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Art Exhibitions

Basotho Blankets Exhibition

10 May 2019

The anthropology collection of the National Museum houses a large collection of Basotho blankets. Most are part of the Robertson collection, on loan from Neil Robertson’s family. Neil Robertson was a third-generation tradesman in Basotho blankets, the grandson of Charles Hendry Robertson. A large number of these blankets will be on display at Oliewenhuis Art Museum until 23 June 2019.
The beginnings of the blanket culture can be traced back to 1823 when a French missionary presented a blanket to King Moshoeshoe I. He accepted this gift and draped it over his shoulders ‘a la poncho’ and so started a clothing revolution among the Basotho people. From that day onwards animal skin karosses started losing their status as the normal clothing to keep out the bitter cold of the mountains, and blankets soon became the stock in trade for the Basotho.
“A Sotho needs only his knife and his blanket:
the knife for food and the blanket to sleep.”
In 1877 Donald Fraser first began to sell blankets in Lesotho. As demand for blankets increased, so did the number of importers of blankets. At the turn of the 20th century Charles Stephens, who was known as Seanamarena, owned a trading store in Hlotse (Leribe) which was known locally by the same name as its owner. Later Charles Hendry Robertson bought the store and retained the name Seanamarena. He started importing Basotho blankets in his own special designs and colours. As the years passed, Robertson’s designs became known as Seanamarena, after the name of the trading store, which was the only place where these very high quality blankets could be purchased. Even today the Basotho still consider the Seanamarena to be the most prestigious of all blankets.
One distinctive feature of the blankets is the solid lines that run through the designs, commonly known as “wearing stripes”. Legend has it that these lines originally resulted from a manufacturing error but went on to become an intrinsic trait of the Basotho blankets. Traditionally the blanket is worn with the stripes in a vertical direction, symbolising growth and prosperity.
What makes this collection of blankets unique is the time span over which it was collected. The collection includes a Sandringham mountain rug or Mohodu dating back to 1934, a Badges of the brave blanket honouring those who fought during World War II (1939-1945) as well as a Batho ba Roma blanket made to commemorate Pope John Paul’s visit to Lesotho in 1988. But certainly the most prestigious blanket in the collection is the Victoria England / Seanamarena or ‘chief’s blanket’. All of the above-mentioned blankets will also form part of the exhibition.

Participating: Various artists


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