Africa Tour Operators

Incwala festival

If you have never attended cultural festivals that are organized to improve on culture and maintain a certain kinship among the subjects of the kingdom, then this is your chance to do so as the Incwala festival is about culture. The Incwala festival in Eswatini is one of the most important festivals in the country as it deals with mostly the royal family. It is referred to as the ceremony of the king and it is also known as the fruit testing season where the king gets to taste the fruit harvest frist before any other person is allowed to taste it. The festival is known to show purificaion in the kingdom and renewal spiritual wise and note that if there is no king in the kingdom,the Incwala festival cannot take place.

Unlike other cultural festivals in the country where all the rituals can be seen by everyone, the rituals that are performed by the king during the Incwala are are considered sacred and most of them are not open to the public eye but even though it is only the king that participates in the rituals and other hidden performance or rites, it is these sam rituals that make up the whole festival.

There is no right date for the Incwala festival as it is always determined by the appearance of the new full moon which means it will happen between the months of November and January. The Incwala festival is dominated by two steps that is the small Incwala which is the beginning of the festival and the Big Incwala which is known to be the last stage of the festival.

The small Incwala

The small Incwala locally known as the Incwala lencane is the beginning of the Incwala festivals and the big Incwala is the last stage. The small Incwala begins with the appearance of the full moon around November and it sees a group of locals who refer to themselves as water people (Bemanti) walking from their villages in two different groups as they go to the Queen mother’s palace.

The groups of Bemanti are separated into two that is the small group and the larger group. The smaller group always moves to the Northern part of the country to collect water from the Rivers and the larger groups travels southwards to collect water from the sea. They then later on converge at the queen’s palace in Lobamba where singing and dancing takes place to welcome the full moon.

The Big Incwala

The Big Incwala which takes place fourteen days after the small Incwala is also locally known as the Incwala lenkhulu takes six days for it to be completed and we have listed a summary of what takes place on each of the six days until the big Incwala is completed.

  • Day one and two

Day one of the big Incwala is all about the youth boys gathering around the Queen mother’s residence from where they are expected to group up and walk for over 50 kilometers in search of the Lusekwane shrub which is weaved into the Inhlambelo by the elders on the second day.

  • Day three

Day three is all about colleting the willow that is used to build the Inhlambelo where the king stays throughout the festival. The Lusekwane boys go out and bring back the red bush willow known as the Imbondvo in the morning and start constructing the Inhlambelo. By evening, there is a ritual where a bull is set free and the boys have to subdue it using their bare heads to show that they are fearless and take it back to the rest and while all this is taking place, the king is already in the Inhlambelo partaking in rituals that are not open to the public.

  • Day four

Day four is when the main Incwala takes place. This is the day where the king is served with the first fruit and after him eating his, the rest of the locals in attendance also get to taste their fruits while merry making with songs and dancing. Everyone in attendance will be putting on brightly colored regalia and when the dancing is at its peak, the king comes out and throws his gourd which is caught by a appear being held by the boys commonly known as the Lusekwane. This is part of the ritual and although it has not been explained why the king throws his gourd, it is still quite a sight that no one should miss out on.

  • Day five

Day five of the Incwala is all about abstinence for everyone including the king himself. The only people that the king who is always in the Inhlambelo can see are the ritual wives who help him prepare for the festival and the rest of the kingdom is supposed to avoid sex, bathing, putting on makeup and jewelry, singing, dancing and any other thing that will bring them happiness and in order to make sure that no one breaks the rules, the Bemanti act as police men and women to ensure that all is well.

  • Day six (final day)

Day six which marks the last day of the festival is also referred to as the log day and this is where firewood which is used to make a large bonfire is collected. While the bonfire lights away, the main participants of the rituals throw ritual items into the fire while dancing and singing around it and cattle is also prepared on the bonfire and this is all done to mark the end of the year. The singing and dancing around the bonfire continues until the rain puts out the fire and then after that it is all about eating and drinking until the food is completed.

After the Big Incwala is over, the king goes back and is not seen again until another full moon appears and when the full moon is seen, the Lusekwane branches that were weaved into the Inhlambelo are burnt. And note that although tourists are allowed to watch all the events throughout the Incwala festival, it is all that open to everyone and therefore if you get the chance to attend one, make sure that you follow all the customary rules and regulations so that you are not kicked out for violating their cultural beliefs.

Points to note during the festival

  • Women who want to participate in the festival are only allowed if they are putting on long skirts and not trousers.
  • No hats or any other headgear are allowed in the stadium where the festival takes place.
  • You can only take photos if you have a permit otherwise you are to keep your camera to yourself. When it comes to photos you should also note that no photos are allowed to be taken when the king is preparing and taking part in his rituals.
  • During the cultural dance that is led by the youth, the king in full ceremonial attire joins them in order to celebrate the coming of the new year and to ask for more blessings from the ancestors so that the new year is as blessed a the old year or more.