Keeping cultural invasion at bay

Keeping cultural invasion at bay

Teacher launches website to preserve Sesotho language….

MASERU- A FOREIGN invasion is the one thing that Ramafole Ramahloli, a young computer science teacher, fears most – at least in the sense of national identity being obliterated by foreign culture.
“We have a tendency of adopting the cultures of other nations,” says Ramahloli, adding, “We know about other nations’ cultures and languages but they hardly know about ours.”
Together with some of his associates, Ramahloli is working on making sure that such an invasion is kept at bay, hence the decision to launch a website focusing on local language and culture.
For many patriots, the preservation of a language is vital to the protection of national identity.

Ramahloli says he hopes his website will harvest from people’s heavy reliance on the internet for “almost everything they need answers on”.
He wants to make the online platform, called Sesiu, a treasure trove of Sesotho grammar, words, proverbs, idioms, history and cultural practices. It can be accessed on www.sesiu.org.ls.
Ramahloli is a teacher at Leribe English Medium Primary School, where English is the language of instruction for all subjects except Sesotho. The practice is not isolated to Leribe English Medium Primary School.

It is rampant across the country, with English being viewed as superior to local languages.
To show “class”, some schools order their pupils to converse in English only even when the children are out of class and doing sports and other extra-curricular activities.
Conscious of the negative effects of such an attitude towards local languages and culture, Ramahloli says he saw the need to promote the Sesotho vernacular to help his students assert their self-identity.
“That is how the idea of the online Sesiu project was born,” he says.

He adds: “I realised that there was nowhere for Basotho children to get information on Sesotho language as books are now limited.”
Oftentimes, Basotho children struggle to pass Sesotho as a subject across all schools in large part due to the overwhelming influence of English in their education.
“The website is not for young Basotho only. It is for the whole world to get informed about Basotho’s way of life and their language. Our culture is different from those of other nations,” he says.
“Language affects, structures, defines and interprets all aspects of human life.

In language lie a nation’s beliefs, ideas, ideologies, culture, knowledge and experience,” says Ramahloli.
A single word in a sentence may help guide a listener or reader to the interpretation of an attitude to a certain thing or behavior, he says.
Language, he argues, is beyond being just a tool for dialogue between people but represents one’s culture, history and “the inner person of the speaker”.
He believes that non-usage of words as time goes by makes their meaning irrelevant to people’s daily experiences.

“Eventually the national traditions fade away. The loss of traditions leads to the disappearance of a nation – the country will still be there but without an identifiable nation,” he says.
Ramahloli says he hopes the website will tap into the increasing shift by people from hard cover books to the internet for learning materials and even for reading for leisure.
Yet, there are no significant numbers of Sesotho books published on-line and “that is leading to the dying of Sesotho culture as many no longer read books”.
“Nowadays if one wants to know the meaning of a certain word, they just search on Google. However, no one sees a Sesotho library on Google,” says Ramahloli, who established the Sesiu platform in June last year but started intense operations in February this year.

This website also puts a spotlight on the country’s tourism, education while showing shifts in cultural heritage.
Ramahloli cites the case of how Basotho marriage practices have evolved from the pre-colonial era to today.
He highlights on his website how the scarcity of cattle and influence of Christianity and western practices have led to the erosion of the practice of ho raha moritšoana. Traditionally, a young man would inform his parents of his intention to marry by taking cattle to the veld early in the morning without having milked them.
However, just like local culture, the website’s future is under threat.

Ramahloli says financing the operations of the website has been difficult and that is his biggest threat.
He had a team of 13 people but some are withdrawing from the project due to financial constraints.
He says they have limited resources to access some places for content such as pictures or videos.
Although many people support the idea, they are not prepared to help financially.

“I approached the Ministry of Education and the ECOL (Examination Council of Lesotho) to inform them about the project, they loved it and were impressed but I don’t see them helping,” he says.
He says his goal is to grow the website into a reference point in schools, and enjoy widespread use similar to that of platforms such as Google.
“We tend to have forgotten about our language,” he says, emphasizing the importance of the website.
“We have adopted other people’s way of living,” he says.

Itumeleng Khoete

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