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About Swazi Umhlanga Ceremony – Reed Dance

It’s yet another year when maidens from all across Swaziland, come together for the kingdom of Eswatini’s annual reed dance  or Umhlanga festival.

The Festival a seven day event that runs from the end of August into September. 

This year 2018, ran from 28th of August to 3rd of September, which is the 7th day and main day, with the dancing attended by the King signaling a public holiday in Swaziland. 

This ceremony is an amazing spectacle and a centuries-old tradition where the Kingdom’s unmarried and childless females present their newly cut reed to the Queen Mother to protect her residence. The King sometimes makes use of the occasion to publicly court a prospective fiancée or Liphovela .

When the main day arrives, young women from all over Swaziland and beyond her borders converge on the royal residence in Ludzidzini for this momentous occasion.

Maidens gather in groups and head out along riverbanks to cut and collect tall reeds, bind them and return to Ludzidzini, the Royal Homestead in Lobamba.

Tens of thousands of maidens, led by Swazi princesses, provide a sea of colour as they dance and sing, proudly carrying their cut reeds. Traditionally, virginity is a pre-requisite for participation as it is considered taboo for an ‘impure’ woman to cut the reed. Because the aim is to preserve girls’ chastity.

The young, unmarried girls are placed in age-regiments, separated into two groups, the older (about 14 to 22 years) and the younger (about 8 to 13). Girls who had fallen pregnant outside wedlock had their families fined a cow.

In the afternoon, they march, in their local groups, to the reed-beds, with their supervisors. The older girls often go to Ntondozi (about 30 kilometres) while the younger girls usually go to Bhamsakhe near Malkerns (about 10 kilometres). If the older girls are sent to Mphisi Farm, government will provide lorries for their transport. The girls reach the vicinity of the reeds in darkness, and sleep in government-provided tents. Formerly the local people would have accommodated them in their homesteads.

The highlight of the event is the reed-giving ceremony – one of Africa’s largest and most colourful cultural spectacles. The maidens gather at Ludzidzini dressed in traditional attire; bright short beaded skirts with colourful sashes to dance and sing and celebrate the unification of the Kingdom’s women. His Majesty King Mswati lll joins the celebrations to pay tribute to the maidens.

At the end of the day, the maidens present their cut reeds to the Queen Mother, Ndlovukazi , and the protective Guma (reed fence) around her homestead will be rebuilt.

On the eight day, which is usually seen as an additional day, the King commands that a number of cattle (perhaps 20-25) be slaughtered for girls. They collect their pieces of meat and can go home.

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