ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Swaziland Cultural Events as an outsider.

Updated on September 14, 2013
Johan Smulders profile image

Johan has a BA and BEd - University of South Africa and a MA from -Abilene Christian University. Lectures in World History at ACC- Swaziland

Recreation of traditional hut at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary
Recreation of traditional hut at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary | Source
Swazi Sunset
Swazi Sunset | Source
Wood often still used for cooking
Wood often still used for cooking | Source

Reed Dance 50.000 maidens-all in a line

50 000 Maidens in Swaziland

Monday in Swaziland was an interesting experience for a visitor from another country to enjoy. I happened to be here teaching in the Counseling Department at a college in Matsapha, Swaziland. The course I am teaching is Social Psychology and so an important cultural event of this magnitude was of particular interest to me and my students.

The small country of Swaziland with a population of only about 1.4 million people embraces their cultural celebration with gusto. Swazi shields adorned the telephone poles in the area together with strings of ribbons in the colors of Swaziland. There are two important traditional festivals annually; the Umhlanga or Reed Dance for the females, and the Incwala or First Fruits ceremony for the males.

As spring arrives young girls/women from all over Swaziland, and some even from neighboring South Africa, make their way to the area near the Royal Residence in the Ezulwini Valley near the Mlilwane Wild Life Sanctuary. After a couple of days of preparation the young maidens are requested/given permission by the King to cut reeds in designated areas. These reeds are then deposited at the royal residence. This year, according to newspaper reports, over 55 000 young women and girls were given permission to do so, the number being up on last year. Some of the participants carry torches in the final event to signify that they cut their reeds at night.

While the events of week of preparation are somewhat cloaked in secrecy it seems that the participants sleep in local schools, receive food from government organizations and are transported by government vehicles to cut the reeds. Reeds have an important cultural meaning to the Swazi as in the past huts were constructed of them in a bee-hive shape. The females are divided into two groups, 8 to13 and 14 to about 20. Minders look after the maidens and education is imparted that, according to an article in the National Newspaper of Swaziland, (pg 19-4th Sept) emphasizes purity and sexual health issues “that are often considered taboo in families”.

It is indeed amazing to think that so many young females are allowed by their parents to participate in a ceremony like this in a time when in many countries it would be a recipe for disaster. The ceremony culminates in a singing and dancing procession in front of the Queen Mother and the King in the National Stadium as the maidens pass by in groups that seems to also be referred to as Imbali Regiments. Leading the dance and singing celebration are the Royal Princesses who may wear a red feather on their heads to designate their position.

In December/January it is the turn of the young men and boys to participate in the Incwala Ceremony. This is considered to be the most sacred of Swazi rituals. To begin with the “Bemanti” or people of the water travel to the Indian Ocean to fetch water and then on the New Moon youths from all over Swaziland travel to collect branches of the sacred “Lusekwane” shrub (a type of Acacia).

On the 3rd day of the ceremony a bull is ritually slaughtered and the ceremony reaches a climax on the 4th day as the King in full ceremonial dress joins his warriors in the traditional dance. At this time the King enters a special sanctuary and eats of the first fruits of the harvest. Once the King appears to the people they may then also eat these first fruits with the blessing of the ancestors. Some of the ritual of this ceremony is also secret and cannot be witnessed by outsiders.

As an outsider to this country I have been privileged to be here during the Reed Dance and my feeling is that this is a custom that has a deep significance to the Swazi people en large, and needs to be respected as such. There are obviously divided opinions on the Reed Dance and on the Incwala Ceremony when it is viewed from a Western perspective and even by some in Swaziland who are uncomfortable with some aspects of both events. At the same time as one writer in today’s Newspaper puts it under the heading, “Every day should be Umhlanga Day to Imbali, …Umhlanga and Incwali acts as kinds of prisms through which the broader scope of Swazi religion’s social function can be viewed.”

The value that the Swazi nation place on the Umhlanga event is graphically illustrated in that the Swazi 10 Emalangeni note displays a picture of the Princesses at the dance

The crowds of foreign visitors who attended the Reed Dance are testimony to the value of this ceremony as an earner of important revenue for this tiny country. It was however the local people, many who dressed up in their Swazi traditional dress, who spoke loudest by their presence. Many were obviously parents of the young girls who came to support their daughters. Perhaps they were saying in their applause and smiles “we are proud to be Swazi’s and God Bless our children as they prepare for the challenges of the future”.

Sources: Swaziland Discovery.

What's Happening in Swaziland

Times of Swaziland 04-09-2013


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Johan Smulders profile imageAUTHOR

      Johan Smulders 

      5 years ago from East London, South Africa

      Thanks Mike.

    • Mike Robbers profile image

      Mike Robbers 

      5 years ago from London

      Interesting hub about a nice custom, Johan. Thanks for sharing!

    • Johan Smulders profile imageAUTHOR

      Johan Smulders 

      5 years ago from East London, South Africa

      Found it very interesting. Thanks for the comment.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      What an insight into these wonderful customs. Thanks for bringing them to us, Johan!

    • Johan Smulders profile imageAUTHOR

      Johan Smulders 

      5 years ago from East London, South Africa

      Thank you for your comment lifegate!

    • lifegate profile image

      William Kovacic 

      5 years ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      Interesting article Johan. Thanks for sharing by words and pictures.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)