26 October 2009

Swaziland reed dance

On the first of September, we attended the reed dance in Swaziland. The Swazi reed dance is one of the main national 'traditional' holidays and ritual perfomances for the king. King Mswati II is in the middle of the line of older men, the emabutfo, 'regiment' of the king. There were something like 60,000 or more women at the ceremony. Whatever else this indicates, it certainly shows that is still a high level of support for the royal traditions in this, the last of Africa's absolute monarchies. There actually is a parliament, but it is entirely subservient to the king.

The women range in age from perhaps as young a 6 (although some of the princesses are even younger), up to middle 30s. The original idea of the reed dance was that this was a ritual in which virgins brought the king reeds, which in Nguni culture generally, are symbols of fertility and the origin myths that tell of the original human being emerging out of the reeds (umhlanga, 'a reed', but also the 'original stem or tribe').

The princesses got a great deal of attention, of course. They are the ones with the red feathers in their hair. Only members of the royal family are allowed to wear them. The royal family is very large, all of the king's many brothers and sisters, children of Sobhuza, and their children, of the lineage Dlamini wekunene, or 'great Dlaminis'.

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