Cowhide dress (mose oa khomo) used to symbolise Basotho women's traditional attire, but recently it has only been associated with a small group of women who participate in initiation ceremonies. Seshoeshoe, a modern cloth and European print developed over time with different styles, is now generally considered ‘traditional’. As a result, the intangible cultural heritage of crafting mese ea khomo and other Sesotho material cultures is disappearing. Basotho used to produce leather and cowhide products in large numbers and had their methods of leather preparation, tanning and conservation. However, with the introduction of Christianity, industrialisation and urbanisation, traditional customs including attire, have increasingly waned. And the decline in the traditional use of cowhide and leather products has resulted in an alarming abandonment of the associated skills. It has resulted in the gradual extinction of indigenous knowledge as part of intangible heritage.
The research uses a Setlokoa cowhide dress as a case study to understand the skills behind the crafting of mose oa khomo. It further investigates the traditional conservation methods and the significance of mose oa khomo in Sesotho tradition, including the symbolic meaning of the patterns of beads and copper rings used to adorn the dress. Interviews, observation and literary sources revealed that leather preparation and tanning is no longer gender-based among the Basotho. It is no longer only done at khotla but has become primarily a communal activity done jointly by men and women. In addition, mafura a lefehlo (fat prepared with sour milk) and red ochre are used for tanning, softening, and conserving leather products, and have not been documented to date.
Furthermore, this research’s case study was my paternal grandmother’s initiation graduation and wedding dress which she later used during crucial initiation ceremonies. Since there is no doubt that hide preparation and tanning is rapidly disappearing because it is currently rarely done, this study has documented the current methods used in leather manufacturing and conservation. A condition assessment was done on the case study with signs of deterioration identified and possible treatment options suggested based on current conservation methods used to preserve and restore leather, glass and copper objects since the case study contains these three materials. This research forms the basis for conserving Sesotho material culture as it is the first study to document cultural objects traditionally produced in the country and aims to investigate Lesotho intangible and tangible cultural heritage for conservation.
Mose oa khomo, conservation, intangible heritage, indigenous knowledge, material culture, deterioration, treatment, leather preparation, hide tanning, Basotho, traditional attire.
Mini Dissertation (MSocSci (Tangible Heritage Conservation))--University of Pretoria, 2021.