Visual Symbols of Self: South Sotho Arts and Initiation

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

South Sotho initiates displaying unique hairstyles that correspond to their various dibôkô. Free State, South Africa, January 2010. Photo by David M. M. Riep.

When turning to the visual arts of initiation, one must note that in the present time, as well as in the past, any given initiation school (mophatô) may contain students from diverse cultural backgrounds. For example, one may find members of the Batlôkwa, Makgolokwe, Bafökëng, Bataung, and Bakwëna—all Sesotho-speaking cultures—under a single instructor, or mosuwe. As a result, it is common for basuwe to contact chiefs and religious specialists from various South Sotho clans prior to the opening of the mophatô, in order to learn if any specific steps needed to be taken, or avoided, by members of different South Sotho cultures. The presence of cultural specificity is also supported visually, as students maintain different accouterments linking them to their dibôkô, and asserting their identity.