About the Author: Sara Devlin serves at the U.S. Embassy in Maseru, Lesotho.
On Thursday, October 1, the U.S. Embassy Maseru Public Diplomacy team and a group of dedicated volunteers drove in the rainy and cold weather to Morija, about 45 minutes from the capital city of Maseru, to pitch our tent at Lesotho’s premiere cultural event, the Morija Arts and Cultural Festival.
The first day of the festival was dedicated to performances by local high school groups, who performed the traditional Litolobonya dance. The skirts that the girls wore were often made from torn plastic bags and a very heavy underskirt of coke bottle caps, which rattled as the girls moved.
Young Basotho men performed traditional dances, often reenacting fighting scenes. Many male groups dressed in the customary attire, gum boots and coveralls, of Basotho men who went to work in the mines of South Africa. Others wore loincloths made of animal skins. The clothes were very striking, and the dancers’ movements highlighted their agility and strength.
As the groups danced, their peers sang. The singers, in Basotho hats and blankets, stood behind high-tech microphones and sound equipment. I couldn't help but be struck by the image, a contrast between the traditional attire of the singers and the modern technology they used on the stage.
This year's Morija Festival didn’t just line up a wide variety of performers; it also attracted a diverse group of attendees. One of the most exciting things about the Morija Festival was the chance to talk with Basotho people outside of the capital. I particularly enjoyed speaking with the children, who frequently visited our tent to practice their English and laugh at my basic Sesotho!
We also hosted a very memorable guest at our tent: His Majesty King Letsie III. My colleague Brandy Airall gave the King a tour of our booth. Brandy was so excited to have met the King that she was on the phone to her family in the United States minutes after the King left our tent!
Brandy’s enthusiasm was only rivaled by the excitement of festival attendees who participated in our raffle. Each hour during the festival, we drew two names to win either an embassy hat, t-shirt, or an America 24/7 book. Our winners often did a little dance, the women ululating to show how happy they were when they won.
The gentleman featured in the photograph accompanying this entry visited our tent every day. Like so many other visitors to our stand, he really, really wanted to win an embassy hat or t-shirt in our raffle. By the last day, he won, and he left wearing the hat!
During the last hours of the festival, staff members had to use real diplomacy to explain that there were no t-shirts or caps left. We hope that next year we can distribute more giveaways so that everyone can go home happy!
The Morija Festival was one of the highlights of the embassy’s year. It’s an opportunity to share about the United States and to experience the rich culture that is unique to this Mountain Kingdom.
As we say in Lesotho: “Khotso, Pula, Nala.” (“Peace, Prosperity, and Rain”)