The National Museum hosted a month long virtual exhibition to celebrate Africa Month whilst under lockdown. Africa Month was celebrated virtually and online due to COVID-19 lockdown in South Africa. The theme for the celebrations was: #SilencingTheGuns: Creating Conducive Conditions for Africa’s Development and Intensifying the Fight against the COVID-19 Pandemic. The Museum showcased African items in its collections and shared popular content about Africa in the virtual exhibition.
Multiculturalism in Africa is a topic which should be spoken about more often amongst African people and could influence Africans to stop xenophobic acts. As part of the virtual exhibition, an information video about unity amongst Africans was compiled and shared online.
Africa Month Featured Artist: Lucky Sibiya and Taiwo Ohu
Image credit: Featured artwork of Taiwo Ohu, House of Parliament, Cape Town, 2017. Acrylic on canvas, 1000 mm x 1 500 mm. Photo credit: PYS Enterprises.
Oliewenhuis Art Museum and the Art Bank of South Africa featured two artist online in celebration of Africa Month.
Taiwo Ohu hails from Yoruba land, which is in the western part of Nigeria where he studied Fine Arts, Design and Printing Technology at the Polytechnic of Ibadan, Nigeria. In 2006, Ohu moved to South Africa where he lectured portrait painting, drawing and sculpture at RAU Technical College, Johannesburg and at Isabel Art School, Pretoria in 2009. The art of drawing with pen and brush has become a major part of his work. He produces series of illustrations of iconic architectural landmarks in South Africa. It could be argued that these buildings house stories, memories and histories, relating to specific cultures and heritage that resonate personally and collectively with society.
He has exhibited in numerous exhibitions and venues across the country including the Pretoria Art Museum, Association of Arts, Pretoria, Artlovers Gallery Pretoria and Crimson Studio Pretoria. He currently lives and work in Gauteng. Three artworks from Ohu have been included in the Art Bank of South Africa Contemporary Art Collection. To see more artworks view the virtual collection at https://artbanksa.org/lease-art/.
Oliewenhuis Art Museum compiled an art education video which showcased the art work of Lucky Sibiya – his Umabatha-series. The series was based on Welcome Msomi’s version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Umabatha, which had been adapted to 19th century Zulu history that covered the story of King Shaka and King Dingane.
Celebrating the musical diversity and rhythm of the continent
Music is an integral part of the social, cultural and religious lives of the people of Africa. It has been used for years as a medium of expression and for communication.
Drums hold a very special place in African history and culture. They are not just used for entertainment, but play an important cultural and religious role. There are a wide variety of drums around the continent. They come in various shapes and sizes, producing different sounds.
Image credit: Lucky Sibiya- The Umabatha series was part of the Pelmama Permanent Art Collection, and was donated to Oliewenhuis Art Museum by the Haenggi Foundation in 2006.
The uses and functions of the drums also differ. Most of the drums are linked to a myth or legend and are attributed with symbolic meanings or magical powers.
The #djembe, for example, which is one of the oldest and best known drums in Africa was a sacred drum used in healing ceremonies, rites of passage, warrior rituals, social events and ancestral worship. Another interesting drum is the ngoma lungundu (drum of the dead or thundering drum), a sacred drum of the Venda and Lemba of southern Africa that is usually played by women and girls at traditional ceremonies such as the domba. The ngoma, also regarded as the voice of God or the African Ark of the Covenant, is believed to have magical powers and is said to contain a stone obtained from the stomach of a crocodile or deceased chief.
In most parts of Africa drums were used for communication, particularly those known as talking drums, which can mimic the different tones and rhythms produced by human speech. These drums are still used by traditional musicians to accompany the narration of stories, myths and legends.
Image credit: The Museum showcased its collections of drums for the virtual exhibition.
The Vuvuzela and the Kudu horn
Two of the country’s favourite objects in the Museum’s collection are the Vuvuzela and the Kudu horn were also included in the virtual exhibition. The Vuvuzela is a very popular blowing music instrument in South Africa. The Kudu horn is the ancestor of the Vuvuzela and was used many years ago at different traditional gatherings. Today people don’t use Kudu horns anymore, as it is a rarity in modern days. In the 21st century we would rather use the plastic Vuvuzela.
In future the Vuvuzela may very well also be replaced by the Kuduzela- which is a Vuvuzela shaped like a Kuduhorn.
The Basotho Blanket
A large part of the virtual celebrations focused on the Basotho blanket, explaining the different meanings of these blankets / patterns.
Of all the people in southern Africa, none has developed a social-cultural significance around the blanket to the same degree as the Basotho nation. For them the blanket has become part of everyday life and a Sotho dressed in a traditional blanket reveals his status to his community. To outsiders the blanket has become a mark of ethnicity and a token of cultural identification.
However, blankets were not always an integral part of Basotho culture. The beginnings of the blanket culture can be traced with some accuracy to the first contact between the Basotho and the Europeans during the early 19th century. A sparse European presence existed in Lesotho as early as the 1800s. In 1860 the local newspaper, The Friend, reported that a certain Mr. Howell, a British trader, presented a blanket as a gift to King Moshoeshoe I. This was “a handsome railway wrapper made of light blue pilot cloth, heavy and hairy”. Moshoeshoe I was delighted with this gift and wore it over his shoulders ‘a la poncho’, in a way not far removed from the way traditional animal skin mantles (karosses/cloaks) were worn by the Basotho. This started a clothing revolution among the Basotho people; from that day onwards animal skin karosses started to lose their status as standard clothing to keep out the bitter cold mountain air, and blankets soon became the stock-in-trade for the Basotho.
Today, the traditional blanket plays an important role in Basotho culture as stated above. Each blanket / pattern has a different meaning to the Basotho people, but the message remains the same: “Bochaba ba Mosotho ke kobo”, meaning ‘when I wear a blanket it shows that I am a Mosotho’.
What differentiates the traditional blanket of the Basotho people from all other blankets?
Firstly, it has a very high wool content (about 90%), which ensures that it can be worn in both winter and summer, as wool keeps the body at an even temperature.
Another important feature is the incorporation of solid lines that run through the designs and are commonly known as ‘wearing stripes’, usually worn vertically to symbolise growth and well-being.
The story goes that an error in the original loom in England resulted in stripes being woven into a range of blankets for shipment to Africa. Ever since then these stripes have been accepted as an essential part of the Basotho’s blanket design. The true Basotho’s blanket is slightly smaller than an ordinary bed’s blanket.
The word “nkoe” translates from the Sotho word for leopard or tiger.
This blanket resembles in use and appearance the traditional leopard skin kaross, which symbolised royalty, strength, courage, victory and wisdom.
The significance of the leopard skin kaross (courage and strength) was transferred to the similar-looking blanket, which is used especially in ceremonies of transition such as the initiation of a herbalist or the inauguration of people to important positions.
Image credit: King Moshoeshoe I, the mountain king
This blanket was specially designed to commemorate the marriage of 𝐊𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐋𝐞𝐭𝐬𝐢𝐞 𝐈𝐈𝐈 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐐𝐮𝐞𝐞𝐧 ‘𝐌𝐚𝐬𝐞𝐧𝐚𝐭𝐞 𝐌𝐨𝐡𝐚𝐭𝐨 𝐒𝐞𝐞𝐢𝐬𝐨 on 18 February 2000.
It features a combination of the Basotho hat and crown symbolising the 𝐑𝐨𝐲𝐚𝐥 𝐇𝐨𝐮𝐬𝐞 𝐨𝐟 𝐋𝐞𝐬𝐨𝐭𝐡𝐨, the Lesotho coat of arms, diamonds symbolising the wealth of the nation and mealies as a sigh of prosperity.
Image credit: King Letsie III and Queen ‘Masenate Mohato Seeiso
This blanket, featuring ears of wheat, mealies and swallows, was designed in memory of the founder of the Basotho nation, King Moshoeshoe I (c. 1786 – 1870). It is commonly known as “Leseli”, meaning ‘light’ in reference to Moshoeshoe I saying “Ke bone leseli”, meaning ‘I have seen the first light of day’, when opening the door of his hut upon rising.
Image credits: King Moshoeshoe I, founder of the Basotho nation
𝗧𝗵𝗲 𝗕𝗹𝗮𝗻𝗸𝗲𝘁 “𝗠𝗼𝘁𝗹𝗮𝘁𝘀𝗶”
This blanket design was made to commemorate the birth of the Crown Prince Lerotholi Seeiso, the son of King Letsie III, in 2007.It features a series of different hearts, signifying the heart of the nation, and is commonly known as “Motlatsi” meaning successor.
𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐌𝐨𝐡𝐨𝐥𝐨𝐛𝐞𝐥𝐚 𝐛𝐥𝐚𝐧𝐤𝐞𝐭
This blanket’s name refers to an old Sotho saying: “Moholobela wa dithota”, meaning ‘𝐈 𝐚𝐦 𝐟𝐫𝐨𝐦 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐝𝐞𝐬𝐞𝐫𝐭 ’. A person, after travelling a long journey on foot or horseback would use this saying to imply: ‘after this journey I am not sure which direction I am going’. This blanket is very traditional as it was used from its inception for the “Lebollo”, the initiation ceremony for Basotho boys.The “Moholobela” blanket has a crocodile on its label but not in its pattern, the crocodile being the totem of the royal Kwena tribe and also the national emblem of Lesotho.
Each blanket has a different meaning, for example during initiation a boy is presented with a special blanket called “Moholobela” (the fertility blanket) and upon successful completion of initiation he is given another blanket, known as “Lekhokolo”, to symbolise his transition from boyhood to manhood. Thereafter he may need the “Motlotlehi” (the wedding blanket) as a gift for his bride. Another custom demands that the families of both parties involved in a wedding should be similarly dressed, including the blankets they wear.
The “Seanamarena” blanket was initially meant to be exclusively for the king and chiefs, and dates back to the turn of the 20th century. The name, literally meaning ‘we have the honour to swear by the chiefs’, implies something that is worthy of the king, and stems from the early days when only the king and chiefs had enough money to afford the best.
The “Seanamarena” blanket soon became very popular and sought after, and from the beginning the blanket trade deliberately manufactured only a certain number of these blankets per year, which further increased the people’s desire to possess such a blanket.
Even today the Basotho people still consider the “Seanamarena” to be the most prestigious of all blankets, and it remains an important status symbol within the Basotho culture.
The “Seanamarena” comes in two designs: The “poone” design, and the “chromatic” design (named for the man who designed the pattern, Charles Hendry Robertson). The “poone” design features “poone”, meaning mealies or corncob, symbolising growth and fertility. Whereas the “chromatic” design features a honeycomb background with an ace of spades motif; the ace of spades traditionally being the highest and most valued card in the deck of playing cards.
𝗧𝗵𝗲 “𝗦𝗲𝗿𝗼𝗽𝗲” 𝗯𝗹𝗮𝗻𝗸𝗲𝘁
This blanket is of high quality with a very soft finish. The Basotho refer to this finish as “serope”, meaning ‘as soft as a pregnant woman’s thigh’. Traditionally a husband gives this type of blanket to his wife on the birth of their first child.
It is an extraordinary thick, soft and warm blanket and has always been very popular in the cold mountainous areas.
This particular design is commonly known as “Monkeynut” as the motifs on the blanket reminded the Basotho people of a monkey nut.
𝗧𝗵𝗲 “𝗕𝗮𝗱𝗴𝗲𝘀 𝗼𝗳 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗕𝗿𝗮𝘃𝗲” 𝗯𝗹𝗮𝗻𝗸𝗲𝘁
Over time some of these traditional blankets incorporated designs showing the Basotho people’s loyalty to England. This loyalty started in 1868 when Queen Victoria ‘spread her blanket’ over the Mountain Kingdom. The British protection of Lesotho and the two World Wars provided strong symbols acceptable to the Basotho, and was thus incorporated into blanket patterns. Themes on aeroplanes, bombs and playing-cards depicted on blankets are all reminders of such sympathies, as well as being symbols of bravery, power and conquest for the Basotho.
The “Badges of the Brave” blanket was designed just after World War II (1939-1945) to honour the British and Allied forces who fought in the war, and in memory of the Basotho’s who lost their lives.
𝗧𝗵𝗲 “𝗠𝗮𝗺𝗼𝗵𝗮𝘁𝗼” 𝗯𝗹𝗮𝗻𝗸𝗲𝘁- 𝗤𝘂𝗲𝗲𝗻 𝗠𝗮𝗺𝗼𝗵𝗮𝘁𝗼
In spite of the blanket’s name, it is interesting to note that all previous designs of the Basotho’s blankets were developed by the manufactures themselves, although always in close consultation with the Basotho people. The blankets were first produced by Wormald & Walker in England, and later by Standard Woollen Mills in Harrismith. Nowadays they are manufactured in Randfontein by Aranda Textile Mills. None have ever been made in Lesotho.
However, the interest of Queen Mamohato of Lesotho in these traditional blankets in the late 1980s was displayed when she gave input for designs and ideas, resulting in a blanket design known as “Mamohato”. The design looks like flames of fire.
𝗧𝗵𝗲 “𝗛𝗮𝘁 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗦𝗵𝗶𝗲𝗹𝗱 𝗣𝗮𝘁𝘁𝗲𝗿𝗻” 𝗯𝗹𝗮𝗻𝗸𝗲𝘁
Image credit: The traditional Basotho hat, called the “mokorotle”, is inspired by its conical Mount Qiloane. The swallow-like shield of the Basotho people is also called the “thebe”.
Some of the Basotho’s own cultural symbols, like the crocodile, coat of arms and conical grass hat, became popular blanket motifs.This particular blanket shows the wearer is an ordinary person. It is worn on all national days and at traditional Basotho festivals.
𝗧𝗵𝗲 “𝗕𝗮𝘁𝗵𝗼 𝗯𝗮 𝗥𝗼𝗺𝗮” 𝗯𝗹𝗮𝗻𝗸𝗲𝘁 – 𝗰𝗼𝗺𝗺𝗲𝗺𝗼𝗿𝗮𝘁𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗣𝗼𝗽𝗲 𝗝𝗼𝗵𝗻 𝗣𝗮𝘂𝗹 𝗜𝗜
Images: Pope John Paul II; Stamp series to memorialise Pope John Paul II’s visit to Lesotho; Father Joseph Gerard
The “Batho ba Roma” blanket was made to commemorate Pope John Paul II’s visit to Lesotho in 1988.
On the five-nation, 10-day tour of southern Africa, the Kingdom of Lesotho provided the religious centrepiece of the Pope’s trip – the beatification of Father Joseph Gerard, a pioneer Catholic missionary to the Basotho people. An open-air Mass in the rural village of Roma, about 60 kilometres from Maseru, was also on the agenda and a second Mass the following day in the Maseru stadium.The blanket’s design features church windows, and a bishop’s mitre and crosier.
The Masaai Tribal dance
The virtual exhibition also showcased information about the Masaai tribal dance with a video and photos.
Traditional dances are performed to celebrate milestones in the lives of most African cultures and for public ceremonial events. Together with music and a lot of rhythm, these dances forms an integral part of any African tradition.
The Adumu dance or Jump-dance is performed as a Maasai tribal dance in Kenya and Tanzania. They are performed during coming of age ceremonies- when boys are recognized as men. These men or warriors form a circle and jump in the air, 2 at a time while maintaining a straight up and narrow posture. It’s important to have this posture, but also to not let your heals touch the ground between the jumps. The goal is to see which warrior can jump the highest.
Research about 𝑴𝒖𝒓𝒂𝒍 𝑨𝒓𝒕 𝒊𝒏 𝑺𝒐𝒖𝒕𝒉 𝑨𝒇𝒓𝒊𝒄𝒂
The Museum shared research about Mural art. This research was published in a popular article in CULNA Magazine. Mural Art is an ancient tradition that was practised in most parts of the world and for Africa Month we looked at the mural art of the Basotho (South Sotho), North Sotho and Ndebele of Southern Africa which were displayed on courtyard walls, the exterior of their homes and decorations on the interior and exterior floors.
Why do we celebrate Africa Day?
On 25 May 1963, Africa made history with the foundation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) the precursor to the African Union (AU).
Africa Day is intended to celebrate and acknowledge the successes of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU now the AU)from its creation in May 25, 1963 in the fight against colonialism and apartheid, as well as the progress that Africa has made, while reflecting upon the common challenges that the continent face in a global environment.