The Swazi Reed Dance

Swazi Rituals

One of the most common rituals in Swaziland has to be the famous Reed dance or given its local name, the Umhlanga dance. This dance ceremony lasts up to 8 days and has thousands of Swazi maidens in their traditional dress dancing for the royal family to prove that they are still virgins and worthy of the Kings affections. Many believe that this ceremony is specifically for the Maidens to show honor and respect to their Queen mother.

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The Ceremony

The Reed dance is only open to unmarried and childless young women and has been performed in Swaziland since 1999. It generally takes place around the end of August as this is the time when the reeds are mature enough to be harvested. The thousands of maidens involved in this ceremony collect reeds and then take them back to the Queen mother's residence so that they can be used as windbreakers to protect her home.

Day 1 - The Ceremony Begins

The ceremony begins on the first day when the maidens from the different chiefdoms will descend on the royal household of Ludzidzini. Many of the maidens are ferried by trucks and once arrived they will register their names for security reasons. During the 8 day ceremony the girls will sleep either at their relatives' homes or in the local schools.

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Day 2 - Splitting into Groups

Day 2 begins with the maidens being split into 2 specific groups; normally the groups consist of girls from 8 to 13 and girls from 14 to 22. Each of these groups will be blessed by the King and then given a route to their destination where they can cut the reeds for the ceremony. The long journey takes up most of the day and they normally arrive at night and then rest. Normally the girls will sing and dance on their journey to break up the day.

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Day 3 - Cutting the Reeds

On the 3rd day the girls proceed to cut the reeds and place them in bundles. It is believed that these bundles must hold an odd number of reeds as an even number is said to hold bad luck and will curse their royal family.

Day 4 - Returning to the Queen

The 4th day of the ceremony sees the girls carrying their bundles of reeds and returning to the queen mothers residence. Here both groups are reunited and will walk to the royal Kraal during the night.

Day 5 - The Resting Day

Day 5 is normally a day of rest for the maidens and allows them to put the final touches to their appearance and dress before the ceremony begins in earnest.

Day 6 - Train Formation

On the 6th day the girls will take their bundles of reeds and place them outside the queen mother's residence before heading off in a long train-like formation towards the arena. The formation will have lots of different groups of girls all singing and dancing on their way to the arena. Each group will sing a different song but the singing will all be together.

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Day 7 - The Main Ceremony

Day 7 is the main ceremony where the girls will sing and dance all day in their own groups and in front of the King and Queen mother, there will also be thousands of spectators that come from all over the world to watch this ceremony. The King also makes a speech at the ceremony on a wide range of topics.

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Day 8 - The Final Day

The 8th and final day brings an end to the ceremony. The King will then order a number of cattle to be slaughtered as a reward to the girls. Each of the girls that participated in this ceremony will collect a piece of meat before finally returning home to their chiefdoms.

The Reed Dance - Swaziland

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dwachira profile image

dwachira 3 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

Hi SAFlights,

The Swazi's Reed Dance ceremony is one event that i always longed to attend but i pity the small and young girls who have to take part in this ceremony for long days and night all for the name of being seen by the King. Voted up and interesting.

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