Visual Symbols of Self: South Sotho Arts and Initiation

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

South Sotho male initiates (makoloane) singing mangae as the instructor (mosuwe) leads them. Free State, South Africa, January 2010. Photo by David M. M. Riep.

Because lebollô serves as the primary means of a social rebirth, the transition was accomplished through learning the secret tenets of koma, which are songs based upon certain truths thought to be essential to adult Sesotho identity. Musicologist Robin Wells explains that there are two types of dikoma: those dealing with South Sotho history, and those teaching moral and practical values to initiates. The emphasis on history is significant as it recalls the lives of generations past and links one with badimo, or one's familial ancestors. Badimo are honored in many South Sotho social and religious practices, and are believed to have influence upon the daily lives of the living. In addition, one's connection to the spirits of the past is emphasized through dibôkô, which represents one’s clan affiliation and genealogy, and is linked with a specific animal and plant symbol. Among the South Sotho, dibôkô are the penultimate indicator of one's identity, and are emphasized through both the visual arts and culturally sensitive activities, where issues of cultural affiliation and seniority serve specific social functions.