The end of this month will see a hive of colourful activity in the tiny Kingdom of Swaziland as the ancient ‘Umhlanga’ or Annual Reed Dance festival begins.
Dates for the event have just been released by his majesty King Mswati III and young women from all over Swaziland and beyond her borders start their preparations to attend the Royal Residence in Ludzidzini for this momentous occasion.
The celebrations start on 23rd August and last for 8 days. The ceremony is 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.
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, 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.
Residents of this tiny mountainous Kingdom are intensely proud of their deep culture and taking part in the Festival is an honour and a privileged moment for all the family.
The highlight of the event is the reed-giving ceremony (29th August) – 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 revealing their bare breasts to dance and sing and celebrate the unification of the Kingdom’s women. The King 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.
The Umhlanga Festival is a visual spectacle that bonds this small but perfectly formed nation. It’s ever-increasing popularity defies the apparent decline of traditional cultures elsewhere in Africa. Witnessing this festival is a truly unique experience. Visitors are welcome, but are vastly outnumbered by the participants! This is a traditional event that allows spectators, not one that exists for spectators.
See it for yourself and experience Swaziland’s unique blend of ancient culture, pristine wilderness, year round wildlife and spirit of adventure!