The movie Black Panther may have made these beautiful “African blankets” world famous, but the beauty in the Basotho blanket is found in its history and in its cultural significance among the Basotho people of Lesotho and South Africa.
Nini Klass, one of the fabulous members of the Sparrow Society family in South Africa, shares with us the meaning and history behind these blankets that form such an integral part of her culture. They aren’t just to keep us warm. And they certainly aren’t just a fashion trend.
To be robed, or not to be. That is the Question…
There is something quite majestic about the Basotho blanket. This blanket is adorned by the Basotho people and one of the boastful markers of their culture. The British first gifted the Kingdom of Lesotho’s royalty the blanket, named after their then Queen (Victoria England blanket). These blankets have then become more than just a 19th century gift and a sign of solidarity between the two nations, but a symbol of culture and identity for the Basotho people. Not only do Basotho of the Kingdom of Lesotho wear it, but Basotho people of South Africa also gladly drape the blanket on, identifying with sesotho culture.
One of the beautiful things is that, it is in special occasions that the blankets are exchanged. Wedding and marriage ceremonies always include a blanket gift between both families. In particular, the new bride receives her blanket from her new family (husband’s family) as a way of saying she is now part of the family. They are gifts to mark special occasions, but some blankets are made for everyday wear. Yes, you read that right! You can live your everyday life in a blanket… in public!
Worn all year round, the blanket is not a seasonal piece of attire. The hottest day of the year in Lesotho will still probably include a sighting of a person wearing a blanket! It represents a greater sense of being, status and pride for Basotho. Because of this high esteem regarding the blanket, a gift of a Basotho blanket is of great value. It not only shows the value one places on the person receiving the blanket, but it also shows a sense of acceptance. It is a gesture of saying you are embraced and culturally welcomed by Basotho. What this means is that, the blanket is like a luxury item when worn.
Never can anyone question a person wearing a Basotho blanket in the heat of summer, because it is not a winter or weather item! It does not function as another layer of clothing. It does not only cover the body, but covers the question of identity – Who am I? What do I embrace? What do I identify myself with? Who do I identify myself as? Also though, it does function as a glorious coat! 🙂
The incredible designs and colours do not only make the blanket even more beautiful and unique. They also convey a message. Each blanket design takes from part of the culture of Lesotho. Take one of the originals and the very popular Seana-Marena. Its prestige starts from its name – “to swear by the chiefs”. So wearing this would be likened to a very elegant robe, one befitting a chief, King or royalty. With it now available in new colours, one of its variations, which is its distinctive corn design has always been maintained (maize is Basotho’s staple food). This is one among many other blankets with unique names, which all have a story to tell about the Basotho people and who they are.
Just the draping alone of the unisex blankets on a body immediately makes it become a man’s or a woman’s blanket. The blanket is worn with the ever-constant stripes within each blanket facing vertical. For men, the blanket is usually worn in full length and to one side of the shoulder. It usually gets tucked within than outward at the neck. Women on the other hand, wear the blanket with a fold at the top making a large “collar” fold of the blanket and pin the blanket in the centre.
Like any piece of clothing or attire, there is the right side to wear the blanket. Another interesting fact – the Basotho blanket is worn with the label outward and seen by all! This is where the details of the blanket are, including the most important, which is the name of the blanket.
You may ask, “Am I worthy to be draped in this magnificent blanket?” Why, yes! You too can join many who continue to communicate the cultural message of the treasured blankets.
Now, the moment this blanket is on you, you have said to the Basotho people that you embrace and choose to embody their culture and story of who they are, and also choose to be a messenger spreading the message associated with the blanket you are wearing!
SO! Which part of the Basotho culture do you want to spread with the blanket of your choice? Happy choosing!
About the Author: Mpinane (Nini) Klass serves as the Assistant to the Director of Sparrow Society.
“I studied English and Public Relations and
am passionate about young people and chocolate! I enjoy skiing in the mountains of Lesotho and love snow more than an African should!”