The Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences acknowledges Australia’s First Nations Peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the land and gives respect to the Elders – past and present – and through them to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are advised that the MAAS website contains a range of Indigenous Cultural Material. This includes artworks, artifacts, images and recordings of people who may have passed away, and other objects which may be culturally sensitive.
2008/198/1 Hat, 'mokorotlo', straw, maker unknown, Lesotho, used by the AusAID Centre for Pacific Development and Training, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1980-1998. Click to enlarge.

Mokorotlo hat from Lesotho

Made 1980-1998
This conical grass hat, known as mokorotlo, is considered part of the national dress of Lesotho, a landlocked country surrounded by the Republic of South Africa. The design first appeared at the end of the 1930s, and its growing prominence was closely associated with the development of national identity. In the early 1900s a forerunner of this hat was worn by tribal chiefs, who chanted a combat/praise song known as 'mokorotlo' while making their way to the chiefs' court. It is from this early connection that the hat became known as mokorotlo.

Developments in hat design and mass production for a European market contributed to an increase in popularity of the mokorotlo hat among the Basotho people. Its growing importance as a symbol of Lesotho was strengthened by its association with royalty, key political parties and political figures who wore the hats to rallies and public functions during the 1950s and 1960s. In 1966, the mokorotlo was chosen as the symbol on the national flag of a newly independent Lesotho. Its image is found on everything from car number plates, to mass produced printed fabric, to the shape of the craft centre building in the capital of Lesotho, Maseru. A plethora of myths connecting Moshoeshoe, Lesotho's founder, with the mokorotlo hat cemented its place as the country's national symbol, despite the fact that the hats only appeared several decades after this death in 1870.

This example of a Lesotho hat forms part of a collection of headwear whose significance reflects both the diversity of their countries of origin and their gift to the AusAID Centre for Pacific Development and Training (ACPAC) in Sydney as a token of appreciation. The hats were given to ACPAC by students who attended courses there between 1980 and 1998. They were displayed at the Centre and acted as a visual representation of the countries that benefited from its training courses. The collection reflects Australia's long engagement with the Asia Pacific region as a training provider.

The AusAID Centre for Pacific Development and Training (ACPAC) was founded in 1947 and until 1973 was known as the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA). It grew out of an army civil affairs unit created during World War II and was based at Georges Heights in Sydney from 1948. It was called the International Training Institute (ITI) between 1973 and 1987 and ACPAC from 1987 to 1998.

For 51 years the institution provided quality teaching and research. It was Australia's only centre established to train administrators and officers for Australia's overseas territories, and it played an important role in training indigenous people, particularly from Papua New Guinea, as administrators in preparation for independence. Structural and name changes to the organisation reflect Federal Government foreign policy shifts in the Asia Pacific region over half a century.

ACPAC was also an important element in the military reserve at Middle Head, Georges Heights and Chowder Bay, which is historically significant as the location of continuous major defence works for Sydney Harbour and Port Jackson during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Rebecca Bower, June 2008

Sydney Harbour Federation Trust, Management Plan - Mosman No. 7, Middle Head, 7 June 2007
Bill Goff, 'The end of a unique institution', Focus, AusAID, March 1998, p20-22
Scott Rosenberg, 'The Evolution of a symbol: Mokorotlo and National Identity in Lesotho' Review of Southern African Studies Vol. 3 No. 2, Dec. 1999, p37-60


Object No.


Object Statement

Hat, 'mokorotlo', straw, maker unknown, Lesotho, used by the AusAID Centre for Pacific Development and Training, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1980-1998

Physical Description

Hat, 'mokorotlo', straw, maker unknown, Lesotho, used by the AusAID Centre for Pacific Development and Training, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, 1980-1998

A traditional 'mokorotlo' hat made by the indigenous Basotho people of Lesotho. Conical shaped and constructed by coiling bunches of reeds that are held in place by rows of twining, it features two decorative bands of plaited reeds on the brim and a distinctive plaited and coiled bobble at the apex of the crown. Multicoloured striped fibre band visible on interior of hat, hand stitched to hat; this might have been used for attaching ties.


No marks.



270 mm





The hat was made by indigenous Basotho people of Lesotho between 1980 and 1998.

This style of hat is considered to be part of the national dress of Lesotho and its image has become a national symbol, represented on the national flag and vehicle registration plates and as a repeated motif on printed fabrics and souvenir items.



This Lesotho hat is from a group of hats donated by students attending courses at the AusAID Centre for Pacific Development and Training between 1980 and 1998. The collection was initiated by Leon Robert (Bob) Heron, then Principal of the Centre, after seeing a similar collection at a training unit in Geneva, Switzerland.

Students donated hats from their countries of origin as a gesture of thanks to the Centre for their training and experience. Contemporary photographs of interiors of the Centre indicate the hats were pinned on boards and displayed on the walls.

The organisation known as The AusAID Centre for Pacific Development and Training (ACPAC) was originally known as the The Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA), from 1947 to 1973. It was called the International Training Institute (ITI) from 1973 to 1987 and finally ACPAC from 1987 to 1998. It is most commonly known as ASOPA.

ASOPA grew out of an army civil affairs unit created during World War II. The unit was known originally as the Land Headquarters School of Civil Affairs, based at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Canberra. In 1947 the Commonwealth Government approved the establishment of a Civil School as a permanent body with teaching and research duties. It was based in the military precinct at Georges Heights, Middle Head, Sydney.

From its early years ASOPA played an important role in the development of Papua New Guinea. From 1948 it offered courses to train Australians as administrators for Papua New Guinea, and many of them made a significant contribution to the country's development.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s the School grew in stature and size as its training courses developed. During this period courses diversified into primary and secondary teacher training for both Papua New Guinea and Northern Territory indigenous schools, as well as training senior local government officials.

By 1970 the Commonwealth Government had realised that despite its goal of making Papua New Guinea independent, there was no adequately trained public service of indigenous people in the country. In 1971, the role of the School changed to become a training centre for Papuans and New Guineans, preparing them for impending self government. Participants from other developing countries in the Asia Pacific region also attended.

In 1973 the School was integrated into the structure of the office of the Australian Development Assistance Agency and became known as the International Training institute (ITI). The Institute ran short and refresher courses in education and middle management. At its height in the 1980s, the Institute was conducting 23 short courses per year.

In 1987 the Institute became the AusAID Centre for Pacific Development and Training (ACPAC). Until its closure in January 1998, there was still strong demand for the Centre's courses.

During its history ACPAC was associated with a number of notable academics and administrators. John Kerr (later Sir John Kerr QC, Governor General of Australia) served as Principal in 1947. Others include the poet James MacAuley, Lieutenant Colonel Alf Conlon, Charles Rowley, Peter Lawrence, Camilla Wedgwood and Bob Carr (later Premier of New South Wales). Jack Mattes, a former principal of the Centre, compiled the laws of Papua New Guinea.


Credit Line

Gift of AusAID, 2008

Acquisition Date

8 October 2008

Cite this Object


Mokorotlo hat from Lesotho 2020, Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, accessed 4 August 2020, <>


{{cite web |url= |title=Mokorotlo hat from Lesotho |author=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences |access-date=4 August 2020 |publisher=Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences, Australia}}

Know more about this object?


Have a question about this object?