Academic journal article Tydskrif vir Letterkunde

Thomas Mofolo: The Man, the Writer and His Contexts

Academic journal article Tydskrif vir Letterkunde

Thomas Mofolo: The Man, the Writer and His Contexts

Article excerpt

Thomas Mofolo: the man, the writer and his contexts

A substantial corpus of research has been published on Thomas Mofolo since the 1930s. Earlier portraits of Mofolo as a person leave much room for further amplification and improvement. The present research seeks to greatly enhance our understanding of Thomas Mofolo (1876-1948) by using a wealth of archival material, much of which is located at Morija Museum and Archives, and interviews with a variety of elderly informants, including Mofolo's last surviving daughter and other family members. As a result, Mofolo can now be seen more clearly as a person within the context of his large extended family, their antecedents in the wider region, his upbringing and educational formation, three successive marriages, professional life and business operations in a number of different contexts, involvement in political life, and the changing nature of his relationship with the church. The current article focuses on Mofolo's antecedents up until he began his literary career in 1905-6 at Morija, a subject that has received inadequate attention until now. By adding considerable texture to his early life and family history, as well as the historical and religious contexts and currents in which he was raised at Hermon, Qomoqomong and Morija, Thomas Mofolo emerges more clearly as an historical figure. For example, as a boy, we learn that Thomas imbibed a great deal from his father Abner Ramofolo Mofolo, a very hard-working and practically-oriented man, who was himself a gifted storyteller. Given the possibility of pursuing higher studies through the Protestant PEMS Mission, Thomas grabbed this opportunity and came to Morija at a particularly fruitful time during the 1890s, a time of ferment and great expectations. Mofolo, as part of an emerging cadre of "progressive ones" (bahlalefi or matsoelopele), developed his linguistic skills and eloquence to the point where, with the support of colleagues, he could dare to attempt something new, a creative synthesis of various forms of storytelling, indigenous and exogenous, in written Sesotho. His literary output has proved to be of enduring significance, and in the process he became, perhaps inadvertently, the father of the African novel. Keywords: Lesotho history; Mofolo family tree; Morija Sesuto Book Depot; Thomas Mofolo biography.


Daniel Kunene, in his analysis of Thomas Mofolo's literary works and his legacy regarding Sesotho literature, compiled what was in 1989 the fullest and most accurate biographical sketch of Mofolo's life. Kunene's research had uncovered new and unexpected information which allowed him to correct certain long-held but erroneous views. As such, he was able to paint a more accurate portrait of Mofolo than hitherto obtained. He wrote:

Perhaps it is fitting that the very last word in this book should be
about Thomas Mofolo himself [...] it has become evident that one
cannot separate a man's personal experience in life, particularly
those of a deeper spiritual significance, from his works. Someone who,
as an artist, has made such an impact on the public as Mofolo has, is,
so to say, "a man of the people". His love life, his family life, his
passions, his successes and failures, his goings and comings--all
these not only belong to him individually and privately, but also to
all of us collectively and publicly, for he is a man who has touched
our souls, he is our idol, and therefore we shall never let him be.
(Kunene 241)


Since Kunene's work, little additional research has been carried out to help us understand more fully who Thomas Mofolo was as an historical figure, or to elucidate the various contexts in which Mofolo lived and worked. In the paper which follows, further information in this regard is shared as the first 'fruits' of an on-going research project. Attention here is focused on aspects of Mofolo's life up until 1905-6, that is, just at the point when he began his literary career. …

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