Mallory Primm
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Umhlanga

November 25, 2009 @ 9:42 AM | Permalink

Its impossible to be in Swaziland during this time of year and fail to mention the Umhlanga. The Umhlanga, or Reed Dance, is one of the most important events on the Swazi calendar. Traditionally, the Reed Dance is a time when Swazi's virginal maidens pay homage to the Queen. In this week long event, the maidens gather at the traditional capital of Swaziland in Lobamba at the Ludzidzini royal residence. Historically they gather on foot, but these days huge flat-bed lorries assist in the process. The maidens make their way down to the rive to gather reeds for the Queen Mother. Then they walk, singing in their traditional garb, to the Queen Mother's residence in order to reinforce her kraal walls with the freshly plucked reeds. What follows is two days of singing and dancing before the King and the Queen Mother.

Despite some jaded ex-pats telling me I would get bored as soon as I arrived, I decided to attend both days of dancing. Although both days were essentially the same, they were an incredible spectacle. This is what I saw:

Tens of thousands of maidens, bare breasted except for thick yarn sashes with pom-poms draped over one shoulder, standing in a neat semi-circle around the stadium's field. The King arrived, preceded and flanked by a troop of warriors in traditional dress. Some of his protective escort carried guns on the belts and spears in the hands. The maidens were organized in groups, some more polished than others, and each group made its way around the field singing. They danced in unison, the hallow seed pods tied to their feet beating to the music.

The procession went on forever, there were so many girls. The voices and the beat and the colors and the sea of maidens all blended into one. When each group had paraded in front of the King, he and his warriors took to the field. They jumped and pranced across the field in order to lower their sticks in front of particularly admirable females to show their appreciation. Often the King chooses a new wife from the assembled girls so anticipation was high.

I sat on the field, inadvertently among a group of warriors whose bleary eyes and enthusiasm indicated they'd been enjoying themselves. The girls paraded past, from barely walking to questionably virginal. It was an incredible experience to see so many people come together to celebrate their culture and put on a magnificent aesthetics experience.

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A good lesson for us all

Nicolle OConnor on Country Western and other Music in Swaziland 2009-06-11

just wondering if you have published any results?

David Broska on Into the Field 2010-06-19
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