Visual Symbols of Self: South Sotho Arts and Initiation

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

South Sotho initiates wearing different garments to indicate their dibôkô. Free State, South Africa, January 2010. Photo by David M. M. Riep.

In addition, the initiates’ hair equally reflects a variety of visual markers, with some initiates wearing ochre, while others maintain their natural color, or are enhanced with sekama, which is a type of ilmenite (metallic titanium oxide). These visual cues are added so that the community may recognize the sebôkô of any given initiate upon their return from the mophatô, and shows respect to one’s ancestors and family line. As such, members of the Batlôkwa wear a roughly cut style with no pattern, without any addition of sekama, while Makgolokwe initiates also wear this roughly cut style, but include the application of sekama. Finally, the various patterned hairstyles respectively indicate members of the Bafökëng, Basia and Bakwëna.