What the smallest country in the southern hemisphere lacks in size, it more than makes up for in cultural heritage. More than 70% of Swaziland’s population is of ethnic roots, which means that all the traditions and beliefs are upheld throughout the year and are evident in daily life through dress and other activities.
One of the main traditions amongst the Swazi people is dance. There are two main kinds of dances, each done by men and women respectfully and done at most of the celebrations and gatherings throughout the year, but predominantly at the two most popular events: Incwala in December and Umhlanga in August.
Incwala, which means first fruits, is probably the most important and significant of the two. Dancing plays a prominent role here as men gather at the Royal Kraal at Ludzidzini and dance for a few days. Known to be the most honourable on the Swazi events calendar, the Incwala dates are determined by the phases of the moon and begins with a journey to the Indian Ocean to collect water. The third day sees the men slaughter a bull with the fourth day welcoming the arrival of the King who adorns his traditional dress and joins in on dances with the other men before returning to his hut to enjoy the first fruit of the season.
Umhlanga which translates to “Reed Dance” is one of the most colourful festivals where unbetrothed women pay homage to the King and Queen of Swaziland. Normally done bare-breasted, the event is known to attract over 80, 000 virgins from around the country.
This event attracts thousands from near and far and once the entire group has concluded dancing and singing, different villages take centre stage and put on a display as a sign of respect for the Queen mother. The different villages are distinguishable by their beaded outfits and jewellery. Even the King’s daughters are involved and are distinguishable by the bright red feathers they wear in their hair. The King will usually pick his new wife from the crowd of dancers.
However, these aren’t the only dances done in Swaziland and other events garner their own dances such as the Sibhaca dance done by droves of men throughout the country at any opportunity. This is the more traditional dance seen at all the various tourist attractions throughout this culturally rich country.