The Kome caves, located in the Lesotho kingdom in the Lesotho rocky mountain range, are still home to a few families. The caves are now a national monument in the country’s north and were originally inhabited by native tribes looking for safety from fighting and cannibalism some 200 years ago.
The village is more than 1,800 meters above sea level and around 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the capital, Maseru, and is surrounded by desolate fields where shepherds tend to their cattle while covered in heavy woolen blankets.
The cave is divided into a number of circular dwellings that are supported by the basalt rock. Doorways are open corridors that are just high enough for a person to pass through. Mud and manure are mixed to make the walls and flooring, which need frequent maintenance. Basic furniture and house equipment are present, including pots, water storage buckets made of plastic, and a bed made of cowhide.
When violence and a severe drought decimated the area in the 19th century, members of the Basia and Bataung tribes used the caverns as refuge.
Christian missionaries visiting the region at the time stated that some tribes turned to cannibalism as cattle and grain supplies became scarce.
The Sotho, the main ethnic group in the area, banded together to oppose Zulu raiders and European immigrants during this time, which led to the emergence of Lesotho as a distinct political entity.
Life at the Cave
The majority of people living there today depend on subsistence farming. In addition to raising hens and livestock, residents of the Kome Caves also grow corn, sorghum, and beans. One of the residents, Ntefane, stated that “life is good; we cultivate our own vegetables, and I can pray whenever I want.”
Despite the fact that the cave does not have modern facilities, residents enjoy their homes. Kabelo Kome, a 44-year old woman, stated that, “There’s no electricity and no fridge, but this is our home, it’s our heritage.”
In addition, mobile phone service is available, but there is no fixed internet or running water. Some people have relocated to nearby communities with basic necessities and more luxuries.
The elderly are given a public pension, but others make money by hosting visitors in their homes. Pap a traditional maize porridge, is their staple food.
A great place to visit
The cave holds a significant place in Lesotho history. Approximately 4.5 ha (11 acres) in size, it is the smallest of the Lesotho Highlands Development Authority (LHDA) reserves but has undergone extensive development. The cave is a sizable overhang in a section of sandstone, which is common in the Lesotho lowlands.
The walls have significant rock art, and the floor has a rich archaeological deposit of stone age tools that were once utilized by the San people and other Neolithic cultures.
The location is accessible to visitors and tourists. A visitors’ center with facilities and a small store has been built, as has a showcase of Basotho culture and San rock art. With modest refreshments offered, the location is a favorite of travelers and school groups visiting.
In addition to the site’s cultural and historical significance, there are a number of geological features that can be observed both on-site and in the vicinity.