The Sotho language (Sesotho) has traditional names for the months of the familiar Gregorian calendar. The names reflect a deep connection that the Sotho people (Basotho) traditionally have with the natural world and the importance of agriculture.
Although the month names are often not used by the general public (being considered part of "deep Sesotho"), they are regularly used in news broadcasts and other media and are more common than English imports.
Additionally, the names of the seasons and the days of the week are regularly used by all speakers.
The names of the months (dikgwedi) indicate special natural and agricultural events which traditionally happened during the period. Being cattle breeders who lived in the semi-arid regions of Southern Africa, a deep understanding of agriculture and the natural world was essential for the survival of the Basotho people.
The year begins roughly in the month of August, when the seeds are planted in anticipation of the next month's explosion of life.
- Phato (August) — from the verb -fata (dig) as the barren fields are ploughed and prepared in anticipation of the next months explosion of life.
- Lwetse (September) — lots of grass grows and the cows grow fat on it. They produce so much milk that the expression lebese le wetse (the milk has spilled over) is used.
- Mphalane (October) — many impala deliver their young in this month, and the name is a diminutive of phala (impala); that is, it means "small impala."
- Pudungwana (November) — many wildebeest deliver their young in this month, and the name is a diminutive of pudumo (wildebeest).
- Tshitwe (December) — large numbers of a species of small grasshopper (tshitwe) are found at this time.
- Pherekgong (January) — the crops begin to grow large and bird-scarers set up camp in their fields. They erect small structures and fera ka kgong (set up the rafters using old pieces of dried wood)
- Hlakola (February) — the sorghum plants release a white substance and the ears of corn come out. This name sounds like the Sesotho verb -hlakola (wipe off).
- Hlakubele (March) — the sorghum grains are visible and birds start eating them. The name is a compound noun from tlhaku tsa mabele (grains of sorghum)
- Mmesa (April) — there are large numbers of a certain species of grasshopper known as mohlwane. Herd boys make fires at night and eat roasted maize with mohlwane. This gave rise to the proverb Mmesa mohlwane ha a panye (one needs to be diligent when doing a job, lit. the mohlwane roaster does not blink); the name comes from the first word in this proverb mmesa (the roaster).
- Motsheanong (May) — the sorghum grains have become hard — too hard for the birds to eat them. It is said that the plants are laughing at the birds, and the name is a contraction of motsheha dinong (the one who laughs at the birds).
- Phupjane (June) — this is the beginning of Winter, and all plants seem to die and many wild animals leave on migrations. It is said that Nature is holding back on life. The name means "a small holding back" and is a diminutive of the name of the following month.
- Phupu (July) — everything seems completely dead and lifeless. Nature is holding back completely.
Like many other sub-Saharan African societies who historically lived in tropical regions, Sesotho speaking people generally recognise only 2 seasons (dihla). However, names do exist for all four of the traditional Western European seasons. The year begins in approximately August or September, when the crops are planted.
- Selemo (Spring) — from the verb -lema (plant) as the crops are planted at the beginning of this period. This is also the most common name for "year."
- Lehlabula (Summer) — more often than not this name is used for both the spring and the summer.
- Lehwetla (Autumn) — from the ancient Proto-Bantu root *-ginja ("hot season"). This noun is often used without the class prefix (that is, as Hwetla).
- Mariha (Winter) — from the ancient and widespread Proto-Bantu root *-tîka ("cold weather; cold season; night"). More often than not this name is used to denote both Autumn and Winter.
The concept of dividing the month into four 7-day weeks (dibeke, from Afrikaans "week") is a recent European innovation. The week begins on Monday.
- Mantaha (Monday) — from Afrikaans "Maandag."
- Labobedi (Tuesday) — Contraction of "letsatsi la bobedi" ("the second day").
- Laboraro (Wednesday) — "the third one."
- Labone (Thursday) — "the fourth one."
- Labohlano (Friday) — "the fifth one."
- Moqebelo (Saturday) — from isiXhosa "uMgqibelo" ("Saturday, the ending") from the verb "ukugqiba" ("to finish").
- Sontaha (Sunday) — from Afrikaans "Sondag."
- Many of the explanations of the names that follow are probably very good examples of folk etymology, and may not necessarily be entirely accurate.
- Coupez, A., Bastin, Y., and Mumba, E. 1998. Reconstructions lexicales bantoues 2 / Bantu lexical reconstructions 2. Tervuren: Musée royal de l’Afrique centrale.