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This small country is a rich heritage when it comes to culture, lifestyles and daily life. Special aspects of authentic Swaziland culture are evident in the different things like food, music, homesteads and in every thing.
Music and Dance
The Sibhaca, a foot stamping dance, vigorous in style, is performed by teams of men throughout the country. The rhythm and spectacular physique of the men when performing causes wonder and admiration from the spectators. Sibhaca dance is sometimes performed as a competition or just for fun, depending on the occasion.
Swazi Reed Dance
The reed dance is a spectacular annual event attracting multitudes of tourists to the Kingdom of Swaziland. Performing at the reed dance ceremony are thousands of Swazi maidens in their traditional attire. These Swazi girls come from various locations over the country and gather together for the ceremony which lasts for about eight days. The Umhlanga Reed Dance occurs towards the end of the month of August, when the seasons start changing and the reed is matured and ready for harvest. This event presents the maidens with an opportunity to pay honour to the Queen Mother. Only childless, unwed girls are permitted to take part in the event.
A supreme God/creator was recognised, but more important were the spirits of ancestors. Beasts were slaughtered and beer was brewed to please (propitiate) the spirits, and ask for help.
Traditional healers are still widespread.
Boys and men wore loin-skins of selected wild animals. Girls wore grass skirts. A woman with a child wore a cow-skin skirt, and put her hair up in a bun/”bee-hive” hairstyle. A married (“lobola’ed”) woman wore a goat-skin apron over her shoulder.
The principle Swazi social unit remains the homestead locally refered to as UMTI. The traditional beehive hut is thatched with dry grass. In a polygamous homestead, each wife normally has her own huts and yard surrounded by reed fences for privacy. These comprise three structures mainly for sleeping, cooking and storage (brewing beer).
In substantial homesteads there will also be structures used as bachelors’ quarters and guest accommodation. Central to the traditional homestead is the cattle byre, a circular area enclosed by substantial logs interspaced with branches. The cattle byre has great ritual as well as practical significance as a store of wealth and symbol of prestige. It contains sealed grain pits. Facing the cattle byre is the great hut which is occupied by the mother of the headman.
Every man belonged to an age-regiment, for war and tribute labour. Young men opted to be permanent warriors attached to royal homesteads. Colour of cow-hide shield and other decorations identify the regiment. King calls them out 4 times a year Incwala (January or December), weeding King’s sorghum fields (January), harvesting sorghum (May) and threshing sorghum (July).
Food and Dining
Various activities are performed along gender lines, for example, the griding of mealies remains the preserve of women. This is prior to the preparation of Swazi food.
- sishwala -thick porridge normally served with meat or vegetables
- incwancwa -sour porridge made of fermented mealie meal
- sitfubi -fresh milk cooked and mixed with mealie meal
- siphuphe setindlubu -thick porridge made of mashed groundnuts
- emasi etinkhobe temmbila -ground mealies mixed with sour milk
- emasi emabele -ground sorghum mixed with sour milk
- sidvudvu -porridge made of pumpkin mixed with mealie meal
- umncweba -dried uncooked meat (biltong)
- umkhunsu -cooked and dried meat
- siphuphe semabhontjisi -thick porridge made of mashed beans
- tinkhobe -boiled whole maize
- umbidvo wetintsanga -cooked pumpkin tops (leaves) mixed with groundnuts
- tjwala (umcombotsi) -traditional beer
Swaziland Harvest Festival
The Ncwala, or first fruit ceremony is considered to be the most sacred and colorful of all the Swazi ceremonies in which the King plays a dominant role. The Ncwala is usually held in December or January upon a date chosen carefully by Swazi astronomers in conjunction with the position of the sun relating to the phases of the moon, and takes place over three weeks.
The ritual begins as the Bemanti clan or “water people” make their way to the Mozambique coast, where they collect the foam from the waves, which is believed to have healing powers. The return to the Royal palace commences in the celebration of the Little iNcwala, which takes place before the appearance of the full moon.
Like in many African countries, for marriage dowry is an important part of it. In Swaziland, dowry is called “lobola” and a potential bachelor gives around 15 cattle to the parents of the girl as a sign of respect and appreciation.
Traditional wedding/”umtsimba” is usually held on a weekend in dry season (June – August). Bride and her relatives go to groom’s homestead on Friday evening. Saturday morning – bridal party sit by nearby river, eat beast (goat/cow) offered by groom’s family; afternoon – dance in the groom’s homestead. Sunday morning – bride, with her female relatives, stabs ground with a spear in man’s cattle kraal, later she is smeared with red ochre. The smearing is the high point of marriage – no woman can be smeared twice. Bride presents gifts to husband and his relatives.
Commoners are buried next to homestead, kings and royals in mountain caves. Funerals are important as means of the extended family meeting from time to time. A month after the funeral they meet again to wash away the contamination of death.
Mantenga Cultural Village
The cultural village is a living museum of all things traditional and represents a classical Swazi lifestyle during the 1850’s. The building materials are strictly traditional: poles, grass, reeds, leather strips, earth and dried cow-dung.
The Mantenga Village is a mini-complex of sixteen huts, each with its own specific purpose, kraals or byres for cattle and goats, reed fences that serve as windbreaks, and various other structures. With the traditional artefacts on display, the village illustrates many facets of the ancient Swazi way of life: social, economic and religious.