Carrying the popular fighting stick commonly known as molamu is much more than fashion for a typical Mosotho man.
FOR Basotho, wearing a blanket is not only a matter of looking smart but also pride and an acute sense of nationhood.
This special attire is popular among both females and males and for the latter, carrying the popular fighting stick commonly known as molamu, completes this elaborate dress that has come to define the Basotho nation.
Yet for a group of enterprising men living in the industrial town of Maputsoe, the molamu has assumed another important role in their lives as it has become their only source of livelihood.
Each day, the men sit beside neatly-packed bundles of a member of the fighting sticks, known as mabetlela.
Lebetlela (singular) is a heavy brown or black coloured stick with a smooth surface, and is usually decorated with a colourful band knitted out of thin cables.
A set of five bands of cable decorations can be placed across the full length of the stick, making it an exquisite, if not formidable, work of art.
One of the stick-makers and sellers, Tebello Moleleki, told the Sunday Express he embarked on this business 14 years ago after losing his job at one of the mines in South Africa.
“When I came home in 2000 after losing my job in South Africa, I realised that there was a great market for the sticks and immediately started selling them from this particular spot,” he said.
According to Mr Moleleki, the fighting sticks are mostly popular with migrant workers returning home from South Africa, as well as young men graduating from initiation schools.
The special wood from which the sticks are made is sourced from KwaZulu-Natal and Transkei in South Africa.
“We buy the raw wood from those two places in South Africa and use it to prepare the lebetlela,” he said.
Moleleki noted he and other men who make and sell the sticks make a fortune during major holidays such as Easter and Christmas.
“During these days, many people come to buy the sticks as it is graduation season for the young men from initiation schools,” he said.
The lebetlela stick, he added, is not only the fighting part of a man’s clothing, but is also used as a weapon during traditional mock-fighting.
Another Maputsoe seller, Likhetho Molatuoa, told the Sunday Express that some people buy the stick and apply traditional medicine or muti on it, to protect themselves during fights.
“I have heard of people who apply muti on their sticks to enhance their fighting abilities,” he said.
A traditional healer working the Maputsoe area, Pakiso Ramotjamane, confirmed that muti could be applied on the stick to make it deadly.
“Although I don’t sell such muti myself, I do know that the lebetlela can be treated with traditional medicines to make it stronger. Such sticks can be very dangerous. If you get hit with a stick that has been smeared with muti, you can actually lose your life,” he said.
Mr Ramotjamane further noted such sticks come with strict instructions on how they should be used.
“One of the popular instructions is that such a stick must not be touched or handled by a woman and should that happen, the muti in the stick ceases to work.”
Other instructions, he added, include that the stick should be stored in a very dark room, handled by a particular hand.
“If any of these instructions are not adhered to, the muti will cease to function and that can be very dangerous for any man who uses such a stick for fighting.”
However, Mr Ramotjamane said the use of muti on the lebetlela stick erodes its value. “When muti is used on it, the stick no longer serves its purpose as a symbol of Basotho custom. The use of traditional medicines on the stick just makes it too dangerous.”
Yet despite the risks involved in the use of the lebetlela, the stick still remains one of the most prized possessions for any Mosotho man.
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