Thursday, August 14, 2008

Go Togo!

The opening pageantry of the Beijing Games was one thing, but I preferred watching the Parade of Nations, which came right after. This time it was particularly interesting, since the teams appeared -- except for Greece first and host China last, per Olympic custom -- in order according to how many strokes it takes to write their names in Chinese, and then by stroke order. In effect, at random, as far as anyone unfamiliar with Chinese is concerned.

I insisted that Lilly watch some of the Parade too, as an impromptu geography lesson. I will raise no geographic illiterates if I can help it.

Later I wondered why subnational places like French Guyana and Greenland compete with the French and Danish teams respectively, but places like Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Cayman Islands and Bermuda (for example) have their own teams. So I looked into it. Teams are fielded by National Olympic Committees, not nations, and those places have their own committees, for whatever historical reasons. But it's good to have some geographic oddities.

I also looked up the nations represented by one person in the Parade of Nations -- one-man or -woman teams in this year's Olympics. They are Grenada, Guinea, Haiti, Micronesia, Nauru, and Togo. Go Togo! I'm happy to report that as of August 14, Togo won a bronze. The event was Canoe/Kayak-Slalom, the winner Benjamin Boukpeti. According to the Olympic web site, he was born in France and lives in France, but paddles for Togo. Which is part of Francophone Africa, so I guess that's close enough. This post gives Mr. Boukpeti his due. Togo too. It's their first medal.

Speaking of Africa, I was much taken with the hats worn by the Lesotho team, among other colorful African garb that caught the eye during the Parade. Later I turned to Google, which knows all, and sure enough, they are called Basotho hats (after the main tribe of Lesotho), or Mokorotlo. Which are for sale on the Internet, if you really, really want one: $175. (And how much would it cost to buy one in Lesotho?).

This article's abstract claims that the Basotho hats were, in fact, relatively modern creations that have retroactively been attributed great cultural significance. This portrait of Moshoeshoe, everyone's favorite southern Africa king (or paramount chief) (except for fans of the Zulu Shaka), shows him wearing a top hat, though that image might have been for use by foreign newspapers. Hard to say.

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At 5:12 PM, Blogger Rethabile said...

They cost much less in Lesotho. Lesotho itself is a young nation that is about 2 hundred years old, and the hats appeared about a hundred years ago. Some say they were fashioned after the Qiloane mountain.

Lesotho is practically composed of Basotho only, as the other ethnic groups make up less than 2 or 3 percent at most.


At 9:39 PM, Blogger Dees Stribling said...

Thanks for the information, Rethabile. You are very likely the only person from Lesotho to read this blog.


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