Visual Symbols of Self: South Sotho Arts and Initiation

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

Three South Sotho initiates recite their "praise poems," or dithoko tsa makoloane, which express their new identity as adults to the community. Free State, South Africa, January 2010. Photo by David M. M. Riep.

As the young men approach the village, the public events of lebollô take place. One of these activities is the singing of mangae, the public version of the sacred dikoma songs. The style of mangae mirrors that of the dikoma songs, both of which are chanted slowly, in a low-pitched voice, with no movements. These are later accompanied by dithoko tsa makoloane, or praise poems composed by each initiate, which expresses the image of his new adult identity, and is sung at the graduation ceremony. Each initiate composes his praise poem during the initial periods of lebollô, and it serves as the primary vehicle for the expression of the initiate's new adult status, with which each initiate introduces himself at the closing ceremony, marking his entry into the adult world. Such public expressions are accompanied by specific accouterments, including the "Basotho" blanket, as well as the koto (knob stick) and molamu (fighting stick).