Folk stories


The mythology of the Basotho - the people who speak Sesotho - is concerned with their origin and the things around them in nature. Furthermore through myths the Basotho traditionally explained the origin of death and marriage. But also how certain foods were introduced into their communities. An example is how the Basotho people came from a mythical place called Ntswana-tsastsi - the "place where the sun rises". 

Characteristic of this and most of the following folk stories is that the narration is usually started with the words "Ba re e ne ere..." which means "They say it happened that...". This is quite similar to the European equivalent of "Once upon a time...". 


Legends or ditshomo are recollections of historical and almost forgotten events. In this kind of tale it is hard to distinguish between fact and fiction. These carefully crafted narratives are probably based on factual events and characters. Characteristic of this kind of tale is the prominence of certain legendary figures. Most notable is that of boy-hero Senkatana and the man-eater, Dimo. The Basotho legends were first recorded in writing by Rev. E. Jacottet and was published in two parts (part 1 - 1909 and part 2 - 1911) under the title Litsomo tsa Basotho (Legends of the Basotho).


Fables, like most western and European fables, are tales that have animals as main characters and are didactic by nature. Certain morals and values are then usually portrayed with the use of actions of animals. 

Example of a fable:

Once upon a time, on a very rainy day, when all the animals had been invited to go and receive their tails - if they wished to have any - they went in great numbers to the place appointed to try them on. The lazy rock-rabbit (dassie), however, thought it was too wet for him to venture out of his cosy warm hole. So he sat there looking at the others as they passed by, and called out to each one, "Here, friend, do bring my tail for me as you come back." 
When they returned, all adorned with their beautiful tails, some long, some short, some bushy, some smooth, no tail was brought to the lazy rock-rabbit and he was left without one forever.

On this fable the proverb "Pele e ne e hloke mohatla ka ho romeletsa" is based - it translates as "The rock-rabbit lacked a tail by sending others". 


In contrast with this form folktales are aimed at providing amusement.

Here's an example of a Sesotho folk tale:

Ba re e ne ere e le tau e lapileng, ya tswa ho ya tsoma. Empa diphoofolo tsa e bona mme tsa baleha. Motsheare wa mantsiboya ya teana le esele e fula. 
"Esele, ke lapile. Nthuse ho fumana dijo hobane diphoofolo di a baleha." 
"Morena, na nka o thusa jwang? Nna ke ja jwang feela, mme jwang ha bo balehe". 
"Tlo ke tla o ruta ho tsoma. O na le lentswe le monate la ho tsoma. Tlo!" 
Tsa tsamaya he. Ha di le tselang, tau ya re ho esele, "Esele, na o bona moru ola? O na le diphoofolo tse ngata. Eya ka nqane ho oona. Ha o fihla moo, o phahamise lentswe la hao, o bine haholo. Diphoofolo di tla tshoha, di mathe, di tlo feta mona pela ka. Nna ke tla ipata mona. Etlare ha di feta, ke tswe, ke di bolaye, ke di je. O a utlwisisa? 
"E, morena, ke a utlwisisa." 
"Tsamaya he." 
Esele ya ya. Yare ha e fihla ka nqane ho moru, ya phahamisa lentswe ya bina e re: O-o-o! O-o-o! O-o-o! Diphoofolo tsa tshoha, mme tsa pepetlolotsa ho ya moo tau e ipatileng teng. Tau ya tswa, ya di bolaya. Yaba e dula fatshe ho ja. 
Esele ya tla e matha, e peraladitse mosela, e ntse e bina haholo. Ha e fihla, ya re: "Morena, na ke bile le thuso ho wena?" Tau ya re: "Thola, sethoto towe. Ntswe la hao le a tshabeha. Ha ke ne ke sa le tsebe, le nna nka be ke balehile. Tsamaya! " Esele ya batho ya tsamaya e swabile. 
They say it happened that a hungry lion went out to hunt. But all the animals saw it and ran away. In the late afternoon, it met a donkey, esele, grazing. 
"Donkey, I am hungry. Come and help me find food, because the animals ran away." 
"Morena, how can I help you? I eat grass and grass does not run away." 
"I shall teach you to hunt. You have a beautiful voice for hunting. Come!" 
They left then. On the way, the lion said to the donkey, "Do you see the forest? There are many animals in it. Go round it, when you get there, raise your voice and sing as loud as you can. When the animals hear your song, they will be frightened, run this way, and pass nearby. As for me, I shall hide myself here, and as they pass, I shall jump upon them and kill them. Do you understand? 
"Yes Morena, - your Majesty, I understand." 
"Go then." 
The donkey went. When he came to the other side of the forest, he raised his voice and said, "O-o-o! O-o-o! O-o-o!". The animals were frightened and ran towards where the lion was hiding. It sprang out and killed them. Then it sat down to eat. The donkey came running, its tail lifted, and still braying aloud. On arrival, it said, "Morena, have I helped you? Do I know how to hunt?" The lion said, "Shut up, you fool! Your voice is horrible. If I did not know it, I would also have run away. Go!" The poor donkey left disappointed. 

(Guma, 1993:202-203, 205)


GUMA, S.M. 1993. The Form, Content and Technique of Traditional Literature in Southern Sotho. Pretoria : Van Schaik. 215p. 

Return to front page

J. Olivier (2009)