Words and Meanings
By Jheri St. James
All what poetry should be able to say is why priests
in the hills chanting your name—
say what the monophonic praise is for.
may well be that to please the peaks among us,
or coax lichens into storing life in miniature spores
to await their turn in the light, they sing,
of geese that leave fields, that frighten the infant,
who wonders why a snake feasts on you, why, on your
it removes loam so black, so good to touch.
perhaps it’s all to the glory of pink and
white cosmos that have lifted their skirts
to the wind. For I’m telling you, this land is
home my shrine my hope, even if time
is being wasted. They sing, in fact, of non-love acts
that have crushed foeti in the womb.
Rethabile Masilo (http://poefrika.blogspot.com)
Kingdom of Lesotho (pronounced Le-So-To) is a landlocked country
entirely surrounded by the Republic of South Africa. This
is a land of many brilliant poets, like Rethabile Masilo above,
and the land of the following sad prose headlines in the New
York Times: “Lesotho Blames Pretoria for Blast;”
Bombing Rocks Lesotho as 9 Black Nations Meet;” “Warnings
from South Africa Taken Seriously in Lesotho;” “U.N.
Working out a Resolution on Lesotho Raid;” “Lesotho
Says the Victims of Raid were Refugees;” “South
Africa Reports Killing 30 in Attack on Foes in Lesotho.”
and poetry are often linked. Dramatic human suffering often
births passionate poetry. Yet Mother Earth is the armiture
beneath it all, also an initiator of suffering, and creator
of beauty. This is a picture of the 60m. deep Tsoelikana Falls
taken by Denis Ananiadis (www.travelblog.org).
Basutoland was renamed the Kingdom of Lesotho
upon independence from the UK in 1966. Constitutional government
was restored in 1993 after seven years of military rule. In
1998, violent protests and a military mutiny following a tense
election prompted a brief, bloody intervention by South African
and Botswana military forces. Peaceful parliamentary elections
were held in 2002 but the National Assembly elections of February
2007 were hotly contested and unhappy parties continue to
periodically demonstrate their distrust of the results.
Life expectancy at birth in Lesotho is among
the lowest on earth—39.97 years. For every 25 per 1,000
births, there are 22 per 1,000 deaths in this African nation,
with approximately 320,000 people living under the specter
of HIV/AIDS. Lesotho has a prevalence of 29% HIV/AIDS, one
of the highest in the world. This is projected to rise to
36% within 15 years, leaving many orphans, and a continuing
drop in life expectancy. Many programs have been put in place
to deal with this challenge.
80% of the country is mountainous, 1,800 meters above sea
level. The three horizontal stripes of blue, white and green
in the flag of Lesotho represent rain, peace and prosperity.
Centered in the white stripe is a black Basotho hat representing
the indigenous people. This flag was unfurled in October 2006
to celebrate 40 years of independence.
Country, My Home
By Lehoetla (http://poefrika.blogspot.com)
fatše la bo-rra, I sing you/ then and now
Each day I sing you/ from mountain to cave I truly
Sing you. Spring is dawning, in the valley’s
Old venue for kingly things. Thirty-seven years my love,
Thirty-seven years, and promises-/ the gravestones of our
Heads are cool, too cold for upper rooms in top
Offices, where someone’s already polishing promises-/
my dreams, hope like a mad rivers washes the low
clearing years away/ I hear mothers crying
Over fate / their tears cleanse my feet and feed
Vrystaat, the fat serpent along Mohokare/ there are
Everywhere men on sticks in silent streets, eyes
for a sign/ there are faces, violated angels
Outlined in candour beside you, O world, O bright
Unicorn of splendour, prancing in boorish night.
thrashing mealies for porridge)
notable geographic fact about Lesotho is that it is the only
independent state in the world that lies entirely above 3,300
feet in elevation. Its lowest point is 4,595 ft. and over
80 percent of the country lies above 5,900 feet. Due to the
altitude, Lesotho remains cooler throughout the year than
other regions at the same latitude. Water is Lesotho’s
only significant natural resource, which is exploited through
the 21-year, multi-billion-dollar Lesotho Highlands Water
Project LHWP), which began in 1986, and was financed by The
World Bank, African Development Bank, European Investment
Bank and many other donors. This project captures, stores
and transfers water from the Orange River system to South
Africa’s Free State and greater Johannesburg area, home
to a large concentration of South African industry, population
and agriculture. Completion of the first phase has made Lesotho
almost completely self-sufficient in the production of electricity
and generates approximately $24 million annually from the
sale of electricity and water to South Africa.
has taken advantage of the African Growth and Opportunity
Act (AGOA) to become the largest exporter of garments to the
US from sub-Saharan Africa, over $320 million recently. Asian
investors own most factories.
Pope John Paul II visited Lesotho in June of 2005, he prayed
for and blessed this land. “I have come to southern
Africa as a pilgrim of peace, carrying a message of reconciliation.
I am saddened to learn that others on their way to join me
in this pilgrimage have been the victims of a hijack that
caused such anguish and ended in bloodshed.” He offered
his prayers for the dead and wounded, then visited the hospital
where 20 of the victims were being treated. Pausing at each
bedside, he offered a blessing and the gift of a rosary.
10,000 worshippers gathered around a big altar in this small
mountain kingdom today for the religious highpoint of Pope
John Paul II’s trip through southern Africa. At the
solemn Mass, John Paul beatified the Rev. Joseph Gerard, a
French missionary who spent 60 years among the Zulu and Basotho
people before he died in 1914. The event is a preliminary
step to sainthood.” (N.Y. Times 3.4.08)
went on to recommended traditional teachings of the church
as the only failsafe way to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS,
in other words, he warned that contraception was, “…one
of a host of trends contributing to a breakdown in sexual
morality . . . It is of great concern that the fabric of African
life, its very source of hope and stability, is threatened
by divorce, abortion, prostitution, human trafficking and
a contraception mentality.”
Mapeshoane, through Christopher M. Smith, at the U.S. Embassy
in Lesotho, collected soil from the site in Maseru where the
Pope gave this speech and blessings to Basotho. We thank her,
Christopher, and all our friends at U.S. Embassies around
the world for blessing our project with samples of meaningful
soil from so many countries, including Lesotho. Here are some
urban shots of that city.
the way, if you are confused, “Basotho” is the
adjective which describes the people who live in Lesotho.
Christopher M. Smith sent this definition for us: “The
grammar can be a bit confusing, but goes like this—I
am a Mosotho (one person) who lives with the Basotho (adjective)
people and speaks Sesotho (the language) in Lesotho (the country).”
He said he believed that the soil sample was taken at the
Pope’s Field in the Thetsane area of Maseru. A recent
email from the collector included these photos and confirmation.
This writer finds it fascinating that all these words rhyme!
a picture of a rural Maseru landscape.
My grandfather drove me like a secret
to the mountain that carries rocks at unusual angles,
wearing a fluffy scarf around its solid neck.
He said goddamnit it was time I
saw history with my own eye,
he told me I was old enough,
how low lights loom always high,
why the ghost of dawn has been hiding in
Aurorae since Lepoqo—now gone from
these caves that dot one face of
a mountain—died, since Baroa bled from them.
Wikipedia says they possessed no status hierarchies;
they lived when the world was young, and these caves
carved into stone became their home.
Grandpa calls them fucking wounds, these holes
emptied of life. Things have come to that.
I saw hole after hole of quiet home, they thin
as you go higher up, even up to where Lesotho
bleeds your shins, but where the foreigner to this day
still comes to scrape ochre off the wall to feed
rudiments of their knowledge. Against the ogre
we’re alone, he’d mumble again and again, we’re
flushed with wine, the little people painted life under
a grotto moon, flame-dancing to songs re-mixed by a god
of their midst; and that’s what my grandfather said.
With my own children I visit the mountain—
The caves remain open like national mouths.
words are dedicated to the soil of the land of Lesotho. The
Pope spoke words of blessing and advice there. The newspapers
of the world wrote journalistic words about this stoic land.
The poets describe their lives there in fervent words. The
Sesotho word for peace in Lesotho is “khotso.”
these words. . . What do they mean?
earth speaks not. She makes rumbling or watery sounds, we
hear the wind blowing in the trees, but her wordless message
is clear: life grows on the soil, “loam so black; so
good to touch.” Let us set aside all the words for a
moment, stop seeking meaning, and simply appreciate that.