Tjolietsa

Tjolietsa

Continuation

In the final part of this four-part column on election rally songs I want to discuss how audiences react to these, in both Lesotho and Nigeria.
Writing about the song from northern Nigeria I discussed last week, which is highly offensive about rival political parties and their supporters, William Miles discusses the song’s use of zage-zage (harsh, wounding insult) and about the role of the maroka –semi-professional musicians—from whom the songs are commissioned and who were hired to perform them.

Traditionally, maroka were hired to compose and perform praise-songs on specific occasions and were rewarded appropriately. By 1983, however, the date of the invective-filled song I discussed, maroka were being commissioned to perform election rally songs for extravagant (and thus corrupting) rewards, and with texts that departed from the conventions of praises, especially in their use of invective. As Miles puts it, “By 1983, and encouraged by the freewheeling political atmosphere of the time, campaign singers broke beyond the bounds of acceptable social criticism and engaged in outright zage-zage.”

Based on personal observations made as he attended election rallies (and which I can back up with interviews I conducted at the time) Miles comments: “Most villagers valued traditional institutions, including the chieftaincy, and saw nothing inconsistent in voting in a way that reflected these loyalties.” In other words, they were natural supporters of the party whose song I quoted and which was supported by the local representatives of the hierarchy (the chiefs). “What did alienate them, however, was the repugnant antisocial behaviour that all parties and politicians seemed to indulge in, and what became identified with politics itself: the ceaseless, scathing, heaping of insult and abuse upon one’s competitors, rivals, and adversaries. Nowhere was this so institutionalized as in the songs that party singers sang.”

If this was the way in northern Nigeria, how do such songs go down in Lesotho?
When I first started talking about this topic, at an NUL seminar in 2014, members of the audience informed me that there was a Sesotho term equivalent to zage-zage , namely, the verb tjolietsa (the act of hurling insults), which, like the Hausa, is a pejorative term—it refers to something well-behaved people are not supposed to do. The audience then made a number of points, which, taken together, amounted to the following:

–everyone knows that politics in Lesotho has become a dirty business, and the use of tjolietsa in rally songs is symptomatic of this;
–hence, the contents of tjolietsa are disregarded by the audience; tjolietsa reflects badly only on the performers of the songs and on those who commission them. The targets of invective are, thus, not demeaned, and no-one in the audience takes the invective seriously. There is, therefore, no real risk of the insults contributing to an erosion of values or to social divisiveness.

One participant went on to compare tjolietsa to the verbal insults that accompany the strategic moving of counters in a game of morabaraba. As the counters are moved, the competitors insult each other; this is an integral part of the game—almost a game played out above the game with counters—and no-one would dream of taking the content of the insults to heart.
As I’m not around any more to carry out fieldwork research during Lesotho elections, I’d like to ask for readers’ opinions of this claim—that in the context of election rally songs no-one takes tjolietsa seriously, because that is just what Lesotho’s ill-behaved politicians get up to. Comments, please, not to my hard-pressed editor, but directly to me <cpfdunton8@gmail.com>

Chris Dunton

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