Tuesday

Women (Basali)


In Sesotho, in southern Sesotho, as opposed to that spoken in the northern parts of South-Africa and done great justice by this Sotho-English online dictionary, "LI" is pronounced / di / and "LU" is pronounced / du /. The Sesotho word for woman, Mosali, is therefore pronounced / moosadi /. In northern Sesotho and South-African southern Sesotho it is written mosadi with a "d" and pronounced with a /d/ accordingly.

Women run the show in Africa, and I'm sure I'm not announcing anything new. They do everything but herd livestock. They balance the nkho on their heads as they go to the well for water and balance it all the way back to the village. And, oh, they do this with a baby strapped to their back, which leaves their hands free so they can gather wood to and from the well, or pick wild vegetables for lunch or for dinner. And the guys, at least in Lesotho, are gathered round a nkho of home-made beer playing the popular Sesotho board-game, morabaraba, or telling jokes, or singing, or stick-fighting, but not gathering wood and fetching water and carrying a baby all at once.

It came as something of a shock to me then, when I realised the extent to which Basali were not being treated as equals. I knew how hard they worked and I knew as I know now that they, more than the men, are holding our society together, and once again at least in Lesotho. When I was a kid growing up in Lesotho rape was, well, rape. Nothing more. It may have been considered legally wrong, but outside the courts people talked about it like they'd talk about sport.

--So and so was raped by so-and so.
--Oh yeah? When was that?


I don't know if the courts even spoke about it at all. The Sesotho word used to describe a pregnant, unmarried woman is from the verb ho senyeha, or to spoil, rot, go bad, not be good anymore. Milk that is past the use-by-date le senyehile. A child that has been brought up having everything they wanted o senyehile. Last week's T-bone steak, the one that's turning green and mouldy, e senyehile. The fact of using this same word to describe a pregnant, unmarried woman has bothered me for a very long time, and has made me wish we had a body such as the "Académie Française", a body to which I could now turn with my plea of word eradication. And, blow me, why do we need a word for that anyway? She's pregnant (ho emera, ho lebella) is enough, isn't it? Well, maybe not. I'm not the one to complain about how rich our vocabulary is. But if it is so rich, why don't we have a term that describes the unmarried man who did it? For this important role played by this all important man I suggest the term Bastard. Fits, doesn't it? The "ho senyeha" verb, in effect, is only used to let those guys huddled around playing morabaraba know that such and such a woman is no longer a virgin and therefore less desirable. Full stop.

My plea to you is to watch out for such language, and to desist from using it, whether it denigrates men, women or children. I would like to take some time in the future to describe what I mean by words that denigrate. For now, know that I do not consider blind, short, fat as denigrating words. But saying that a woman is spoilt certainly qualifies with flying colours.