Morija: The home  of Lesotho’s history

Morija: The home of Lesotho’s history

MASERU – WHEN one thinks of touring Lesotho, a few destinations readily spring to mind.
One could go canoeing at Thaba-Tseka’s Katse Dam or Mohale Dam. Or it could be the lure of a warm traditional welcome by Kome cave dwellers in Berea that could pull one in that direction.
Then there is the almost irresistible thought of slaloming down the slopes, skiing at Mokhotlong’s Mahlasela in the winter that might see one heading for the icy highlands.
These are some of Lesotho’s major tourist drawcards, a fact that will immediately become obvious to anyone thumbing through any serious leisure and travel guide on the country.
But if you want to take a peep into history, if you want to have a glimpse into how the Basotho lived in ages gone by, then the place to visit is Morija, the old village that you would soon reach should you keep on the road for the next 35 km going south of Maseru

With its tree lined streets and landscaped gardens that give it a distinctive character, Morija is both a marker of early European intrusion in Lesotho and at the same time – some might say ironically – an important reservoir of Basotho culture and history
Lesotho’s oldest western-inspired village is home to several historical sites and two museums that document Basotho cultural heritage – all thanks to the three protestant missionaries who arrived in the kingdom nearly 200 years ago.
Nestled at the foot of the famous Makhoarane Plateau, like a beautiful jewel in the pit of a hand, the Paris Evangelical missionaries Eugene Cassalis, Thomas Arbousset and Constant Gosselin built Morija not only to be their religious centre but also a fountain of western civilization from where it could spread across Lesotho and beyond.

Despite the decrepit state of its buildings as well as ecological squalor from the loss of trees, soil erosion, and lack of proper waste management, Morija is still the archetype of a village the missionaries envisioned.
It is a religious centre and a fountain of education as it is fondly referred to by its inhabitants today and in inherited memory.
Morija boasts of producing teachers for southern Africa in the mid-20th century as one of the first areas to have a teacher training college in the region.
The college is now defunct after the introduction of the government-owned National Teachers Training College (now the Lesotho College of Education) in the 1970s.
Morija is one of the first in the southern Africa region to produce a newspaper — Leselinyana la Lesotho was established in 1863 by Rev. Adolphe Mabille and closed shop in 2006 — making Basotho the one of the most informed societies of the time.
Some of the first black journalists in the region learnt the trade at Morija, including Asser Sehahabane, who later worked as an evangelist in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and parts of the Magwamba (Tsonga) helping establish missionary outposts in some of the places he went.
Morija, which had a printing press of its own — and one of the first in Lesotho to own such technology — boasts of publishing the works of the internationally acclaimed Thomas Mofolo, who is referred to as one of the fathers of African literature.

In a bid to raise public awareness among the people of Morija and the Basotho nation at large about their rich history and heritage, the Seriti sa Makhoarane (Image of Makhoarane, a mountain towering Morija) project to put sign boards and other markers to identify key historical and heritage sites was launched two weeks ago with the unveiling of tourism signage boards at the Morija Museum and Archives.
The curator of Morija Museum and Archive, Stephen Gill, says the signage boards are part of the pilot phase of the Augmented Reality Project.
Explaining the Augmented Reality, the director of Alliance Française (an institution to spread the use of the French language and to promote French influence in Lesotho), Remi Beghim, says the purpose of the project is to give more information about Morija to tourists and encourage them to visit the area.
Alliance Francaise and Morija Museum and Archives collaborate in hosting cultural activities in Maseru and surrounding areas annually.
The two work together in hosting the world-famous Morija Arts and Cultural Festival.
“We thought there’s a lot to visit, a lot to see in Morija, what is difficult for tourists is to know about these places,” Beghim said, explaining the reasoning behind the project to mark and identify historical and heritage sites.

According to Beghim, beyond the aesthetic beauty of buildings and other objects of interest, tourists were also keen to know the story behind the things they are being shown.
He said: “The tourists like to know what it is they are looking at. In France we’re quite obsessed with heritage, if you travel to France, you’ll see that every village has got sign boards about historical places.”
The cultural and historical heritage in Lesotho “is very rich but it is not visible and sometimes not preserved,” added Beghim.
The project is in two phases with the 10 boards that were unveiled a fortnight ago being part of the first phase. Stands to display pictures accompanied by explanatory write-ups were also erected at the various sites.
The second phase of the project will be the launching of a smartphone app to help guide tourists around the museum, directing them to the specific item they want to view. The app will also be able to give the story behind the historical object.
“That’s what we’ve been trying to do,” said Beghim, “to create a tool for the community of Morija that can be used first locally then be expanded to Seriti sa Makhoarane, Matsieng and other villages in the valley.”

According to Gill, although it is a well-known factor that the valley where Morija lies has been the historical home of all the kings and paramount chiefs of Lesotho beginning with King Moshoeshoe I himself not much had been done to build on that important factor to market the area and turn it into a tourist hub.
But through the Seriti sa Makhoarane all that is set to change, he said.
Backed by the principal chief, local chiefs, local councilor, the Seriti sa Makhoarane, which has been in existence for a few years now, will be formally registered as a legal entity at the end of the month.
“It’s been a long process trying to get everybody to agree on the shape and structure and procedures within this new entity,” Gill said.
He added: “We believe that with support from the government and private sector, we will be able to demonstrate more tangible results.
“Up until now there’s been a lot of planning, a lot of documents which have gone to various stakeholders, but now we’ve reached the stage that we need to show practical meaning for outcomes which will help to change not only the way we present ourselves but also present new economic opportunities for people in the community.”

’Mamakhooa Rapolaki

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