Swazi Culture: Annual Reed Dance–Umhlanga, Real Wedding and Tourist Wedding

in Swaziland

Umhlanga – Reed Dance.

Once a year, Swazi maidens from across the kingdom come to the Ezulwini Valley to gather reeds that will be used to “repair” the Queen Mother’s traditional kraal.  They walk for a day to find the best reeds (younger girls are not required to walk as far).  Then on day 2 the young women present the reeds to the Queen Mother.  And on Day 3 of this Umhlanga– September 4, 2006–at least 40,000 virgins parade, dance and sing before the king in multiple groups: first the very young girls (under 8), next the girls related closely to the king, and the rest are sorted according to the royal residence closest to their homes. The next queen/fiancée is traditionally chosen from among these young women performing in the Reed Dance, although rumor has it

that #15 or 16 was NOT chosen for 2006.  Though now a very short skirt is required as part of the dance costume, virtually all girls bare one or both breasts.  Let’s be honest, that is why Adrian and Rick insisted upon viewing “this important cultural event.”

Swazi Cultural Village.

Just a few minutes from our home in Emafini, we visited the Swazi National Cultural Village in Ezulwini.  Here the country maintains a center so that young people can proudly carry on the traditional dances, songs, and costumes of the Swazi clans. Mainly we witnessed the events leading up to a traditional wedding.  Though not mentioned at this site, men who marry only in a “traditional” wedding may marry as many wives as they can purchase (17 cows for a virgin) and maintain.  However, if a man marries in a Christian ceremony, only one wife is permitted.

Colleague Invites Us to his Wedding.

Our office colleague got married about mid-way through our stay in Swaziland.  We were privileged to be invited, to observe the 3-hour ceremony, and be special guests at the reception. Though we understood very little of the words and sermons, the ceremony itself was joyful and included bride, groom and their attendants dancing up and down the aisle as well as much gospel singing from the church choir.

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