South Africa - Spring 2006 travel blog

Basotho village

welcoming musician


chief's advisor

serving beer

medicine man

thatched roof home

brightly colored exteriors

Play Doh interior

mud daub decoration

As our guidebook described it, the Basotho Culture Center sounded like a Williamsburg-like reenactment of Basotho tribal life. It is located within the boundaries of Golden Gate National Park and the Basotho are the original inhabitants of this area. The culture center was rather touristic and we tourists loved it! The village was a collection of buildings representing various periods in the Basotho architectural style. The later buildings reflected the influence of Europeans in the area. I especially liked the colorful effort to reproduce shelves on walls, made out of mud and cow dung, brightly painted. It reminded me of a child's Play Doh creation. On the shelves, pieces of china traded with the Europeans were proudly displayed.

I loved the exteriors of the Basotho homes. They all had thatched roofs, but varied greatly in color and ornamentation depending on the time period they represented. Before the cow dung/mud mixture dried, patterns were drawn on the walls with pointed tools. When it came to the paint, no color was too bright or pattern too bold.

We were welcomed into the village by a musician perched high up on a rock signaling the chief that visitors had arrived. He and his advisor welcomed us to sit down and served freshly fermented sorghum beer. In the Basotho tradition the men got to drink first. I would have been happy if they had never gotten around to me. Foul stuff! The chief's advisor was introduced as highly regarded, but easily replaced. When they need a new one, they play a tic-tac-toe like game with pebbles that taxes the mental acuity of the participants. All the men get to play in elimination rounds rather like March Madness; the surviving winner is the new chief's advisor.

The chief has three wives; Basotho men are allowed to have as many wives as they can afford. The first wife is the queen and in her hut we drank another sorghum drink, nonalcoholic and sweetened with honey. Much easier to get down. Both drinks were served in communal bowls. As we passed them around I tried not to think of the countless tourists before me who had also sipped from these vessels. Every time we entered one of the buildings, we had to bend down to get in the doorway. This was to show honor and respect to the tenant and give the occupant an opportunity to bop you over the head if he didn't like the look of you.

Then we visited a somber looking medicine man. He had a fur bag of bones, sea shells, seed pods, and dominoes which he spilled on his fur rug to determine both fortunes and medical remedies. The fortunes he predicted were a realistic mix of good and bad news - you will live a long life, but will be troubled by many spells of illness. Oh, great!

At least no one was predicted to die from driving on the wrong side of the road. While we have not suffered from a recent concentration lapse, we were warned that now that we were feeling pretty confident, is the precise time that big mistakes happen. As we compare notes, it is the most difficult to end up where you are supposed to be after doing a U-turn or coming out of a parking lot. As navigator, I am working hard to keep U-turns to a minimum.

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