How Ba­sotho blan­ket be­came a brand iden­tity

Lesotho Times - - Lifestyle -

BA­SOTHO blan­kets are unique. They are a cul­tural sym­bol, the brand iden­tity of a na­tion, but al­ways a prac­ti­cal and use­ful gar­ment. They are beau­ti­ful but are meant to be worn, not dis­played.

They are fas­ci­nat­ingly wo­ven into the his­tory of the Ba­sotho na­tion, and are a per­fect ex­am­ple of a colo­nial legacy adopted and trans­formed with greater mean­ing, not least the his­toric re­la­tion­ship be­tween Bri­tain and Le­sotho.

Leg­end has it that the first blan­ket was given to King Moshoeshoe I in 1860 by a trader, pos­si­bly a man called Howel. The king liked it and took to wear­ing it around his shoul­ders as a kaross. His sub­jects fol­lowed suit.

Traders had been sell­ing blan­kets across south­ern Africa much ear­lier, but Moshoeshoe’s adop­tion of one gave them royal ap­proval.

When in 1867 Moshoeshoe asked the Bri­tish for pro­tec­tion against the en­croach­ing set­tlers, he de­scribed it as Queen Vic­to­ria “spread­ing her blan­ket” of pro­tec­tion over the Ba­sotho na­tion.

In 1868 the then Ba­su­toland be­came a Bri­tish pro­tec­torate (not a colony) and re­mained that for 98 years.

Hides and skins tra­di­tion­ally tanned and worn by the in­dige­nous tribes of south­ern Africa be­came in­creas­ingly hard to find in the sec­ond half of the 19th cen­tury, and this was ex­ac­er­bated by the rinder­pest of the 1890s, which wiped out more than five mil­lion cat­tle and un­known num­bers of wild an­i­mals south of the Zam­bezi alone.

Blan­kets re­placed the karosses, and, maybe be­cause of their cold cli­mate, the Ba­sotho took to them like no other group.

A lovely myth has it that on a visit to Ba­su­toland for her di­a­mond ju­bilee in 1897 Queen Vic­to­ria pre­sented King Lerotholi Let­sie with a blan­ket.

But in fact Vic­to­ria never set foot in Africa or any of her many colonies: by 1897 the old queen would or could not even get out of her car­riage for the ju­bilee ser­vice at St Paul’s in Lon­don.

But Vic­to­ria’s di­a­mond ju­bilee that year did mark the re­lease of the “Vic­to­ria Eng­land” brand of the blan­kets, which be­came hugely pop­u­lar and re­mains so to this day.

Be­fore he adopted the blan­ket Moshoeshoe wore cer­e­mo­nial leop­ard skins, which is why one of the first de­signs in the Vic­to­ria Eng­land range was the “Skin”.

Early traders also gave or sold blan­kets to work­ers, in­clud­ing Ba­sotho, in Kim­ber­ley af­ter the di­a­mond rush.

The Fraser broth­ers Don­ald and Dou­glas, sons of a wool mer­chant in Ip­swich in Eng­land, set up a store in Liphir­ing in Ba­su­toland in 1877 to trade in blan­kets and other goods. By 1899 they had 12 stores and Frasers Ltd be­came part of the coun­try’s his­tory.

The first blan­kets were man­u­fac­tured by Wormald and Walker blan­ket mills in York­shire and ex­ported to Frasers and other traders.

When that com­pany folded, pro­duc­tion was taken over by AW Hainsworth, which still holds the rights to the Vic­to­ria Eng­land brand.

AW Hainsworth also made the Hud­son’s Bay point blan­ket for the Hud­son’s Bay Com­pany trad­ing in Canada and the US.

That blan­ket be­came iden­ti­fied with the Navaho In­di­ans, but per­haps not as closely as the Ba­sotho blan­ket is with Le­sotho.

The point blan­ket (named for short stripes which in­di­cated the size while folded) had large stripes on a white back­ground, but in Ba­sotho blan­kets the ac­cepted ex­pla­na­tion of the ver­ti­cal 1cm “pin­stripes”, which be­came an es­sen­tial part of ev­ery de­sign, was that they started with a weav­ing er­ror and peo­ple liked it.

Since the early 1990s, af­ter Frasers was bought out, the blan­kets have been made in Rand­fontein by Aranda Tex­tiles. Mar­ket­ing and sales di­rec­tor Tom Kritzinger started his ca­reer with Frasers.

Like his fa­ther, who sold them, he is an ex­pert on Ba­sotho blan­kets. He points out that the Vic­to­ria Eng­land brand is one of the old­est in the world, of the same vin­tage as Co­caCola.

Aranda owns what is now the most sought-af­ter brand, Seana­marena. It was in­tro­duced by Charles Henry Robert­son, the owner of a trad­ing store in the Leribe district, in the early 1930s.

Kritzinger says the most pop­u­lar de­sign in the brand is known as the Chro­matic, de­rived from Robert­son’s ini­tials CHR.

Kritzinger ap­pre­ci­ates the im­por­tance of the blan­kets in Ba­sotho cul­ture: “Blan­kets are piv­otal in their lives. Kobo ke boph­elo, the blan­ket is life. Noth­ing is more beau­ti­ful. The Ba­sotho peo­ple are pre­oc­cu­pied with blan­kets, from birth right through to death ev­ery phase is marked by blan­kets.

The baby is re­ceived in a blan­ket, when they go through ini­ti­a­tion af­ter pu­berty there are blan­kets; when she gets mar­ried, the bride is wrapped in blan­kets and given to the groom.

“Blan­ket gifts are ex­changed be­tween the groom and the bride’s fam­ily. When a woman is preg­nant she cud­dles her­self into a blan­ket, sym­bol­is­ing the life that has formed.

“Blan­kets are used to cover tra­di­tional beer.

“They are in­ter­wo­ven into the fab­ric of so­ci­ety, and the Ba­sotho are blan­ket peo­ple to the bone.”

Kritzinger says al­though the Ba­sotho blan­ket orig­i­nated in Eng­land, “over the years it be­came a tra­di­tion that evolved and the Ba­sotho made it unique, that’s the beauty of it”.

“How they be­came pre­oc­cu­pied with it and the mean­ing they have given to it is, for me, the beauty of that cul­ture.”

Ba­sotho blan­kets have a num­ber of links to World War 2.

Aranda pro­duces a lim­ited edi­tion of the “Badges of the Brave” blan­ket, known as the NZ de­sign, which de­picts Bri­tish em­pire reg­i­men­tal badges from the war, in­clud­ing one with the let­ters NZ.

This has come to be re­garded as short for Nazareth, giv­ing it a Chris­tian con­no­ta­tion.

Some­time dur­ing or af­ter the war the Spit­fire blan­ket was in­tro­duced. The peo­ple of Ba­su­toland had col­lected enough money to pay for 25 Spit­fire fight­ers for the Royal Air Force and they flew as the “Ba­su­toland squadron” in the Bat­tle of Bri­tain.

Last year Aranda is­sued a spe­cial lim­ited edi­tion of the Spit­fire blan­ket (pic­tured above) to com­mem­o­rate this and Le­sotho’s 50th an­niver­sary of in­de­pen­dence.

To­wards the end of the war a tex­tile fac­tory in the Tus­can town of Prato was blown up by Nazi forces as they re­treated.

The town was lib­er­ated by, among oth­ers, South African troops un­der the com­mand of Colonel Arthur Aiken, who per­suaded the own­ers of the tex­tile mill — three broth­ers — to start again in South Africa.

Rodolfo, Gi­ulio and Al­berto Magni ar­rived in 1951 and started Aranda. The mill, still owned by the fam­ily, now cov­ers an area equal to 11 foot­ball fields and em­ploys more than 700 peo­ple.

The Vic­to­ria Eng­land brand is the only one still owned by AW Hainsworth in the UK, and Aranda has a roy­alty agree­ment to man­u­fac­ture them in South Africa.

All the rest were cre­ated and owned by Aranda, such as Mot­latsi Khosana, cre­ated in hon­our of the birth of Crown Prince Lerotholi Seeiso in 2007.

The Kharetsa brand fea­tures the spi­ral aloe only found in the Ma­luti moun­tains of Le­sotho. An­other brand was cre­ated in mem­ory of the late Queen Mamo­hato Bereng Seeiso.

“In the days when I was still with Frasers the late King Moshoeshoe II once called me to the palace in Maseru and ex­pressed his con­cern that his peo­ple were be­com­ing too Western­ised,” Kritzinger says.

“He gave me some old de­sign ideas, which Queen Mamo­hato only made pop­u­lar af­ter his death. There’s the Malak­abe, us­ing one of the old de­signs which fea­tures flames, and we re­vived it.”

Any new de­signs in­tro­duced have to first have the ap­proval of the Ba­sotho royal fam­ily.

Roy­al­ties earned from the sale of Vic­to­ria Eng­land brand blan­kets are not sent to Eng­land but are man­aged by Aranda purely for the pro­mo­tion of the brand and to sup­port char­i­ties; for ex­am­ple the com­pany has in­stalled or re­vived 50 “play pumps” at ru­ral schools in Le­sotho.

These pumps are in­te­grated with play­ground equip­ment so that when the chil­dren play they also pump wa­ter.

“Where some of the pumps fell into dis­re­pair, the schools closed down,” Kritzinger says. “We pay rent for ad­ver­tis­ing boards on the pumps, and that pays for their re­vival and main­te­nance.”

The blan­kets are also mov­ing with the times, and are pro­moted to young peo­ple through the royal fash­ion fair ever year in Le­sotho.

“Peo­ple like Louis Vuit­ton have looked at them and been in­spired,” Kritzinger says. “(Fash­ion de­signer) Thabo Makhetha in Port El­iz­a­beth has done beau­ti­ful work, dresses, capes or jack­ets, and Un­known Union based in Cape Town has been granted the right to cre­ate cloth­ing us­ing the ac­tual blan­kets.

This is a mod­erni­sa­tion by younger peo­ple who still recog­nise the beauty of the blan­kets but want to turn it into a fash­ion ar­ti­cle, and I don’t think it’s wrong.”

At 155cm x 165cm, the blan­kets are too small to be used as a bed blan­ket, they are made to be worn. Many peo­ple use them as rugs. At 90 per­cent wool, they are of the high­est qual­ity.

Thanks to the Africa Growth and Op­por­tu­nity Act trade agree­ment with the US, Ba­sotho blan­kets are now be­ing ex­ported and sold there with duty-free sta­tus. Some are even sold back to Bri­tain.

Blan­ket brands that de­fined a cul­ture

Vic­to­ria Eng­land The first Ba­sotho blan­ket brand. It dates to 1897, one of the old­est trade­marks around. The Ba­sotho re­fer to the Vic­to­ria Eng­land as Le­fi­tori.

The col­lec­tion in­cludes Badges of the Brave, Crest, Crown, Spit­fire, Malek­able (flame), Skin (the tra­di­tional leop­ard skin) and Pelo ea Morena (heart of the king). Badges of the Brave pays trib­ute to reg­i­ments from the Bri­tish em­pire and the Ba­sotho sol­diers who served in World War 2.

Seana­marena The crown jewel of Ba­sotho blan­kets, these date to the 1930s and a store in Leribe. Seana­marena means “to swear by the chiefs”. They in­clude Chro­matic and Poone, which de­picts a maize cob.

Mot­latsi Cre­ated to hon­our the birth of Crown Prince Lerotholi in 2007. The de­sign dis­plays an elab­o­rate col­lec­tion of hearts on a hound­stooth back­ground.

The heart sym­bol­ises the love, re­spect and loy­alty that the Ba­sotho na­tion has for its monar­chy. Mot­latsi means “suc­ces­sor”.

Mat­lama Less tra­di­tional, this fea­tures a strik­ing bor­der pat­tern with a plain re­versible cen­tre. Tra­di­tion­ally the fringed ver­sion is worn by women dur­ing the wed­ding cer­e­mony. The bound ver­sion is worn by men.

Kharetsa This de­sign (pic­tured be­low) is named af­ter the spi­ral aloe which is only found in the Ma­luti moun­tains.

The aloe is fea­tured promi­nently in the cen­tre of the blan­ket and is sur­rounded by the iconic Ba­sotho hat and Ba­sotho shield.

Sandringham Named for a home of Bri­tain’s queen. Also known as Mo­hodu af­ter the Sotho word for the in­side of an an­i­mal’s stom­ach, which it ap­par­ently re­sem­bles.

Lin­goetsi The older Mot­lotlehi wed­ding blan­ket no longer ex­ists, and was re­placed by the Lin­goetsi as a bride’s blan­ket. — Times­live

The blan­kets worn by Ba­sotho are mov­ing with the times, and are pro­moted to young peo­ple through the royal fash­ion fair ever year in Le­sotho.

A cape based on tra­di­tional Ba­sotho blan­kets, de­signed by Thabo Makhetha.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Lesotho

© PressReader. All rights reserved.