Monday, April 10, 2017

The Mountain Kingdom: Part 2

Beautiful Maliba Lodge in Lesotho.
If you missed part one of our trip to Lesotho The Mountain Kingdom, you can find it here.

The morning of our first full day in Lesotho, we made arrangements to tour a local village. Normally, the village tour includes a visit to a school but as it was Saturday school was not in session. The village tour offered by Maliba Lodge is a genuine tour of a village. There is no reenactment, no natives wearing costumes or anything phony. The tour involves going to a village and seeing what is happening there. It's the real deal. 

Our tour guide was named Adam. What was particularly cute and funny was that Adam was also our waiter for breakfast at the lodge that morning. Adam was soft-spoken and based on my informal research quietness and shyness seem to be traits of the Basotho people. Adam's English is very good though, so I can understand why he was selected to be a tour guide. 

Adam is not from the village he took us to, he is from Butha-Buthe another village located about 40 kilometers from Maliba Lodge, but he clearly was very familiar with the village we visited as everyone there seemed to know him. Sadly I can't remember the name of the village we went to. The name is similar to the Sotho word for the round houses that the people live in. The word is not rondevels but another word, which I can't remember.

Adam our tour guide. I'll explain his hat shortly.
Round houses.
For the tour we had to drive ourselves and Adam to the village about 15-20 minutes from the lodge. The village is located on the side of the main, two lane road. It consists of a handful of round houses (again, what are they called?) and some other buildings. Unlike poor communities such as Diepsloot, there are no shacks and no trash. Everything is very clean, with lots of grass, foliage and crops. 

Immediately as we arrived a bunch of curious kids came out of nowhere and began following us around as though one of us was the Pied Piper. The younger kids did not seem to speak English but a few of the older ones, aged ten or so, did. 

We visited the village sangoma, a traditional healer who uses animal bones and herbs to make medicines. I had been hoping to visit a sangoma for a while so I was thrilled for the chance.  In addition to knowing about herbs and healing, sangomas also believe that deceased ancestors play a role in influencing the lives of the living. Sangomas are believed to have certain "powers" such as psychic abilities and the capacity to communicate with dead ancestors. A person can't just decide one day to become a sangoma, sangomas are chosen for their roles when their ancestors visit them during a dream and direct them. Adam told us anyone can learn about herbs and medical uses for them, but a true sangoma must have had the dream and therefore, the calling. 

The sangoma that Adam took us to was an 89 year old woman.  She looked quite healthy and young for her age, except that she did not have any teeth. We visited her in her round hut. While it was small, all four of us plus Adam and the sangoma were able to sit comfortably. It was dark inside the hut, with the only light coming in through the doorway. The hut had a dirt floor and was filled with interesting items including lots of fancy clothing, such as the hat made from porcupine quills that Adam is wearing in the photo above, clothing made of animal skins and clothing with intricate bead work. There were also piles of roots and dried plants, animal bones, a snake skin and other materials gathered by the sangoma to be used for healing. Along one wall were a bunch of jars and cans which I assume were filled with herbs and other found treasures. 

Some kind of animal skin hanging from the thatched ceiling to dry. 

Fortune telling objects. 
The sangoma.
The sangoma did not speak English so Adam explained everything to us and translated for her. After the overview about the dream and the clothing the sangoma asked if anyone wanted his or her fortune read. Only my friend Meghan was brave enough to do so. The cost was R100 (about $7.00)

The fortune reading began with Meghan taking a handful of the fortune telling objects shown in the photo above. The objects included shells, dominos, a coin and some animal bones. Meghan was instructed to blow on the handful before dropping the objects onto a mat so they could be read. When the reading began it was unimpressive especially if you're cynical of such things, like me. First, the sangoma cited the coin saying that Meghan was blessed with wealth. Kind of obvious since we arrived in a car wearing nice clothing. Next, the sangoma said that Meghan suffered from occasional headaches. While Meghan does sometimes have migraines, most people do suffer from headaches now and then so that didn't seem like any great revelation that wouldn't be true for most people. Also, the sangoma said that Meghan suffered from stress. This might sound funny and of course its a generalization, but I think black people in Southern Africa think that white people, as a whole, are very stressed out. So again, I didn't put a lot of credibility into what we were hearing. 

But then things got a little more interesting. The sangoma said that Meghan had been suffering from back pain and described the pain and where in her back it was. For a few weeks leading up to the trip, Meghan's back had been bothering her and at times the pain was quite bad. The sangoma also told Meghan it was important that she announce daily where she was and where she was going as her ancestors were having trouble finding her. So for example, Meghan needs to start saying things out loud, such as "I'm going to Sandton today" and the like. 

To rid herself of the back pain, Meghan was advised by the sangoma to go home, slaughter a goat, and have a party with friends to consume the goat meat together. Meghan was also told to get some tobacco snuff, have all of her friends sit in a circle, put a bit of the snuff on every one's closed fist and then ask everyone to snort it, Finally, the sangoma said Meghan had to drink lots of water every day. Meghan is an animal lover so I don't see her slaughtering a goat. But still it was an interesting experience.

Since our return from Lesotho I have told three African friends that we visited a sangoma. These three friends are all from Zimbabwe and all pretty much had the same reaction even though these were three separate conversations. They all thought it was strange and surprising that we would do such a thing.

Each of them said they did not believe in sangomas or their powers and none of them admitted to ever having visited one. One friend did say that he thought some of the herbs could help you if you were sick or injured and that he didn't have a problem with that part of it but that he did not believe in ancestor worship. Another friend seemed a little more concerned telling me to "watch out for those people" (meaning sangomas) as they can "cause lightning to strike a person." 


  1. Loving the shots. Lesotho looks like a beautiful place.

  2. Thanks Jeyna for reading my blog. Yes, we really enjoyed our trip to Lesotho. Next trip is to Nambia. Hopefully there will be some good stories and photos from there as well.


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Hello and thank you for taking an interest in my blog. This blog tells the story of some big life changes. First, my husband and I have just moved to Geneva, Switzerland for a few months following a few years of living in Johannesburg, South Africa. The two places could not be more different. I'm excited to share our adventures, challenges and insights with you! My thoughts and opinions are my own.