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