Visual Symbols of Self: South Sotho Arts and Initiation

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

South Sotho male initiates spewing out letsepe (unstrained beer) toward the rising sun. This action, called phutsa letsatsi, is one of the culminating events in the lebollô process. Free State, South Africa, January 2010. Photo by David M. M. Riep.

In a similar manner, the initiation of South Sotho men is brought to a conclusion with an event that celebrates their new status as adults. Unlike the dithöjane, which takes place throughout the night, the male initiates greet the dawn of their transition to adulthood at daybreak. Just prior to sunrise, the young men are lined up facing east, and await the rising sun. At the moment when the first rays of light break the horizon, the initiates are given unstrained beer, or letsepe, infused with medicine, which they take into their mouths, and spray out toward the east, symbolically greeting the dawn of their new lives as men. Not only does this mimic the act of ejaculation, but it references the story of South Sotho creation which is believed to have taken place at a swampy land of reeds called Ntsoana Tsatsi, or "the place where the sun rises."