These sleek and well maintained mud cave houses are located near the village of Mateka in Lesotho. Although they look brand new, these houses were built almost two hundred years ago and have been continuously inhabited by generations of descendants of the primitive people who built them in the early 19th century. The cave village of Kome lies far off the beaten tourist path, which is typical of almost any place in the landlocked country of Lesotho.
Lesotho was originally inhabited by the Sotho-Tswana people when the Zulus began attacking the villages and encroaching on their land, forcing the Sotho to flee to the mountains. The continuous attacks of the Zulus forced the local tribes to unite in defense, and by 1824 choose their own king. This difficult time of widespread chaos and war is known as Difakan, and is one of the darkest periods in Lesotho’s history. It was during Difakan that the horrendous practice of cannibalism arose.
The plundering raids, exacerbated by the drought, caused such a severe famine that groups of people in several parts of Lesotho began to eat each other. What originally started out as a famine eventually became a habit as cannibals took a liking to human flesh. Cannibals were supposed to form squads and set off daily in search of victims. Missionary Ellenberger, who traveled to Lesotho in the 1860s, estimated that between 1822 and 1828 there were about 4,000 active cannibals in Lesotho, each eating an average of one person per month. Extrapolating from these figures, he arrives at a staggering 288,000 people who were victims of cannibalism. Overall, between one and two million people died due to the war over a ten-year period.
To avoid a terrible death and cannibalism, a handful of tribesmen fled to the place where the cave city of Ha-Kome is now located, and built clay houses inside the cave. Mud houses are located under a huge overhanging rock with a stone wall that serves as one of the walls for the house. The king of the community himself was personally affected by the cannibalism – his own grandfather was kidnapped and eaten as they passed through the territories of the cannibals. When the king found out about the tragedy, instead of taking revenge, he decided to reconcile with the cannibals. The story goes that Moshoeshoe instructed his warriors to capture the cannibals but not harm them. Then the captured cannibals received a sumptuous feast, at the end of which Moshousho offered each of them a cow and a plot of land to build a house.
King Moshoeshoe was a shrewd, benevolent leader whose tact was ahead of his time. It has been suggested that diplomacy may have influenced South Africa’s contemporary leaders, with the example of Moshoeshy and the cannibals being compared to Nelson Mandela’s act of reconciliation with Betsy Werwerd, the wife of South African Prime Minister and apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd. Cannibalism died out in the late 1830s, but these stories survived in tradition, song, and literary and historical texts. You can admire Africa in photographs in one of the LifeGlobe feeds, which also contains interesting facts about this region.