Saturday, 31 October 2009

Lesotho - Singing Away the Hunger

The tagline for Mpho 'M'atsepo Nthunya's book Singing Away the Hunger is 'read this book if you want to get your life in perspective' and it certainly delivers a story that is hard-hitting, heart-rending, but with moments of humour thrown in.

I had to keep reminding myself that the events of the book were taking place partly during my life time. The high infant mortality rates, the overbearing superstitions and the grinding poverty put me in mind of the Ireland of Angela's Ashes - also not that long ago, by the way.

But apart from anything else Nthunya's story was inspiring. We all know that life has its ups and downs and it almost seems like fate that Nthunya met the American academic, who teased the stories out of her and brought them to the attention of a wider world.

It's incredibly important to hear stories like Nthunya's and I learned a lot about Lesotho, as her book is a kind of cultural record, as well as her own life story.

I learned about the beauty of the Maluti mountains and the almost naive faith of the Basotho people. I learned that it can snow in the mountains, that the Basotho have adopted thick English blankets as a national costume, that Christianity has had a strong impact on some Basotho people, like Nthunya's late mother.

I learned that there is a wealthy, highly-educated elite in Lesotho, especially in the University town of Roma where Nthunya spent many years cleaning rich people's houses.

I also learned about the darker side of Lesotho. A land of murderous uncles and lethal spells. A country with high-unemployment and an addiction to joala (homemade beer). I learned about Lesotho's umbilical connection with the townships of Gauteng, especially Benoni. I loved how she referred to South Africa as simply 'the Republic'. It reminds me of home, how I grew up calling Ireland 'the Republic' or 'the Free State' - an interesting comparison with South Africa.

I also learned some new words like Ntate and 'M'e (words for older men and women). I learned sangoma (traditional healer) and thokolosi (evil spirit), motsoalle (close friend), rondavel (a traditional African round house), papa (a type of porridge, which is the main staple of a Basotho diet).

Most of all, I learned to love Nthunya's story and draw strength from it. The book was published in the mid-90's and I wonder where she is now and how life has been treating her.

Image credits

The image of the flag is as in the previous post. The book cover is an image I took on my iPhone.

The amazing photo of the Basotho village with a rondavel is by flickruser rogiro - he is a professional photographer and has shared this image with us using the Creative Commons license - if you want to see more of his photos, or get in touch with him go to

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