The Sothho People

The Sotho are a widespread and diverse people in South Africa, with large numbers living in neighboring Lesotho as well as across the central sections of South Africa. Loosely related to the Nguni tribes of the region, the Sotho nation was largely agricultural, tending crops and livestock for their traditional livelihood.

Did you know?

The Sotho clans were melded into a kingdom by King Moshoeshoe in the early 19th century.

It is estimated that there are approximately seven million Sotho people living in South Africa, making them the second largest ethnic group in the country. There are another three million or so who live outside the country, mainly in neighboring Lesotho.

The Sotho people are generally divided into three distinct tribes: Southern Sotho, Northern Sotho (or Pedi) and Tswana. Like those of their Nguni cousins, Sotho traditions have relied on a combination of livestock and crop cultivation for food.

Many Sotho still herd livestock, usually on horseback and display exceptional riding skills, making them the cowboys of the southern African plains.

The men are also skilled artisans using metal, leather and wood, while reeds and grasses are used to weave baskets. A man’s status is determined by his relationship to the chief, his age and his standing in the community. Women, meanwhile, are responsible for the homestead and agriculture.

Though polygamy is no longer as common as in the past, Sotho culture does allow a man to have more than one wife. Each wife has her own homestead, ranked in order of seniority.

The Sotho people live in villages divided into kgoro − where different households are built around a central area in which the kraal, graveyard and ancestral shrine are situated. These villages, ruled by a chief, can grow to accommodate thousands of people.

The Sotho are recognized for their thick blankets and conical hats. Wherever you go in traditional villages the men wrap themselves in a blanket, covering their trousers and shirt. These blankets carry great significance, closely linked to the important moments and milestones of a family’s life.

As with other African tribes, there is a wide belief in the ancestral spirits who are honored at ritual feasts. In a corner of each lapa in a Pedi village, where a symbolic flower grows, a man will sprinkle home-brewed beer and snuff on the ground to invoke the ancestors for help and good fortune.