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The Sotho people lived in Southern Africa for hundreds of years prior to King Moshoeshoe’s reign; however he is considered the father of modern day Lesotho as, under his rule, the nation was consolidated into a governing kingdom with established borders.
Moshoeshoe began his rise to prominence as the local chief of a small village. Legend suggests that his mentor, Chief Mohlomi, shared an ominous vision of an embattled and war-torn era that would appear like a “great red cloud descending over the south”. Heeding this warning, Moshoeshoe led his people to Butha-Buthe to establish a mountain defense. This was followed by a second mountain stronghold at Theba-Bosiu years later which proved a successful defense and military advantage to the kingdom. Neither the Boers invading from the South, nor the Zulu King, Shaka (encroaching from the East) were able to overcome Moshoeshoe’s powerful combination of militant strength and tactful political compromise.
According to folklore, at one point King Moshoeshoe learned of King Shaka’s plan to wage war against Moshoeshoe and claim his lands. Moshoeshoe paid homage to the Zulu king by sending gifts, with plumes of ostrich feathers chief among them. Pleased with the gesture, Shaka relented and Moshoeshoe demonstrated that even the mightiest and most unyielding hands could be restrained by little more than the weight of a feather.
In another anecdote, Moshoeshoe’s grandfather was slaughtered on his land and dragged away by a raiding party of cannibals. Instead of avenging his grandfather’s death with violence, Moshoeshoe redirected these energies toward a higher purpose for the sake of his people. Moshoeshoe gave the cannibals cattle and land, and to prevent any of his people taking revenge on his behalf he performed customary burial rites on the bellies of the cannibals declaring them the living embodiment of his grandfather’s burial ground. When death could have been dealt, Moshoeshoe turned fierce raiders into loyal patrons and increased his kingdom in both number and strength. In doing this, Moshoeshoe once again invoked “Balimo ba hao u ba hopole” and put his people’s interests far above his own.
Next: Spreading a Blanket over Lesotho