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