HORSEMEN OF SEMONKONG: Thom Pierce

July 2 - 29, 2017

With this series of portraits, photographer Thom Pierce gives insights
into the lives of the shepherds of Semonkong / Lesotho.

“Late afternoon on the plateau, and the cattle are on the move. As the

sun slips below the mountains, herding dogs nip around the fringes

of a meandering column of animals: sheep and goats, bulls and cows.

Presiding over all of them are the sharp-eyed horsemen of Semonkong.

These herders ride amidst the clangor of handmade cowbells,

and in the fading light the procession sounds something like a parade

of steel drummers.


These Basotho men and boys work high up in the mountain kingdom

of Lesotho—a sovereign enclave nation of two million, surrounded

entirely by South Africa. Lesotho is the only country on the planet

entirely above 1,400 meters (approx. 4,500 feet) in elevation; in the

Semonkong region, which sits at 2,275 meters (nearly 7,500 feet),

the terrain is rugged and paved roads are rare, making four-legged

transportation the most practical option. Shepherds play an essential

role in these highlands, where most people make their living through

animal husbandry and subsistence farming. In a country where wealth—

and status, and eligibility for marriage—are largely measured in

livestock, guardians of likhomo (cattle) serve as financial managers of

a kind. A competent shepherd can expect to be paid one cow a year

by his employer. Out on the mountainside, herder boys sit dreaming

of the day when they will own enough cattle to hire minders of their

own.“
Will McGrath