In 2016, I had an opportunity to visit Swaziland, a small land-locked country located in the south-eastern part of Africa and bordered by South Africa and Mozambique. The state has fascinating cultural aspects that have held the people together.
The history of the Swazi people is traceable to a group of Nguni people known as the Dlamini. They migrated from the present-day Republic of Mozambique to Swaziland the mid-eighteenth century.
The Swazis understand that culture plays an essential role in fostering peace and development. It permeates all aspects of their lives. The country has its own definition of democracy through what they call Tinkhundla, a discussion for another day.
Swaziland unlike other countries in Africa has a unique culture, defence, political and socio-economic aspects. The country remains the last surviving absolute monarchy in Africa. The major contributing factors to Swazi monarchial absolutism have been the “systematic process of the creations and revival of tradition.”
Swazis are very good at celebrating and there are many festivals. Cultural events are characterised by dancing and singing. Traditional attire for men, a loincloth with animal skin and cloth attached around the shoulder. For women, they wear long Swazi skirts with a cloth attached around the shoulder.
Outstanding among the revived traditional celebrations has been the annual staging of the following:
Reed Dance (Umhlanga)
Umhlanga is primarily regarded as a ceremony inculcating moral values. It takes place in late August or early September. It is a colourful celebration. Most of the young maidens from all over the Kingdom attend. In honour of the Queen Mother, the maidens gather reeds from selected areas and travel to the Royal Kraal. The maidens wear short beaded skirts, colourful sashes, anklets, and bracelets. However, the royal princess wears red feathers in their hair. She leads the maidens to perform traditional dances before their Majesties. The reed dance has however been criticised that it promotes immoral behaviour.
Incwala is the central ritual of Kingship in the Kingdom of Swaziland. This is a national event takes place in summer during December or January depending on the phases of the moon. The primary person in incwala is the King of Swaziland It when there is no king there is no incwala.
Butimba is the main royal hunt performed by Kings and Chiefs to signify the beginning of hunting. It is rare today, but may still be played at Hlane Royal Wildlife Sanctuary.
It marks the beginning of the big incwala. The young men fetch the lusekwane, the sacred tree. It is a species of acacia that grows somewhat sparsely in a few areas in Swaziland and near the coast.
Ndlovukati’s Marula Celebration
Locally known as ‘Emaganwini’,Swaziland’s Marula festival is a time of song, dance and celebration of the harvest of the Marula Fruit. The fruit is used to brew beer. It is also used making skin care products and medicine. It is a tribute to the riches of Mother Nature. It is initiated by King Mswati III and Her Majesty the ‘Indlovukazi’ the Queen Mother, who travel all over the Kingdom leading the nation’s celebrations.
The monarchy is widely viewed as a sacred institution. Both the King and the Queen Mother are respected as model public figures. They symbolise the fundamental ideals, values, beliefs and institutions that are cherished by most Swazis. Thus, the Swazi Nation is commonly referred to as “One Family” in which the King and the Queen Mother are lovingly called the “Father” and “Mother” of the nation respectively.
Swazis are strongly connected to their Ancestral Worship. It is indoctrinated in their core system of beliefs. It is part of their lives and shapes their religious view. The Supreme God (Mvelinchanti) is believed to have spoken to the founding fathers of the nation. Through visions and dreams, he gave them advice about how to conduct affairs of the countries. Consequently, there is a deeply held view that the departed kings and the forefathers are believed to be alive and closer to that very Supreme God. According to this long-held view, the dead are asleep and are always involved in directing the affairs of the nation.
The Swazi people continue joyfully celebrating and commemorating their religious and cultural heritage given to them by their forefathers who were the founders of the nation. This has played a role of unifying the country and economic development.
Other African nations can learn to embrace both western and African values.