Umhlanga Reed Dance Ceremony at the Queen's Royal Village, Swaziland
Tens of thousands of unmarried and childless Swazi girls and
women travel from their villages and gather at the Queen Mothers royal village
in Ludzidzini each year to participate in the eight-day Umhlanga or Reed Dance
Marching on the way to the Umhlanga Ceremony
After arriving at the Queen Mothers royal residence the
women disperse the following night to surrounding areas and cut tall reeds.The night after they cut the reeds they
bundle them together and bring them back to the Queen Mother to be used in
repairing holes in the reed windscreen surrounding the royal village.After a day of rest and washing the women prepare their traditional costumes consisting of a bead necklace, rattling
anklets made from cocoons, a sash, and skirt.Many of them carry the bush knife they used to cut the reeds
as a symbol of their virginity.
King Mswati III and his men making their entrance
Today's Reed Dance ceremony originates from the Umcwasho
custom where young girls were placed in age regiments to ensure their
virginity.Once they reached the
age of marriage they would perform labor for the Queen Mother followed by
dancing and a feast. The official purpose of the annual ceremony is to preserve
the women's chastity, provide tribute labor for the Queen Mother, and produce
solidarity among the women through working together.
Two of the Royal Princesses leading a group in dance
However many people, including some of the women participating
in this years ceremony believe that King Mswati III uses the Reed Dance
ceremony to select his next wife.This
belief is likely a result of Mswati using the event to announce a couple of his
14 wives to the public in the past few years.
The women sing and dance as they parade in front of the
royal family as well as a crowd of Swazi spectators, tourists and foreign
dignitaries.After the parade, groups
from select villages take to the center of the field and put on a special
performance for the crowd.The
King's many daughters also participate in the Umhalanga ceremony and are
distinguished by the crown of red feathers in their hair.
Marching past the King and Royal Family
Twice during the event the King, his bodyguards, and many of
the men from the Royal Family rushed down from the stands and danced as they
toured through the scores of women lined up and grouped by their village.After the dancing festivities were over
the King ordered a number of cows to be slaughtered to provide meat for the
women and to thank them for traveling from their villages to participate in the
ceremony. >> Check out more photos of the Umhlanga Reed Dance
Taking off to some unidentified place in the heart of Africa – somewhere with no electricity, no running water and at least one week’s journey from anything resembling a city has been a long time dream of mine.
My name is John Bradley and in May 2009, I left my job in Chicago, sold my car, moved everything else I owned into my grandma’s basement and flew to Africa. I plan to take roughly one year to overland on a budget from Cape Town to Cairo. I do not have an itinerary; I have no idea where I will be five days from now. My path is guided by the attempt to balance the urge to see and experience as much as I can with the desire to travel slowly and close to the ground.
This is where I will post my stories, photos, and videos as I move along on my journey. Feel free to post comments or send me an email with any thoughts or suggestions.