Connect with us


A fading literature



What leads to the demise of any entity is the direct result of its not having inner harmony that it tears itself apart to the extent that its inner components end up so scattered they cannot be recollected and only remnants of its former being can be found. With only vestiges of the lost literature to go on with, those few scholars that do go out in search of missing literature often hit a wall so many times that they live on the verge of giving up through most of their long and lonely journey in search of those lost books and manuscripts. The question that remains is: what leads to the decay of literature as part of not only heritage, but also as a tool that promotes the understanding of the ideals of culture? This question applies not only to the literature of this here kingdom but also to the literatures of other parts of the world. Despite its glorious writing history, the literature of this here country is fast fading into oblivion. One would naturally assume that our literature would have advanced beyond those early writers that lit the fire of creativity that carried on for at least four generations before fading into silence. Perhaps the latter generations of literary writers can understand how they can keep the literature they received from their elders well enough for it to still have some form of meaning and relevance. A reading of William Hazlitt’s essay The Feeling of Immortality in Youth sheds some wisdom on what could have led to the decay of Lesotho literature. The masterful essay written by this English essayist aptly begins with the words in a paragraph: No young man believes he shall ever die. It was a saying of my brother’s, and a fine one. There is a feeling of Eternity in youth, which makes amends for everything. To be young is to be one of the Immortal Gods. One half of time is flown-the other half remains in store for us with all its countless; for there is no line drawn, and we see no limit to our hopes and wishes. A close reading on some of the early critiques by some of the members of the pioneering class of literary writers in Lesotho reveals what the possible cause to the demise of the literature of the land could be. The rather caustic comments by some of the literary elite in the 1950’s shows to a great extent a school of writers whose confidence grew up rather too fast. It is true that they may have been prodigious, but my personal assertion is that Grade 5 children have no business comparing their writing prowess; they have yet to learn of the inner ramifications of the craft of penmanship. This is the quality one finds in the critical essays by some of Lesotho’s early writers: many seem to have been unwittingly lured by the brightness of the lights fame promised them and forgot the simple reality that their type of literature was only in its budding stages. It was not time yet to be tearing each other’s words to shreds and singing praises on who the master of the pen is. Born circa 1850 when Tlali Moshoeshoe’s work “Litaba tsa Basutu tse Ngoliloeng Ki Tlali Moshesh. Motseng oa Kapa. Tlakula 1858” was published, Lesotho’s modern literature was not a century old yet when the first arguments around it began within the writing fraternity. It was too early to do that for the following generations of writers had not been taught of the finer details of the craft yet. Post-WWII for Basotho meant a more Western outlook on things fashionable, cultural and customary. The monarchy as a system of governance was in its last years (or was going through its toughest years as the events of the day prove), the country had just had its first college begun in 1945, and the cultures the soldiers had come across in the open deserts of El Alamein and Malta were slowly being assimilated into the general psyche of the land. The average Mosotho was not the same individual he had been before the war. The ways of the West had been encountered first-hand on the various battlefields and were in a sense part of the individual that could boast about having faced ‘Hitler’ face to face in the second war of the world. The colonial authorities’ attack on the protocol observed when it came to kingship and chieftainship became the first string to be shredded in the fabric of Lesotho literature. Without a cultural centre-point, it naturally meant that a people once united (beetled) around the image of their king/leader/ruler lost that sense of unity as their core began to scatter from being communal to being individualistic. Literature written under such circumstances tends to be of a sort that imitates without necessarily maintaining the cultural roots that got it off the ground in the first place. When Thomas Mofolo published Moeti oa Bochabela in 1907, it was a tribute to the western missionary school teachers that introduced the writing of such great writers as John Bunyan and his seminal work The Pilgrim’s Progress to the ‘native’ children. Taught of a new kind of heaven by the Bible-toting missionaries, the children from these under-the-eucalyptus-tree classrooms became the first authors of literature in the land of Lesotho. These ones became the people Mofolo can be grouped with and names such as DCT Bereng, Z.D. Mangoaela, Evaristus Sekese and others whose works can be lauded for being the earliest in the country. However, these writers’ works borrowed a lot from the Western traditions as taught to the authors in the classroom, and this meant that Lesotho literature never had its true form from the onset. What the following generations have had to struggle with is establishing what can be considered a true Sesotho form of literature. The struggle is however vague because they are always compared to the pioneers, and the critiques on their works always weighed against the background of the original works published by the early group of authors. This means that the real identity of Lesotho literature based on an oriental model has never been established. What has happened is that we as a country have always relied on an occidental type of outlook when it comes to analysing the literature of the land because the literature never actually had what can be deemed a True-Sotho form from the onset. The passage of the years and the decline in the productivity of literature has meant that some of the finer aspects of literature such as language have been lost. The lexical ability of the language user evolves with the movement of the people, and words used in some of the old texts tend to lose their meaning as time passes. This process is natural in literature, because a word in trend in one era could be treated as taboo in the next, or, the meaning of such a word changes altogether and thus disappears from the public’s lexicon. The literary scholar, author, or audience then have to struggle to draw any meaning or interpretation in the case where the literature read is from an earlier era. The truth about the literature in this land is that it does not seem to have held one form but has rather shifted from one social experience to the next, making it rather hard to follow or to make a clear outline of. This coupled with the reality of the unclear form from the onset means that the literature of Lesotho has somehow been a constant search and the search somehow paused (for quite a long while) before the new-age forms of literature in the form of spoken-word poetry, feminist thought and other forms tried (rather vainly) to establish themselves as the literature of the land. They too have now faded out because of one simple fact: the quest for individual glory soon overtakes the quest for life’s different meanings that form the basis of good literature. The idea of the celebrity writer that earns big bucks has a tendency to kill the creative spirit, and as Kahlil Gibran puts it: “Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral.” The tendency of the literary figure that focuses on fame and fortune is bound to rest on their laurels as soon as the first book review is out. One can safely guess that Lesotho literature rested on its laurels after being acknowledged as the most prolific in the early years of the last century. Instead of focusing on fanning out in the form of the lotus petal, the literature of Lesotho adopted the form of a reed. The latter form meant that the reed grew thin as the waters of the river ebbed. The river that sustained the literature has now dried up and there is a clear lack in establishing new avenues in literary writing. The topics explored have been exhausted to the point where they actually taste like over-chewed gum; limited in flavour and lacking all the suspense needed to have the reader yearning for the next page. There is need therefore for the literary field to find new themes to explore if we are to have anything called Lesotho literature in the near future. The old mentality that there are authorities to the art of writing should be done away with. There is the real issue of figures acting as gatekeepers ready to quash any new form of writing on the basis of its being out of sync with the expectations of the old guard. The original writers had no gatekeepers to block their path to publication. What one sees in the present moment are councils of critics on the lookout to quash any new ideas in literary thought. There is need to change the attitude and the mentality that the previous era was better than the present. This type of outlook is similar to that of a parent seeking to live their dreams through their children without paying attention to the fact that the children do have their own dreams to fulfil without interference from the parent. The new generation of Lesotho literary writers should be given room to explore their modes of expression without the worry that their work will be considered substandard just because it does not meet old criteria set by generations that actually never achieved anything themselves with regard to the craft of literary writing. There is little that remains in terms of archival material on Lesotho writing and this means that the younger generations of writers have to imagine it to give it out to the rest of the nation. There has just been too much interference from irrelevant bodies that the craft has been shaped according to their wishes and not the natural path it would have followed had it been allowed to flourish as it was meant to be by nature. The questions as to the mediocrity in terms of literary output can be answered in one simple sentence: let the young writers write without interference from pseudo-authorities. A paper on Lesotho literature by Dr. P.V. Shava of the National University of Lesotho on the paucity of Lesotho literature states: The seeming death of the novel as an artistic form in Lesotho English writing, the preference for briefer imaginative expression such as drama and spoken word poetry mainly meant for entertainment purposes, diminished emphasis on the teaching of English literature in high school, and a low reading culture at both intermediate and tertiary levels. The current generation of writers learned of their craft through the reading of the novel and the newspaper before the advent of the multimedia age in the country. There are now ten thousand ways to access any kind of writing, and this means that we can come up with broader perspectives and new themes more easily than the author who had to go out in search of material to read. If there were writings on space and the seasons in the early part of the last century, there is no reason why the current crop of writers cannot find new topics and themes to explore on the now common World Wide Web and other forms of media platforms. The book as an entity is now not limited to the bound-leaf as it was in the past. One can now read their work on a smart-phone, tablet, laptop, and other devices available. There is need to save Lesotho’s fading literature, and the only way we can go about  doing this is to foster a culture of reading that is more open to new ideas that are not limited by bureaucratic red tapes from pseudo literary authorities that have actually never penned a page in their production-less years of critiquing new works. There is need to mentor the younger generations on the beauty of the craft of literary writing. The political lie is that the arts and the humanities have no value to this land. Those same politicians wish to see Hollywood one day, and the question is: who made Hollywood? Screenwriters penned those scripts of shows and movies and series… they had open minds supporting them in their quest to pen the best tales on the human condition. Tšepiso S. Mothibi

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



Copyright © 2022. The Post Newspaper. All Rights Reserved