Missionaries (Baruti ba Kereke)

1833. That's when a mosotho boy, girl, woman, or man first conversed with a Caucasian! It must have been scary. I sometimes wonder how it unfolded. Was the local person a shepherd? It must have been, since shepherds take their livestock to the outskirts of the village for grazing, and are thus often the community's first interface with the outside world, the alarm-raisers, like that other famous shepherd who wouldn't stop yelling "WOLF!"

Did the shepherd, if it was indeed a shepherd, go aaaaaaaargh and bolt off in the opposite direction? Or did he play the hero and attack the newcomers with his molamu (fighting stick)? Or did the conversation, if there was one, go something like:

Eugène: Bonjour, je m'appelle Eugène, je vous apporte une bonne nouvelle, la nouvelle de Notre Seigneur.

Rethabile: O reng? Motho eo o buang, banna? E hlile o t'sabehile le ho feta Baroa. O ntse a reng?

Eugène: Eugène, pouvez-vous dire Eugène. Allez-y, Eu-gè-ne.

Rethabile. O lapile? O batla lijo? Tsoelapele ka tsela ena. O tla fihla motseng. Ere ba o bont'se moreneng.

Eugène: Est-ce que vous me comprenez?

How did those people communicate?

In Lesotho's case, ntate Moshoeshoe the First, the founder of the Basotho nation, was actually glad to see these guys. When he laid eyes on them he might have muttered under his breath, "Good God, what happened to these guys?!" But he gave them the red carpet treatment and asked them to teach his people "their ways." And so they went about doing it. They erected a red brick church in Morija (the church is still up and is one of the oldest buildings in Lesotho), translated the Bible into Sesotho, got a printing works running, started a newspaper (Leselinyana la Lesotho, present to this day and one of the most vocal against the ruthless ex-government of Leabua Jonathan. The paper's editor at the time, Ntate Motuba, was murdered by Jonathan's army a few months before they killed my 3-year-old nephew and tried to kill my father), taught the Basotho how to read and write, but then told us to discard some of our ways. They did more good than harm, I must admit.

Ntate Thomas Mofolo wrote the first novel ever written by an African in Africa. It was called Moeti Oa Bochabela (The Traveller of the East). He was employed at the book depôt in Morija. He went on to write the more famous Chaka, translated into English twice over and into many other languages.

The missionaries helped Ntate Moshoeshoe the First write the missives that saw Queen Victoria making Lesotho a British Protectorate. We weren't colonised, people. We actually asked the English to rule us!. Was there an alternative? Basotho had already lost vast chunks of territory to the rifle wielding (who didn't just wield them) Boers and the king wanted his nation protected from the likes of.....Chaka, king of the Zulus, a rather bellicose and war-mongering if intelligent and battlefield hardened leader.

To this day little Lesotho is big on reading and writing and actually has one of the highest literacy rates on the continent. In my view those Missionaries infected us with the reading bug.

Morija used to be the national educational hub. Everybody who was anybody went to school there. There was Thabeng High School and Morija Girl's School, for starters. And people just flocked to Morija from all over the country to go to school.

Leselinyana la Lesotho ("The Little Light of Lesotho"), one of the oldest newspapers on the continent, was and is still printed in Morija. It quickly became one of the producers of and contributors to the religious and educational literature of the southern African region. As I said above, it was one of the voices of rebellion during the dark years of Jonathan's dictatorial rule.

So, okay, they did a lot of good. Did they do any harm? They must have, who doesn't? Who doesn't, when you are convinced that you're dealing with people from a lesser society? After all you are doing it all for them!

One of the wildest things I'd love to do is get everything these guys wrote, their diaries and logs and stuff, and just read what they were thinking. I can imagine what that first shepherd who saw them was thinking, but frankly, the missionaries, what were they thinking?