17 May 2004

Lithothokiso (Praise Poems)

Katiba ea Puo, or Language hat, has a nice rundown on Jack Mapanje, a Malawian poet who was thrown in jail because of his thorny poetry. Didn't know the fella, but I feel like an oaf as a result. Where was I? Kamuzu Banda, Malawi's dictator, was a pal of Lesotho's dictator, Leabua Jonathan. Within the turbulent atmosphere of post-1970 Lesotho we hated both Banda and Jonathan. The latter, on the other hand, targetted journalists more than he did creative artists. He killed Edgar Motuba.

En lien avec la maison d'édition de la LEC à Morija, les MPW impriment aussi le journal de l'Eglise, "Leselinyana" ("Petite lumière du Lesotho"). Combatif et courageux, ce journal a su être la voix des plus pauvres, pour plus de justice et de vérité. En 1981, son directeur, Edgar Motuba a été assassiné. En 1987 les envoyés du DM-échange et mission ont été obligés de quitter le pays après avoir été menacés et agressés dans leur maison. Mais "Leselinyana" continue de paraêtre et à être aussi distribué aux mineurs basotho qui travaillent en Afrique du Sud. [ Source... ]
One of the biggest writers in Lesotho was and still is Makalo Khaketla, who wrote the well-documented and osé "Lesotho, 1970: an African Coup Under the Microscope". He has written oodles of other books, mainly poetry in Sesotho. But from what I remember of those works, there was little political suggestion. Under the circumstances, I feel I should have at least heard of Jack Mapanje, from the discussions we sometimes held or from some newspaper article talking about Banda's debaucheries in Malawi.

Puns and riddles exist in Sesotho, but I can't say they do more than in English or in French. It is also a question I've never studied. In Sesotho we have Lithothokiso, or Praise Poems, which serve to ..... praise some public figure. Lithothokiso are a performance. The Serêti (Praise Poet) will sometimes go on, non-stop, and roll out imagery after metaphor after simile. Such poems last quite a long time and thus require that level of variation to maintain interest. Sometimes the same royal exploit is recited many times within the same poem, and each time a different poetic tool may be used. That, then, could be "the layers of meaning" mentioned by a contributor in Language Hat's comment section.

King Moshoeshoe I, the founder of the Basotho nation, for example, was famous for shaving his enemies, which was in fact rustling their cattle. I'm sure you can see the image there. It went as far as having his name changed by Praise Poets from Lepoqo to Moshoeshoe, in a bid to reproduce the shushing sound of shaving. Onomatopoeia! Thank you, Language Hat, for the post.

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