village chief, old Father of Crows, neglected his
second wife, Mother of Pumpkins, because she could
not have children - until, one day, two doves came
to help her.
In 1843, Queen Victoria agreed to take Basutoland under
her protection, thus achieving Moshoeshoe’s first goal.
The seeds of his second goal had been sown more than a decade
before. At the same time that Basutoland was forming as
a nation, French Protestants began an evangelical drive
in Africa. After arriving in Cape Town, three missionaries
set out on a treacherous ride—one thousand kilometers long—across
mountainous, bandit-infested lands to arrive in the new
Basotho kingdom. Their first order of business was to learn
Sesotho and devise an alphabet so that it could be written
because they wanted to translate the Bible.
It is largely due to those early missionaries that
so much of the oral tradition of the Basotho has been preserved;
they and their successors collected folktales, songs, proverbs,
and riddles in order to have original texts for study and
the compilation of a Sesotho dictionary. First published
in 1875, that dictionary is still in use today, following
many revisions and new editions.
As a result of Christian missionary influences, the
folktales of the Basotho are different from those of most
other African peoples—they are more relaxed and benevolent,
containing less cruelty and wickedness. Of course, these
folktales are still populated by cannibals, demons, and
other vicious characters, but they are no more gruesome
than, say, Grimms’ fairy tales. Basotho tales generally
have happy endings. This is particularly uncommon for Bantu
tales. That is why I call them fairy tales rather than folktales.
Behind the three tales of our collection (one recounted
here and two in the next issue), there is a strong moral
message. The first tale was originally used as a lesson
to teach young chieflings that they should treat everyone–even
their wives—with fairness and equality.