The Sacred Caves of Basotho are hidden spaces that the Basotho people use for meditation and healing. Ancestral belief is a norm and cultural identity for the Basotho of Borwa in South Africa. And for this reason, they believe their ancestors reside in these Sacred Caves. As a result, they keep communications networks open between themselves and the ancestors by performing rituals.
These rituals evoke the spirits and transport the living beings into the spiritual realm where the living communicate with the dead. And not everyone can perform these rituals without proper guidance. Meaning, among the Basotho People, certain individuals have a divine calling to perform these rituals. Such individuals include, among others, diviners, healers, herbalists, Christian and Traditional prophets.
The Ancestors of the Basotho people
The Basotho belief system resonates around dividing a person into two elements. These elements comprise a body element and spirit which makes up a person. Therefore, they believe that when a person dies, the body element perishes and is decoyed. While the spirit element survives and renews itself into an ancestor. The cultural meaning around this circle of life, requires ongoing communication between the people and ancestors. Hence, they perform rituals to appease ancestors.
As a result, the Basotho people seek and find their own ancestors in the Sacred Caves. Even though there’s ongoing communication between the two parties, there’s a difference in hierarchy. The ancestor, whether young or old, elevates to a higher level in the hierarchy. This elevation stems from the belief that ancestors are close to God. Therefore, the Basotho people believe that ancestors know and see unseen things. For this reason, they symbolise ancestors with power and wisdom.
For clarity’s sake, the belief in the ancestors of the Basotho ba Borwa does not override the power of God. Meaning, when they communicate with ancestors, they hope the closeness of ancestors to God will speed up the deliverance of their pleas. Which, in this regard, might prompt favorable results for the people.
So, it makes sense that from time to time, the Basotho people make a pilgrimage and ascend to the Sacred Caves. The belief in ancestors is a serious matter for the Basotho people. So much that, some of the community members reside in these Sacred Caves. The following passage reveals two Sacred Caves of Basotho ba Borwa, the community and the rituals as a cultural identity.
The Sacred Caves of Motouleng
The Motouleng Sacred Caves lie in the mountains of the eastern Free State between the towns of Clarens and Fouriesburg. There’s a fountain at the entrance of the Sacred Caves that pours into the river that runs across the Motoukeng Sacred Caves. And when you enter the caves, there’s a massive rock that stands out because of its distorted shape and cracks. And additionally, the walls of the Sacred caves have San paintings which tell ancient tales and experiences.
These paintings depict men in a trance, unknown animals and other strange figures. As a result, the Basotho’s believe the Motouleng Sacred Caves were a home to the San and that these paintings have spiritual meanings.
Owing to the serenity and an enigmatic energy that reverberates around the Sacred Caves, there are various community members who call these caves their home. For example, traditional huts and teepees fill the spaces inside the Sacred Caves, indicating that there are people who live there. These people create a vibe inside the caves and give meaning to life and culture.
Why the Basotho’s Reside in the Sacred Caves of Motouleng
For centuries, humans have been grappling with social ills that are different in nature. Among these social ills is the issue of bareness, and if left unresolved, the universe will run out of people. So, like any other tribe, race or group, the Basotho also faces challenges of bareness. And when this unfortunate moment arrives, they go to the Sacred Caves to seek help. And in this regard, the Motuoleng Sacred Caves are relevant because they are also known as the fertility caves where Basotho people perform rituals.
Apart from bareness, the community also go to the Sacred Caves to seek help for other ailments. These ailments include a sore stomach, swollen feet, sores in the body, headaches, bad luck and curses. And for this reason, the community depends on the diviners, healers and prophets who live in the Sacred Caves to heal them. Consequently, the healing and meditation process takes several months to materialize, depending on the nature of the ailment. And for this reason, healers perform rituals to heal ailments.
Daily Experiences in the Sacred Caves of Motouleng
Likewise, the Basotho people respond to the day according to their daily needs. For example, they create a vibe inside the Sacred Caves of Basotho to give meaning to life. In this instance, women and men come out of different huts and teepees, chickens crows and dogs bark. These women and men approach the day with enthusiasm, attending to different chores in the Sacred Caves of Basotho.
Owing to this, while others go down the river that runs across the Sacred Caves to fetch water, others prepare the fire, cut wood and grind medicine. Although the daily chores give meaning to life, there is a gigantic purpose that some people must fulfill. The purpose in this instance is to heed the call of ancestors who wished to use and give people healing powers.
And for this purpose, people need the assistance of a gigantic healer or diviner who lives inside the Sacred Caves of Basotho to realise the calling. In any case, the Sacred Caves of Motouleng host such gigantic healers and diviners. And these gigantic healers spend years in the Sacred Caves studying the spiritual realm so that they can heal the community. Some of these healers have been living there for over two decades now.
The Presence Of Healers Inside The Sacred Caves
Among the healers, initiates and patients, there is a healer who has lived in these Sacred Caves for over two decades. This old healer is over eighty years old and the look in his face defines longevity. Meaning, he resembles the Sacred Caves. The colour of his skin and everything about him resonates with the energies that fills the Sacred Caves.
As the longest surviving healer, his presence affects the mood in the caves. Undoubtedly, Ntate Taba Tsa Badimo ( the ancestors’ messenger), sacrifices his life for the community and serves them according to the guidelines of his ancestors. Owing to his longest experience, when he walks across the caves, there’s an enigmatic energy that fills the caves. With every step he takes, he arouses the emotions of healers and initiates.
For instance, several healers and juniors around him mumble praises as he walks past them. While others kneel before the shrine and chant the names of their ancestors.
The State of Trance and Diviners
In light of the presence of Ntate Taba Tsa Badimo and accompanying chants, other Diviners and healers experience spiritual attacks. Consequently, they enter a trance state whereby they start breathing erratically and their bodies shake uncontrollably. Following this, they mumble their ancestors’ names while a series of burps attack them continuously. For this reason, their everyday conscious shift to a spiritual realm. Meaning , the ancestors are approaching and entering their body, mind and soul to use them as a channel for messages.
Diviners go into a trance to receive messages about the future from ancestors. Likewise, the trance state is important in the diviner’s cultural identity and central to the relationship with ancestors. As a result, this relationship links the living and dead (ancestors). Hence, the diviners who live in the Sacred caves of Motouleng believe harmony between the living and ancestors is important to gain a trouble-free life. And in order to accomplish harmony, they show respect to ancestors by performing rituals and sacrificing animals.
Rituals that Appease Ancestors
When emotions are running high and spiritual energies are evident inside the Sacred Caves, due to the presence of Ntate Taba Tsa Bosiu, the senior mother diviner approaches the shrine. She rushes to the shrine in order to light candles as a part of a cultural ritual that diviners practice. In this regard, the senior mother diviner knows the significance of the candle ritual. Which is, candles help to channel and strengthen energies around them. In addition, she performs this ritual to open up the spiritual world in order to connect ancestors and diviners inside the Sacred Caves.
For each candle she decides to light, she deliberately invokes specific energies. For instance, the white candle stands for purity and its purpose is to balance and absorb energy. However, the yellow candle increases vibrations and invites all ancestral spirits to come through. Whereas, the blue candle represents the purest spirit and its purpose is to connect with the Higher Supreme. Clearly, the Sacred Caves of Basotho offers the Basotho people a cultural identity.
Linking the Streams of Water with Ancestors
The Basotho people describe water as an element that connects them with their ancestors. Therefore, the river that runs below the Sacred Caves of Motouleng is a bonus for those who want to connect with ancestors on a deeper level. In a sense, Diviners emphasise that water is a gift from the high Supreme and ancestors. And also a treasure to future generations.
As a matter of fact, the river that runs below the Sacred Caves of Basotho plays an important role in the culture of Basotho. For instance, healers also believe the river has healing powers. Hence, they use the river for cleansing ceremonies or blessing the initiates. Owing to this, they respect and honour the river with all their might.
For example, when diviners take patients or trainee healers to the river, they pray first before they can enter the river or use it. They pray and plead with the ancestors to give them guidance and direction. Although diviners take people to the river to perform rituals,for some, it’s a matter of life and death. Especially the trainee healers who go to the cold water to find themselves. In a sense, the trainee healers go under the showers of the waterfall to beg nature to heal and restore them. And when they do this, they call on their ancestors ( boNkgono le boNtatemoholo) to plead with God to give them strength in the journey.
The Badimong Sacred Caves and the Journey of Initiates
Generally, when someone receives a calling from ancestors to be a healer, they do not accept the calling immediately. Because being a healer is not a walk to the park. In simple terms, being a healer means a person is capable of confronting dark and light forces. Meaning, they also have the ability to see the past, present and future. However, these abilities require a person to go through intense and harsh training.
So, when a person heeds the calling from ancestors, it means they are ready to invoke the spirit of their ancestors constantly. However, ignoring the calling, it seems, can put one’s life in danger. For example, a person can get an illness that doctors can not diagnose. Or they can run into misfortune that strips them of their identity. Sometimes they loose their mind, or worse loose their life. Hence, heeding the calling from ancestors is not a choice but a matter of life and death.
In this instance, the Badimong Sacred Caves is another Sacred Cave that hosts different traditional and religious healers. But most notably, it is the Sacred Caves of Basotho, where trainee healers go and spend years learning to be healers. The Sacred Caves of Badimong means the place of ancestors and lies between the small towns of Ficksburg and Fouriesburg in the Free State. Unlike Motouleng, the Sacred Caves of Badimong is a complex valley with different locations of caves. The people who go to the Sacred Caves find shelter under these numerous rocks. In fact, the Basotho people believe these rocks have powerful powers which is relevant for any initiate who is heeding the calling to be a healer.
The Community of Badimong Sacred Caves
Uniquely, the sacred Caves of Badimong also plays an important role for the community of Basotho. For instance, there’s a special spot inside the Sacred Caves that the community use for their own benefit. This special spot is known as ‘ Sefuthong’, meaning the place of heat. The shape of the special spot is a deep rectangular hole. And the community visit this special spot to heal certain body parts, especially swollen feet and hands.
According to the Basotho people, these body parts are vulnerable to an illness known as ‘ motlapelo’. This illness has to do with casting spells. For example, a perpetrator can sprinkle a portion on the doorstep, the gate or doorhandle of the victim. And when the victim gets in contact with the portion, they catch the spell.
Owing to such incidents, the sick person and relatives visit the Sacred Caves, find the special spot and perform a ritual. In this instance, the sick person lights the candle in order to light the way towards ancestors. The purpose of lighting the candle is to open communication lines between the sick and their ancestors.
And once communications lines open, the sick put their swollen feet or hands inside the hole. Then, together with relatives, plead with ancestors to reverse spells and heal them. Therefore, the special spot inside the Sacred Caves of Badimong gives the community a place to run to when the need arises.
The Cultural Significance in Anthropology
The Sacred Caves of Basotho represent the connection nature has with people. People who use rocks as a home reveal the mystery of the Yester years. These people revive the spirit of the San depicted on the walls of the Sacred Caves. Ancient history teaches us about people who used to live in caves. For this reason, the Sacred Caves of Basotho plays an important role in preserving culture.
In particular, the culture of the Basotho people, who connected the Sacred Caves with their ancestors. The belief in ancestors has a long history and it’s a cultural practice that many Africans identify with. And for this reason, the Sacred Caves is a cultural site where people are free to practise culture. The rituals, in this regard, are symbolic in nature.
Undoubtedly, the use of the river stands out in the Sacred Caves of Basotho. For example, it serves people in many ways. Because water is a necessary resource, people rely on the river for drinking water, cleansing and healing. Thus, the Basotho people respect the river because the river provides spiritual, psychological and emotional healing.