Photos: Lesotho’s last cave dwellers
Few families still inhabit the Kome Caves, a site first occupied 200 years ago by tribes seeking shelter from conflict.
Inside a dimly-lit mud dwelling nestled within a rocky mountain in the Southern African kingdom of Lesotho, Mamotonosi Ntefane, 67, dusts off an animal skin.
Her household is among a handful of families that still inhabit the Kome Caves, a heritage site in the north of the country, first occupied about 200 years ago by local tribes seeking shelter from conflict and cannibalism.
“Life is good, we grow our own vegetables, I can pray anytime I want,” Ntefane, a rosary around her neck, tells the AFP news agency.
More than 1,800 metres (5,905 feet) above sea level and about 50km (30 miles) from the capital Maseru, the settlement is surrounded by pasture land.
Thin white smoke billows from outside the caves as “papa”, a traditional corn porridge, boils in a black cast iron pot over a wood fire.
The cave is divided into several round houses backed up against the basalt rock.
Archways just high enough for a person to walk through serve as doorways. The walls and floors are made of a mix of mud and manure that require regular upkeep.
Inside are basic items including pots, plastic buckets to store water and cowhide for a bed.
“There’s no electricity and no fridge but this is our home, it’s our history,” says 44-year-old Kabelo Kome, a descendant of the first people to settle the caves, after whom the place is named.
The caves became a hideout for members of the Basia and Bataung tribes in the 19th century, when conflict and a severe drought ravaged the region.
Today, most of the country’s two million people live off subsistence farming.
Inhabitants of the Kome Caves grow corn, sorghum and beans and raise chickens and cattle. The elderly receive a state allowance, while others make money showing their homes to tourists.
Some like Mamatsaseng Khutsoane, a 66-year-old former teacher, have moved to a nearby village with greater creature comforts.
“I come here to eat, or with my grandchildren,” she says.
There is mobile phone coverage, but no fixed internet or running water.
“None of that here,” scoffs Ntefane, as she stands outside her home, gazing at the mountains, while cowbells ring in the distance.