This public lecture was delivered at the Central University of Technology on June 12, 2014.
The popular myth in South Africa is that the African natives were devoid of mathematical knowledge until the advent of Europeans. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Basotho, like other Africans, boasted an incredible mathematical lexicon long before the advent of the Europeans. The Basotho have used mathematics in order to count, estimate, measure, philosophize, solve and model, among others. In this public lecture we show an African origin of mathematics among the Basotho as confirmed by the ambitious book project Sesotho Dictionary of Mathematics.
The Basotho trace their genesis to the cosmos. They believe that their ancestors originate from the heavens. The idea of tracing their genesis to the heavens is not exclusive to the Basotho. The Zulu people also trace their genesis to the heavens. As a matter of fact, the name Zulu means “the people of the heavens”. In Northern Botswana where I lived in exile in the ANC camp of Dukwe, the dominant ethnic group the Makhalanga “meaning the people of the sun” also trace their genesis to the cosmos. In my family background on the mother’s side, we are the Mlangenis. Mlangeni means “those of the sun”.
As a result of their cosmic genesis, the Basotho possess a cosmic knowledge that allows them to be guided by the heavens. They refer to stellar bodies as the stars as opposed to the Europeans who distinguish among planets, stars, meteors and so forth. The stars and the moon guide the calendar of the Basotho. Unlike the colonial calendar which we are currently using in South Africa which begins in January and ends in December, the Basotho calendar begins in Phato (August) and ends in Phupu (July). A very important star system known as Selemela determines their agricultural activities. They look to Selemela to determine the kinds of crops they will be planting. Selemela also ushers the New Year of Phato in the Basotho calendar.
Selemela is a cluster of stars. There are seven stars but from the earth one can see six stars. The number seven is one of the sacred numbers among the Basotho and part of the reason has to do with the Selemela. This star does have an influence on the Basotho architecture as well as their mathematical knowledge. Other important stars include Mphatlalatsane, Sefalabohoho, Tosamasiu, Tosa, among others. It is noteworthy, that Tosa (Jupiter) is one of the celebrated star systems. The axiom “Hobona tosa le madinyana a yona” means, “To see Jupiter along with its youngs”. The youngs refer to the moons of Jupiter. These moons are not visible to the naked eye and some of the moons are literally baby moons. How do the Basotho know about the baby moons of Jupiter without using a technological instrument of any kind? This is yet another confirmation that they possess cosmic knowledge and do not need telescopes or any technological instrument to know of the cosmos because this knowledge is in their blood. The mystery does not end here. They also pay tribute to another star Makgakga which is not visible to a naked eye. How is that possible without a telescope?
As a result of their cosmic genesis, the Basotho possess a cosmic knowledge which was passed down from their ancient ancestors and this knowledge passes from generation to generation using oral tradition, Ditema writing system and the artifacts that possess the ancestral messages of long ago.
The Table of Contents
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