Basotho Blankets are unique to the Kingdom of Lesotho and were first produced in the early 19th century to replace the traditionally worn animal skin kaross. At the time, they were described by King Moshoeshoe I as ‘a handsome railway wrapper made of light blue pilot cloth, heavy and hairy’. The various designs of the blankets have continuously adapted and evolved with time but have always remained rich in symbolism, color, pattern and texture. Since its adoption, in favour of the skin ‘kaross’, the blanket has proved popular and well-suited to the often cold climatic conditions of mountainous Lesotho, which owing to its distinctive landscape is sometimes referred to as the Mountain Kingdom or the Kingdom in the Sky.
The Basotho blanket is presently (2012) produced in a number of ranges, including the ‘Seana Marena’ (king’s blanket), ‘Victoria’/ ‘Victoria England’, ‘Malakabe’ (flame), ‘Morena’, ‘Sefate’ (tree), ‘Motlatsi’ (advisor) and the ‘Kharetsa’ (Sprial Aloe). Each range (or ‘label’) is available in numerous colour-ways and has a number of designs, which are almost invariably quadrilaterally symmetrical. For example there are two ‘Seana Marena’ motifs: the ‘Poone’ (‘mealie’/maize) design and the Chromatic, also known as Cards and ‘Skop’ (kick). The trademark four ‘pin-stripes’ synonymous with the Basotho blanket, and typically worn with the strips running on the vertical, apparently originate in an early manufacturing flaw that over time has become de rigueur. Once wrapped around the body, the blanket is secured at the wearer’s shoulders and affords comfort in extreme temperatures, as well as protection from the elements and open fires. From birth to death, the blanket plays a central role in South Sotho culture.