The Kome Caves are a group of smooth walled, igloo-shaped cave dwellings made out of mud in the district of Berea, Lesotho.
The Kome Caves are dwellings carved out under towering rocks and are a National Heritage Site. With a history dating back to the 1800’s, the Kome Cave Village, as it is otherwise known, served as a fortress for its first settlers who fled the lifaqane wars that devastated much of the southern African region in the early 19th Century. It was also a hiding place for its inhabitants from cannibals.
Although they appear recently built, the houses are nearly two hundred years old and have been continuously inhabited, generation after generation, by the descendants of the original people who built them in the early 19th century.
The area which is now Lesotho was originally inhabited by the Sotho–Tswana people until the Zulus started attacking villages and encroaching on their land, forcing the Sothos to flee up into the mountains.
This difficult time of widespread chaos and warfare is known as Lifaqane or Mfecane, and is one of the darkest periods in the history of Lesotho. It was during Difaqane the ghastly practice of cannibalism arose.
The plundering raids, compounded by drought brought famine so severe that groups of people in several parts of Lesotho began to eat each other. What originally started out of hunger eventually became a habit as the cannibals took a liking for human flesh.
Cannibals were said to form themselves into hunting parties and set off daily in search of victims. D.F. Ellenberger, a missionary who arrived in Lesotho in the 1860s, estimated that there were about 4,000 active cannibals in Lesotho between 1822 and 1828, who each ate, on an average, one person a month.
To escape the gruesome slaughtering and cannibalism, a handful of tribesmen fled to what is now the Ha Kome Cave Village, and built the mud houses inside the cave. The mud houses lie under a huge overhanging rock with the rock wall serving as the back of the houses.
Cannibalism died out by the late 1830s, but these stories survived both in oral tradition and songs, as well as in literary works and history texts. The stories are complemented by the existence of cave houses such as the Ha Kome Cave Village and other sites associated with cannibalism in the landscape.