The Umhlanga reed dance ceremony brings virgins from all over the country and the neighboring countries of South Africa and Botswana and these get to participate in the dance that is prepared as a life experience for them. The reed festivities take over a week and during this time the girls get to meet up, learn more about their culture as they get advice from the older women about their safety. The reed dance is all about showcasing the rich culture of the Swaziland people which originates from the Zulu that came from both South Africa and Botswana. The girls who are led by the Zulu princess put on colored sashes with decorative anklets, necklaces and bracelets all made out of colored beads. The different designs and colors are used to show whether the girl is actually ready for marriage or engaged.
Every girl is supposed to carry a reed above their heads as they walk in a procession to the palace that is on a hill and if the reed breaks before one gets to the palace, the girl drops out because it is assumed that she is actually not a virgin and has been sexually active for a long time. The girls line up bear chested so that the king can easily choose his next wife as the ceremony comes to an end.
Things to note about the Umhlanga reed dance
- During the dancing period, a girl is chosen by the king as the chief dancer and she in most cases becomes the consort of the king joining the numerous wives that he already has. But note that the choosing of the bride that happens every year from the virgin girls is not the reason as to why the dance is celebrated but the celebration of virginity among the girls.
- The reed dance day is a public holiday in Swaziland and at least everyone is expected to attend as spectators as the virgin girls show off their dancing skills in their colored sashes.
- The Umhlanga dance which in Zulu is the Mkhosi WoMhlalnaga is an event that involves celebrating the girl child into womanhood and it is carried out in September every year. The Umhlanga reed dance is a cultural dance that is used by the people of Swaziland to graduate girls into adulthood.
- The dance is only participated in by virgin girls and it involves a lot of singing and dancing, a prep by the older women who teach the young girls all that they need to know about womanhood, marriage, respecting their husbands, pregnancy, HIV and also having self-respect to their bodies as grown up women.
- The entourage of virgin girls which is led by the princesses have reeds that they all hold while dancing and the longest reed is placed at the feet of the king as a sign of respect to both the king and the Zulu culture and this is known as the reed giving ceremony. As the girls dance away to the singing and drumming, the men also join in with their singing and mock fighting on the sidelines while other throw money at the feet of the dancing girls as a way of appreciation.
- The seventh day is the last day is always crowded and you should try to be early enough so that you get the best spot and enjoy the reed dnace but do not forget to take as many photos as you can so that you remian with the festival memories.
After looking at the general things that you need to know about the reed dance, below is day to day look at the events leading up to the last day of the festival.
The first day is all about the girls getting ready at the Queen mother’s palace as there are tents that are sent up in the courtyard and in the many classrooms or at relative’s homes for those that are nearby and all this is supervised by the local chief.
The second day is all about collecting the reed that are meant to be used in the dance. All the girls that are to participate are separated into two groups according to age and while the younger go to the nearer swamp to collect the reeds, the older girls go furthest to collect theirs.
The third and fourth day
These days are all about the reeds but remember that every girl is supposed to carry about twenty reed and bring them back to the mother Queen. This all happens on the third day and by the fourth day, every girl is supposed to be back at the Queen’s courtyard before sunset.
This is the final day for preparations and the girls are expected to rest before the big day of the dance. This is the day that they ensure all their attires are in place and practice their dance moves.
This is the official starting day of the dance and it normally starts from 3:00pm to 5:00pm and it is the day when the girls I their different groups come out and take their reeds to the mother Queen as a sign of respect and after that they gather in the Royal stadium as they sing different songs and dance to the tunes.
Tourists are free to join in but as spectators and it is also advisable that when going for the Umhlanga reed dance so that you get a full explanation of the whole event, the symbols and to avoid any taboos that might anger the locals. And before you go out to the Royal stadium, you will need to find appropriate dressing especially if you are a foreigner that is women are supposed to be descent or at least get a wrap and the men are supposed to put on long trousers and not shorts otherwise you might not be allowed inside the stadium to witness the dance at its climax.