The land of DCT Bereng

The land of DCT Bereng

WHEN Thomas Mofolo became the first African to publish a work of literature in 1907, what followed was a deluge of writing from various authors from the different parts of South Africa and Lesotho, the most prominent followers being Sol Plaatjie around 1913, Zakea Dolphin Mangoaela in 1921 (Lithoko tsa Marena a Basotho), Everitt Lechesa Segoete, Kemuel Evaristus Ntsane, and many others who were growing in terms of social consciousness. Writers were often classed as a sector, an elite group of individuals that could do what the ordinary Mosotho could not do; analyse and write about the unfolding social realities in their environment.

A great class this school of authors were, for they were the pioneers of the social and anti-colonial movements that would come later in independence era. These authors could actually write about what they saw and share it with the general public in their writings. From the poetry to the prose, the brief journal article to the long novel form, the writer stood as the messenger delivering messages of social consciousness to the masses. Viewed as giants in the land of the literary, the early writers of the then Basutoland deserve to be honoured, and among them is a poet of note whose name is hardly ever mentioned in many a literary discussion held in different settings where the cognoscente of literature and writing meet: DCT Bereng.

It was in 2016 when I came across a collection of poems by David Cranmer Theko Bereng’s poems Lithothokiso tsa Moshoeshoe le tse Ling (The Poems of Moshoeshoe and Others). Sighting an old-style bookshelf, I promptly asked if I could look through it. The owner, Mrs Moletsane obliged me with a simple, “Go on, look through it and pick and keep whatever book tickles your fancy… the children in this house actually tear and burn those books! Take whatever book you like and keep it…” the old volume, published in 1930 by Morija’s Sesuto Book Depot actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I was invited to a translation conference hosted by the

University of the Western Cape’s Centre for Multilingualism and Diversities Research (CMDR). Among the three Sesotho authors whose works were under discussion were DCT Bereng, Kemuel Evaristus Ntsane and Bernard Makalo Khaketla. Bereng’s work had somehow disappeared, and I was the fortunate one who still had the original copy in their keep, thanks to the Moletsane family of Maseru. Being someone who believes not in accidents, I hold the notion that perhaps, just perhaps, I was fated to find out and follow the tale of an author that had somehow faded into the mists of history: a great loss for the following generations of Basotho poets and budding literary writers.

It is with this sense of conviction that I followed the life of DCT Bereng, the giant who penned the poem Naha ea Moshoeshoe (The Land of Moshoeshoe) also found in the collection. There is no escaping the beauty of the praise poem in verse as it flows in the English translation:
They ask me of the beauty of Lesotho,
Of its lie and landscape,
Of the luxury of things,
And their embellishments;

They say I should tell them,
Make them a tale,
I recount, telling them, of everything
Of this land of everyone:

“Its beauty, my fellow kin,
Is as of the Star of the early dawn;
It is as the turquoise green of the sky.
As the ostrich’s feather,

This translated version is followed by Mofolo Bulane published in 1967 in the magazine The New African. Honoured in that article published in a distant past Ntate Bulane aptly states that:
D. C. T. Bereng is the first Mosotho poet to come out with a collection of poems. In his poetry Moshoeshoe is not depicted as a towering figure, as someone standing far above the common people. Rather he is being depicted in all the glory and simplicity of a popular hero who is one with the people.

The author here goes to show that there is an alternating lyrical depth and epic sweep in the poems of DCT Bereng, evidence of the poet’s mastery of the Sesotho language. Previous poetry on the life of Morena Moshoeshoe largely portrayed his valour and the glory of his feats in the many battles he fought over the course of his life. Bereng however puts him in a different light; that of an icon that built a whole nation out of the nothingness and strife of the Lifaqane wars that lasted the larger part of the 1800’s. A father figure revered not only by the poet but also admired by the larger global community, Moshoeshoe I is a greatness copied by all the other prominent women and men in social reform movements across the world.

From Ghandi to Luther King Jnr to Mandela, the pacific spirit of the founder of the Basotho nation is still seen as the prime example of what harmonious living means. It is only DCT Bereng who captures this spirit of universal harmony in his work. It is however surprising why his name is never mentioned when it comes to honouring the memory of Moshoeshoe I. It is as if Basotho are a nation of hypocrites that never honour their own but are quick to shower glory on all that is foreign.

It takes a thousand journeys to understand in reality the life of any one man posthumously (DCT Bereng passed on in 1973). But the journey is made easier if his family are willing to walk every mile with you, and in this case, the gods were kind enough to grant me the audience of his sons; Ntate Sekhonyana Bereng, Ntate Dira Bereng, and Ntate Thato Bereng with regard to the capturing the tale of their father. After a long road covering Morija and Rothe (Masite) where DCT Bereng was born, I was finally granted permission to visit Mashai, Ha-Theko Bereng (Thaba-Tseka) where DCT Bereng has his village formed in the mid-1920’s.

The fact of the matter is that one cannot easily understand another if they do not bother to walk the soil the other treaded: you have to walk their road to understand them reasonably. Imagination does imitate reality in the full in a few exceptional cases, but sometimes, one could easily go off the mark if they rely more on pipedreams than reality. Setting out on the journey to his village high in the mountains of Lesotho served as a point of first meeting between a young man and a wise old man whose rendition of the tale of Moshoeshoe I is the best the world has ever seen thus far in the fields of poetry and literature

The highlands of Lesotho are the most beautiful on the continent and perhaps, the world over. The air is clean, leaving one’s city smog-clogged lungs greedily breathing in gulpfuls of air. Due to the increasing pollution that is rampant in the urban centres the air that we breathe to live is becoming a rare commodity. We go to the city attracted by the bright lights, and there we buy smoke-spewing motor cars that pollute the air we are supposed to protect at all costs. A visit to the highlands presents our lungs and being the opportunity for a treasured moment of repose: we breathe in clean air, and the silence and the peace of the mountain people allows us to think in a manner that is clearer.

The hub of the city is a cacophony that does not allow one to think in a sensible manner, but the hush of the mountains and the sight of the villages that straddle the hips of the mountains is a sight that leaves one in awe of the beauty of the land of Lesotho. The visit to the land of DCT Bereng allowed one the peace to think clearly in the continuing journey in search of a clearer picture of the life of this giant of Lesotho literature and culture. One can safely guess that he was happy with what he saw in the highlands. He was at peace up there, thus the final decision to settle in the land given to him by Chief Theko Makhaola of Qacha’s-Nek.

It is said that there were four of them that set out in the mid-1920’s to find a village for DCT; Ntate Paramente Lepheana, Ntate Pitso Binyane, Ntate Mahlaba Motjoli and DCT Bereng himself. Following their compadre and chief’s son in search of a land where they could settle, the three valiant men stood with and by DCT Bereng’s side until they came to the village of Ha-Monyollo where chief Monyollo pointed them up the steep valley for a place to settle. There they found Ntate Motau Jane and Molefi (Botheta) Seitširo who encouraged them to stay because that point in the valley had a well with plenteous waters and the grazing pastures were good for their herds.

Water and pasture are the two most important aspects in the life of any one man that is looking for a land to settle in, and DCT Bereng at this point decided to settle and form the beautiful village of Ha-Theko Bereng beneath Selomo sa Makhoaba and Selomo sa Leloka. With villagers from Ha-Fako and Ka-Thabeng nearby, DCT Bereng’s village gained its first batch of villagers. Chief David Cranmer Theko Bereng would go on to rule over the seven villages in the St Theresa region of Mashai and they include Ha-Theko Bereng (his residence), Ha-Monyollo, Makhalong, Ha-Mokone, Panteng, Pontšeng, and Ha-Ntabanyane.

His work had already been published in Leselinyana la Lesotho in 1921, dedicated to Jevrou Adele Mabille, when he was about 24 years old. An alumnus of Lovedale College in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, Thabeng High School in Morija, and St. Barnabas Primary School in Masite, it seems from evidence that DCT Bereng had an aptitude for poetry and writing from an early age. It is said he could compose a piece of poetry for just about anything he came across in his 70-plus years on earth. There were poems on his cattle, his horses, the land in which he lived, the Second World War (World War II) in which he served as a Sergeant Major, his wives and children, and any other event he came across. In short, Lesotho had a poet of note whose life and achievements have not received the due attention they deserve.

When one observes the picture his life paints, there is just plain injustice committed from an outsider’s point of view. The African tendency is not to acknowledge individuals for their contribution, however tremendous, for the sake of a seat at the glory table. There are usurpers to the throne that have taken DCT’s memory and tried to bury it: his ghost won’t allow it, and some of us are willing to walk the journey with him until he gets the honour that is due to him.
The departure from the peaceful village where the welcome was of a sort never seen down here in the lowlands was to the sight of a village bathed in the early morning sun. There were plumes of smoke from cooking fires, and there was dew on the sparse grass.

The sound of the schoolchildren’s voices as they ran down the mountain’s side on their way to St. Theresa Primary School and High School sounded of promise. From the older ones in their early teens to the teeny-weeny ones, one could only see the promise of the future. It was a sight to behold, triggering a rememory of a time when one would walk from the home village in Pitseng to school in the blistering winds of autumn in the foothills of Lesotho. The winds of autumn are already cold in the highlands, but I guess like any valiant man, DCT Bereng held the hope that one day, his village would churn out intellectuals despite its seeming remoteness.

The rocky basalt of his land is symbolic of the fire that burned in the poet who could compose a poem on almost anything that came within range of his senses. It is with this type of stone cold sense and resoluteness that one feels they have to take a few journeys to that village where he settled, to the land that DCT Bereng fashioned out of imagination and a pilgrim’s heart and devotion to the land of his forefathers.

My deepest sense of gratitude goes to his family, in particular his sons Sekhonyana who has been a companion and guide thus far, Dira who is chief of Ha-Theko Bereng, Thato who became my host on the trip, the Binyane, Lepheana, and Motjoli families for their selfless welcome, the villagers of Ha-Theko Bereng, and Ntate Stephen Gill of Morija Museum for the guidance in the pursuit of a clearer understanding of DCT Bereng’s life and work and the UWC’s professor Antjie Krog for the opportunity. We shall walk to understand each other, and our children shall be grateful for the memory, so says the man from the land of DCT Bereng I am yet to meet again.

Ts’episo S. Mothibi

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