Visual Symbols of Self: South Sotho Arts and Initiation

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

Three decorative koto that were carried by South Sotho initiates upon completing lebollô. Private Collection, 2012. Photos by David M. M. Riep.

Koto are often passed down from one generation to the next, as the young men go through the initiation process. It is believed to alert badimo that the young man has returned from his initiation, and garners their support and blessings. Following an initiate's public introduction as a functioning member of Sesotho adult society the koto is typically stored in the ceiling of one's home, and represents the physical presence of the unseen. In contemporary southern Africa, one can also find decorative variations carried by new initiates after returning to their homes. These serve as accessories to the heavily ornamented outfits worn by the young men as a sign of celebration during the weeks following their return, and equally express the celebration of newly gained adulthood, drawing attention to their owners.