Lineo Segoete is Programming Director at Ba re e ne re. This piece on the history and mission of the arts initiative Ba re e ne re and its flagship project, the Ba re e ne re Literature Festival, is one in a series of posts spotlighting arts festivals and their role in supporting and celebrating African arts and artists.
Ba re e ne re is an interdisciplinary literary arts initiative based in Lesotho. The name comes from a phrase used to begin folktales in Sesotho. Together with my collaborator Zachary Rosen, we founded the organisation to carry on the legacy of Lesotho arts luminary Liepollo Rantekoa. Liepollo hosted the first Ba re e ne re Literature Festival in 2011 to promote the culture of reading and writing in Lesotho. A visionary thinker, Liepollo wanted to expose Basotho youth to the wonders of pursuing and creating knowledge. She was also interested in highlighting the value of storytelling in preserving cultural heritage and celebrating local identities. After Liepollo was killed in a car accident in 2012, we came together with Liepollo’s family and friends to revive the festival she had started. Our first revival effort was in 2014 and we’ve gone on to host the Ba re e ne re Literature Festival every year since, building international partnerships along the way with the Miles Morland Foundation, Writivism, Short Story Day Africa, Long Story Short, Jalada, Bahati Books, Chimurenga and Keleketla! Library.
The popularity of the festival has revealed to us that Basotho are hungry for platforms through which to express themselves. They also want the opportunity to learn from and interact with peers and veterans. Our festival provides an intimate space for those in attendance to converse with local and international writers and storytellers, and we always build in space for performances and a writing workshop to encourage growth through praxis. Our festival does not have a VIP section or a backstage; rather, it’s a community space where connections are forged and conversations carry out into the streets.
In building on the solid foundation of the Ba re e ne re Literature Festival, we’ve explored other literary projects as well. We have held writing competitions, a national
spelling bee, and several book giveaways. We’ve also produced a poetry video series, invented new Sesotho words for an innovative dictionary project, and in 2016, we published our first anthology of short stories written by Basotho called Likheleke tsa puo (which translates to Wordsmiths in English). We are also part of a research collective called Another Roadmap School for Arts Education. The School consists of educators and arts practitioners scattered across the world who are engaged in formal and informal arts education spanning many creative mediums. As a collective, our common thread is to critique arts education’s histories and practices and design alternative learning models that are more locally-driven and culturally relevant. The focus of Ba re e ne re in this effort has been to promote culturally resonant yet creative and innovative forms of literacy instruction in Lesotho’s schools.
In accomplishing all of our projects (as aside-hustle no less), the journey has not been without challenges. We’ve experienced our share of hurdles along the way, and we are under no illusions that we have seen the last of them. We’ve had to navigate political instability when an attempted coup arose five days before our literature festival in 2014. We’ve had drama with vendors, and guests cancelling last minute. Funding is never guaranteed and the process of developing partnerships demands a lot of will, patience, and hard-work. We have also had to manage complex team dynamics, working in different time zones and across cultures, all while balancing other responsibilities such as school, work, and family.
Yet, at the end of the day, it is all worthwhile. We play a pivotal role in advocating for the arts in Lesotho by fighting for their support, inclusion, and recognition. At the same time we demonstrate locally what can be achieved by taking initiative. Not very much is heard from Lesotho internationally because we are often ignored or overlooked. So we love to give a voice, through whatever platform, to our Basotho community as citizens of Africa and the world.
Lineo Segoete serves as Programming Director of Ba re e ne re. She contributes to the programming and operations management of Ba re e ne re projects. She is a long-time creative writer who is part of the movement spearheading creative industries and art events in Lesotho, first as the Events Manager and Media Officer of the Morija Museum and Archives and currently as an independent consultant.