Mshweshwe


Mshweshwe

▪ African chief
also spelled  Moshoeshoe, or Moshesh,  original name  Lepoqo 
born c. 1786, near the upper Caledon River, northern Basutoland [now in Lesotho]
died March 11, 1870, Thaba Bosiu, Basutoland

      founder and first paramount chief of the Sotho (Basuto, Basotho) nation. He is particularly noted for his superior military tactics and his skillful diplomacy.

      Son of a lesser chieftain, Mshweshwe (then known by his post-circumcision name of Letlama, “The Binder”) won a reputation for leadership as a young man by conducting daring cattle raids. According to tradition Mshweshwe in 1806 visited the chief and wise man Mohlomi to learn how to become a great chief; Mohlomi recommended gentleness and benevolence and suggested that Mshweshwe extend his influence by marrying many wives. These words guided Mshweshwe's actions throughout his life. In 1809 he took the name Mshweshwe, an imitation of the sounds made by a knife in shaving.

      A series of cattle raids and subsequent conquests brought Mshweshwe greater prestige. He eventually united the various small groups to form the Sotho nation, called by English-speaking persons Basutoland. Ruling from his impregnable stronghold, Thaba Bosiu (q.v.; “Mountain of the Night”), he pursued a policy of peace and prosperity.

      In 1833 the Sotho leader welcomed French missionaries. Though he encouraged them in their activities, he continued to support the old customs and religion. He relied heavily on the missionaries for advice in dealing with the British (British Empire) and the Boers, who were coming north into his lands. With characteristic temporizing, Mshweshwe maintained his power, often playing off British and Boer against one another, until 1843, when he allied himself with the British. Five years later most of his lands were annexed by Britain, and soon disputes led to a war in which the overconfident British were defeated. Mshweshwe continued to fight against encroachment on Sotho lands. The Orange Free State was established in 1854, and Mshweshwe became involved in a another series of wars. When that conflict began to go against him, Mshweshwe succeeded in persuading the British to annex Sotho lands in 1868. Thereafter the region officially became known by the British name Basutoland. Though Mshweshwe's power waned in the last years of his life, the Sotho continue to venerate his name, and he is considered to be the father of his country.

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Universalium. 2010.

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