Thomas Mofolo Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Thomas Mokopu Mofolo (moh-FOH-loh) was a Southern African writer whose three novels established a literary tradition in his native Sesotho language and influenced African writers throughout the twentieth century. He was born in a small village as the third son to Christian parents, Abner and Aleta Mofolo. The exact date of his birth has become lost, with recent scholars favoring December 22, 1876.

As child, Mofolo attended missionary schools in Lesotho. He then became a servant for the Reverend Alfred Casalis, who managed a combination of Bible school, printing press, and book depot at the regional capital of Morija. In 1894 Casalis sent Mofolo to Bible school, where he deepened his familiarity with biblical values and literature, two dominant influences on his writing. From 1896 to 1898, Mofolo attended Morija Training School, earning his teaching certificate in 1899.

Mofolo’s new employment as an interpreter at Casalis’s press came to an end with the outbreak of the Boer War, which raged until 1902. Mofolo returned to his native countryside, where he learned and practiced carpentry. He then taught for two years, from 1902 until 1904, before Casalis employed him as his secretary in Morija.

There, Mofolo wrote The Traveller of the East, the first novel in the Sesotho language. It was published in serialized form in the Sesotho-language newspaper Leselinyana, starting on January 1, 1906. The novel reflects...

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Thomas Mofolo Bibliography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ayivor, Kwame. “Thomas Mokopu Mofolo’s ‘Inverted Epic Hero’: A Reading of Mofolo’s Chaka as an African Epic Folktale.” Research in African Literatures 28 (Spring, 1997): 49-77. Argues that Mofolo juxtaposed traditional African praise songs with passages critical of them. This created a stark ambiguity, deconstructing the hero.

Gérard, Albert S. Four African Literatures: Xhosa, Sotho, Zulu, Amharic. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971. Still relevant study of quality, impact, and effect of Mofolo’s work, the first novelist writing in the Sotho (or Sesotho) language.

Kunene, Daniel P. Thomas Mofolo and the Emergence of Written Sesotho Prose. Johannesburg, South Africa: Ravan Press, 1989. Adds new insights and critical depth to Gérard’s groundbreaking study. Comprehensive and authoritative.

Kunene, Daniel P. The Works of Thomas Mofolo. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967. A book-length study exclusively dedicated to Mofolo’s three novels. Thorough analysis of his works; includes bibliography and index.

Ntuli, D. B., and C. F. Swanepoel. Southern African Literature in African Languages. Pretoria, South Africa: Acacia, 1993. Intelligent study of Mofolo’s pioneering impact on the literature of his native Sesotho and his influence on other writers and literary traditions. Includes bibliography and index.

Swanepoel, C. F. “The Leselinyana Letters and the Early Reception of Thomas Mofolo’s Chaka.” South African Journal of African Languages 9, no. 4 (1989): 145-153. Analyzes the letters written to Leselinyana critiquing the novel. States that the letters demonstrate the remarkable intellectual development of their writers.