingship is of great significance to the understanding of our national identity.

Present at the Friday the 31st of March 2017 launch of the documentary presented by Friends of the Morija Museum & Archives at the Victoria Hotel’s Machabeng Hall were significant figures from various sectors of our society and delegates from different consulates in the country.
The Chinese Ambassador, His Excellency Dr. Sun Xianghua and his delegation, Dr. ‘Musi Mokete, Ntate Percy Mangoaela, representatives from various consulates, prominent filmmakers Silas Monyatsi, and Jeremiah Monyatsi, the crew that made the documentary a reality, the translator Ntate Ntsele Radebe, Ntate Stephen Gill (curator at the MMA), various professionals from different fields; artists, thinkers, bankers, curious citizens, and lowly news-people like myself.

All of us came to witness the beginning of the beginning of the return to true knowledge as presented by Miss Retšepile Makamane and Emceed by the free-spirited Moleboheng Rampou.

I guess if the birth or the rebirth of anything is witnessed by the kind of people as those present on the night, there are a couple of notes one should make; one is that it is bound to be great, and secondly, the message it carries is quintessential to the core elements of being and existence of a nation: understanding our past will help us to make the right decisions in the present to map the way forward into the future.

The question and answer session that followed the viewing of the 54 minutes of the documentary revealed answers to the questions related to the lineage of the royal family tree, that is, how we ended up a country arranged in the manner it now is.

We have to be seen from the perspective of the world view; how the world views us as a nation is relative to how our history and our cultural heritage story is presented: the views of the individuals in society all form part of the collective story we share as a nation and kingdom.

As previously mentioned, heritage is a salient aspect of our being, so instead of tearing down old buildings that are in essence landmarks on the nation’s historical path, we should work together to preserve whatever is left for the benefit of the future generations; for, I personally believe, the future will surely come and the children thereof will need to have clear footsteps to follow, and the stories we tell this day are footprints they shall be able to follow.

Retracing the customs and the traditions of a land demands that the individual that so attempts to be neutral in their analysis, to kill the fear of the repercussions such a quest may come with, and to hold the viewpoints of the ordinary citizen in high regard.

The documentarian’s choice of style resulted in a narrative of the heritage of the Basotho as a connected story told around the fire, like a folk-tale that for the sake of clear understanding temporarily leaves out the parable and the metaphor; because the larger truth is of more significance in the revelation of the truth to the surface where all can use it for the betterment of this sacred nation.

Living in a kingdom means that we are subjects to the king, and we have to know the king to know how to follow him.
Many of those present could follow by the end of the viewing session at the launch, and those that will view this masterpiece at the National University of Lesotho this week will come back richer than they were before the view.

From the perspective of a narrator and the writer/director she is, Retšepile Makamane states that in relationship to the royal family, “We are, because they are, for who they are, is who we are”.

This is her call for the nation’s united return to the royal house, or so I am left feeling after meeting the director at the Renaissance and watching the launch of the masterful documentary at the Victoria Hotel by a great storyteller released under the aegis Morija Museum and Archives.
Many thanks for the piece Ausi Retšepile, Ntate Morojele, and the crew for this masterpiece.

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