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IIt is estimated that there are approximately 7-million Sotho people living in South Africa, making them the second-largest ethnic group in the country. There are another 3-million or so who live outside the country, mainly in neighbouring Lesotho.
The Sotho people are generally divided into three distinct tribes: Southern Sotho, Northern Sotho (or Pedi) and Tswana. Like those of their Nguni cousins, the Sotho traditionally relied on a combination of livestock and crop cultivation for food – although today, like almost all formerly rural peoples, most are city-dwellers participating in an urban economy.
In the rural areas, however, many Sotho still herd livestock, usually on horseback. In fact, herders are known for their exceptional riding skills, making them the cowboys of the southern African plains. It is also in the rural areas that ancient Sotho culture and tradition still survives.
Sotho men are often skilled artisans using metal, leather and wood, while reeds and grasses are used to weave baskets. A man’s status is determined by his relationship to the chief, his age and his standing in the community. Women, meanwhile, are responsible for the homestead and agriculture.
Though polygamy is no longer as common as in the past, Sotho culture does allow a man to have more than 1 wife. Each wife has her own homestead, ranked in order of seniority.
The Sotho people live in villages divided into kgoro − different households, built around a central area in which the kraal, graveyard and ancestral shrine are situated. These villages, ruled by a chief, can grow to accommodate thousands of people.
The Sotho are recognised for their thick blankets and conical hats. In traditional villages the men wrap themselves in a blanket, covering their trousers and shirt. These blankets carry great significance, closely linked to the important moments and milestones of a family’s life.
As with many other African peoples, religious belief is focused on ancestral spirits, who are honoured at ritual feasts. In a corner of each lapa in a Pedi village, for example, where a symbolic flower grows, a man will sprinkle home-brewed beer and snuff on the ground to invoke the ancestors’ help in bringing good fortune.
- Gaabo Motho Cultural Village (Pretoria, Gauteng)
- Lesedi Cultural Village (Cradle of Humankind, Gauteng)
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