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 ceremony.

Marching on the way to the Umhlanga
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

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John, How lucky to experience the different cultures. Keep up the great communications. Tom & Linda

Hey John.I am from Cape town and have been lucky to travel through Europe but never I'm so envious of you.While in Rustenberg you must go down to the Hartebeespoort's really stunning and then ofcourse Lost City!Good luck on your travels

Hi Bradley, Thanks for the suggestion. I made it to the Lost City (quite the place), but didn't get to the Hartebeespoort Dam. I am not too far from the dam at the moment so will try to make my way over there and check it out.


JB! Just spent an hour following your travels - amazing. Keep the travelouges coming, you have a following. Soak it up!

JB! I am happy to hear that you enjoyed it. I will be in Zimbabwe/Zambia within the next few days and will finally get to do the leg of the trip I failed to complete in 2006.
I miss you guys and hope you are enjoying MSP.

Thanks John for this wonderful work... I have been working here in Nigeria for 2years and have never been to south Africa or witnessed such event. I will like to have a video of the event or a documentary.. what will it cost me? thanks

Gr8t coverage. Such Videos make me proud to be an African. Keep up the good work, John.


Hi John, I am fascinated and awe-struck at your unbiased article. You captured the true essence of the reed dance and left all subjective and/or global notions out. Keep doing what you’re doing as it will allow you to wholly appreciate and enjoy all environments you expose yourself to. I wish you all the best in your upcoming travels.
N.B. Should you visit Swaziland again, I’ll be your host and ensure I expose you to all the other jewels we hold in our humble Kingdom.


this is fantastic


i wish to see these ceremony one day.ladies are looking good.

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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.

Current location: Coffee Bay, South Africa

Distance traveled: 42,790 km

Days on the road: 366

(last updated 5/16/10)

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