By Zulumathabo Zulu © 2016
The author boasting the Basotho attire and Ndebele beads in Toronto, Canada.
In the keynote lecture Ithatike Ka Thaba – Africanize; Indigenize; Decolonize and Harmonize (presented at the University of South Africa), we underscored the unique way the Basotho philosophers conceptualize about a mountain. Instead of confining themselves to the materiality and physicality of the mountain as is the case in the Eurocentric scientific tradition, the Basotho philosophers transcend the concrete description of the mountain to share with us their metascience (higher science) of the mountain making the Basotho the greatest philosophers I have ever come across as attested for by their language.
There are many instances in which the Basotho demonstrate their intellectual prowess in the mundane existence. One case is when a person who has been assigned to perform a certain task and that person fails. The Basotho will say something like “Ke letlaila; letlaila le tlailela moreneng” meaning Yena (the person) is discordant and thus needs to be taken to the royal house to receive a royal treatment to fix the discordance. In this case, they are using the metaphor of melody to show that the person is merely off-key or unmelodic and this can be fixed. Instead of using penalty or some harsh treatment to correct the wrong (like some would say Mayife lenja! – let him be skewered for all to see!), they are taking an altruistic approach to correct the behaviour.
In this case, they are conceptualizing about the poor performance of the individual as if it was a musical rendition. This metaphor of the musical is like they are calling for group therapy in order to heal a failing behaviour. The person just got discordant and needs to be given a royal treatment and the problem will go away. This conceptual response to a puzzling situation is the same conceptual principle used in Ithatike Ka Thaba meaning follow the graphical sequence of the mountain.
In “Ithatike Ka Thaba”, we showed that the Basotho conceptualize about a mountain as a graphical system. When they say “Ithatike”, they mean follow the graphical changes of the mountain object as if it is a graph. This conceptual response to a geological phenomenon is the most amazing form of conceptualization.
This time, we want to focus attention on another numerical axiom of the Basotho “Omothating” meaning the being is at a segment of the graphical system. They usually frame this axiom as a rhetorical question “Omothating ofeng?” meaning at what segment of the graphical system is the being? The O sound refers to the being. Usually the being is the human or the god.
It is interesting to note that in the Sesotho ontological system of knowledge, both human and god occupy the same cosmic space. Motho and Modimo use the same prefix that describes the ontological primacy of the state of being.
When they say Motho ke Motho ka Batho they are also giving us another ontological dimension which makes a propositional statement to the effect that the existence of the human being is not in the individual but in the relations with the human collective. This philosophical construct is most profound because it is telling us that the information about the human is not in the human but in the relation of the human with others. Other philosophical axioms that underscore the importance of the collective include Ntjapedi haehlolwe ke sebata (a predator is unable to defeat two dogs); Sedikwa ntjapedi seya thapa (the target that comes under the surround of the two dogs, gets primed); Baqhekanyetswa ke none eqhiletsa ka hohloka seboka (a crippled antelope outwits them because they lack the sacrosanct cooperation of the clan). These philosophical constructs underscore the prime directive of social cooperation between the individual and the collective.
We see this also in their cultural activities like marriage. In my young days, the Basotho practiced arranged marriage. A man could not choose his own wife. His family had to do the choosing. Instead of getting married to the person, he was getting married to the family of the woman. The love between him and her would grow later. That tradition is pretty much dead, nowadays! It is amazing how the Basotho culture is let to die at a rapid rate; a topic for another segment of the timeline.
Causal Powers of the Event
Omothating is another higher level of ontological reasoning. In the Western positivist tradition, the information about the object is in the object. This also applies to the positivist concept of causality whereby the causal powers are in the event A that is responsible for the causation of event B. An example of this, is when you consult a Western trained doctor and he tells you that your consumption of salt has raised your blood pressure. The doctor is attributing the causal powers to the salt object in accordance with the Western knowledge of causality. In other words, the event A has all the causal powers. Nonetheless, the Basotho system of knowledge shows that the causal powers attributed to an object merely describe the subset of the superset. It is the relations of the object with the environment and others that describe the superset of the phenomenon.
Relational Powers of the Event
The Basotho’s novel approach to the ontology of causality is forcing us to rethink our scientific reasoning. They are saying that, the intrinsic powers of the object are merely a small set of the data. The bigger set of the data is coming from the relations of the object with respect to other objects in a complex network of interaction; intersection; configuration; adaptation and genesis. This idea is confirmed by their system of geomancy known as Ditaola whereby they throw the geomancic bones on the ground and then say that the way they fall; the direction they face; the angle they exhibit; the topological space they occupy; the part of the cosmos they model; the clusters (known as lekoko) they form; the distance or adjacency they show; and the epistemic template they represent from the village is the ultimate form of objective knowledge and it must be afforded the ontological primacy of existence they deserve. In this case, the relations or network is the superset determinant of causality.
Now that we have made the point of the network knowledge of the object, let’s tackle the concept of Mothating.
The Sequencing System
Mothating is a conjugated form of Mothati. Mothating gives us a new knowledge about the graphical system; it adds novel ideas to the scientific body of knowledge with respect to the graphical system of Mothati. It is incredible that something as grammatical as a conjugation rule can produce new knowledge about the graphical system. While Mothati describes a graphical system, Mothating describes the segment of the graphical system with respect to time, space and state. The time is about when is the organism at a particular segment of the graph. The space is about where in the graphical system is the organism located that is to say which region of the space is the object occupying. The state is about the survival experience of the organism. The Basotho are fixated about the concept of state. In fact the language is seemingly built around that concept. A lot of words in Sesotho use the affixes Mo, Ng and O to describe the state or segment of the space or time. The conjugation of the noun Mothati (a conjugation rule not available in languages like Spanish) transforms the graphical system into a sequencing system; an engineering feat of the language by all accounts!
This Mothating concept is powerful because it allows the Basotho to conceptualize about the graphical system as a sequencing system. They are trying to zero in on a particular segment of the graphical system in order to extract information about the object with respect to time; space and state.
The state is an interesting concept because it has to do with the taxonomical detail of the segment of the graphical system with respect to how it is changing the survival experience of the organism. The state is the taxonomical detail with respect to the survival of the organism. The experience is functionally related to a number of taxonomical factors. There is a whole universe of factors that impinge upon the survival experience of the organism and the Basotho find it useful to have conceptual tools embedded in their language as in Mothating to describe that state.