Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The Reed Dance - Umhlanga

In late August, early September all over the Kingdom one notices groups of girls gathering or moving on foot with male supervisors dressed in traditional attire. The girls will be dressed in their normal everyday clothes and carrying bags with some provisions and their traditional outfits in.  As the week progresses the groups get bigger, they start moving towards the Ezulwini valley,  and the police become involved to regulate the traffic and ensure everyone’s safety. 
Towards the end of the week more girls start exchanging their everyday clothes for their traditional attire. The atmosphere around these groups is that of festivity, lots of singing and sometimes dancing.  
This is an age old tradition that still takes place every year. Maidens from all over the Kingdom gather at designated areas to cut reeds to replace the reeds at the Queen Mother’s home.  Girls of all ages, but mostly in their teens, take part in this festive event. In the past they used to carry the cut reeds with them on their journey to the Ndlovukazi’s (the Queen Mother) homestead but today the reeds are loaded onto trucks. 
The day of the reed dance, also known as Umhlanga, starts with the maidens bathing and grooming. Then they all dress in their traditional dress. The traditional dress the girls wear includes very short beaded skirts with necklaces, sashes, bracelets and ankle bracelets.  The girls from the Royal household wear red feathers in their hair. 
The procession into the stadium where the event takes place is led by the princesses of the Royal Family. The groups of maidens from the various chiefdoms each perform their own dances and songs. One of the purposes of this event is to nurture the unity of the clans or chiefdoms of the Swazi nation. 
I have spoken to some younger Swazi women who are also mothers. They have told me that they will not allow their daughters to take part in this event as it is old fashioned and, they think, degrading to the young girls. But when you attend this event then it is evident that thousands of young girls think traditional ways are not outmoded yet.
Just a word of warning if you do plan to attend this event: tourists are welcomed but females must wear skirts or dresses. It is not appropriate for a female to be in the presence of royalty if she is wearing slacks or shorts.