(c. 1786—1870) paramount chief (morena o moholo) of the southern Sotho and founder of the Basotho (Basuto) kingdom

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Born in Menkwaneng, the son of a Sotho leader, Moshoeshoe began to gather together refugees from the upheaval in southeastern Africa known as the Mfecane in the early 1820s. Retiring to an impregnable mountaintop known as Thaba Bosiu (Sotho for “Mountain of the Night”), he fought off several attacks but more often used his formidable diplomatic skills to defend his growing number of Basotho people. In the early 1830s, French missionaries arrived in the region. While continuing to support the traditional customs and religion of the Sotho, Moshoeshoe welcomed the missionaries and sought their advice in dealing with the British and the Afrikaner groups, or Boers, who were seeking to colonize southern Africa. Fearing Afrikaner settlement on his lands, he asked for British protection, but an alliance with the government of the Cape Colony was not enough to prevent armed incursions by settlers into Basotho territory. Fighting between the Basotho and the Afrikaners continued until the 1860s, resulting in the loss of some Basotho land. In 1868 Moshoeshoe arranged for Basutoland to become a British protectorate, thereby saving it from the Afrikaners and other European settlers. When Moshoeshoe died in 1870, he ruled roughly 150,000 people in what was essentially a federal state. Basutoland eventually became the independent nation of Lesotho.

From Encyclopedia of Africa in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: African Studies.

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