The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Visual Symbols of Self: South Sotho Arts and Initiation

by David M. M. Riep
Colorado State University, Fort Collins

South Sotho female initiates (bale), Free State, South Africa, December 2009. Photo by David M. M. Riep.

When examining the significant events within historical South Sotho life, one of the most important was initiation into adulthood, or lebollô. Formerly, men and women were required to undergo this process in order to make any significant advances in South Sotho society. Not only did it prepare adult males for marriage, but it allowed them to sit in lekhotla (court) and take part in public affairs. Likewise, it bolstered the fertility of South Sotho females and provided them with the skills for maintaining domestic spaces. While the institution of lebollô has undergone significant changes in contemporary southern Africa, this transitional period of education is still widely practiced throughout the Free State province of South Africa and the Kingdom of Lesotho. In addition to its role in maintaining the continuity of South Sotho social organization, lebollô also relied on the visual arts to advance South Sotho ideas of identity and cultural affiliation, and still maintains visual symbols linked to one's ancestors and family line.