Some time ago I was leaving my house when I heard singing and chanting and saw a row of people coming down the path of a neighbouring hillside. I was told they were a “Girls Initiation School” a Litsoejane (deet sway jah nay). I kept a respectful distance and watched as they joined up and started a series of dances and songs. I had to leave for an important meeting at one of the primary schools so I reluctantly started walking down the hill when I heard the Litsoejane group coming down behind me.
Someone living nearby called out to me to get away as the girls would “beat” me so I ran up another hill as a group broke out and started to chase me, threatening to hit me with their sticks (tupas) then laughing and saying “Mpho take our photo!!”
They told me it is part of their ritual to chase and hit people (or threaten to). I’m not sure how this practice fits in with the purpose of the School, which is for the girls to learn about their role and responsibilities as women in the Basotho culture and community. It’s been difficult to get more specifics on the history and traditions of the Litsoejane, some of the staff at Maliba have told me it’s only for girls who misbehave but they were laughing as they told me and I don’t believe any of the girls in this Ha Mohale group have a reputation for wild behaviour. Other than what you see here.
You might notice the coating of their skin and the tattooing. It is very similar to Isak Dinensen’s description of a similar practice by the Kikuyu people of Kenya in her terrific book, Out of Africa “…The Kikuyu…rub themselves all over with a particular kind of pale red chalk, which is much in demand… The colour is neither of the animal nor vegetable world, in it the young people themselves look fossilized, like statues cut in rock. The girls in their demure, bead-embroidered, tanned leather garments cover these, as well as themselves, with the earth and look all one with them,- clothed statues…” here the girls wear sheep skins and a coating made of a whitish chalk, making patterns on their bodies and writing the name of a significant man on their backs.
While they tried to appear fierce it seemed to be in fun and they were having a nice time as they travelled through many villages this day, stopping periodically to chase people with their tupas then doing ritual dances to the delight of ever increasing crowds.