Swaziland: The Reed Dance

April 21st, 2013

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The Reed Dance is a traditional Swazi dance where all the young, eligible female virgins of Swaziland gather, and most importantly, dance in celebration of the Royal Family. This event has been taking place for centuries! Although the festival is to celebrate the Swazi royalty, it is also to promote a sense of unity in the country.

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All the young women take this opportunity to travel and socialize, meeting peers that they would never have otherwise, and having experiences away from home. Sometimes, the King has been known to use the festival as a beauty parade of sorts, to choose his next wives. But in all honesty, this is not the main reason for the festival.

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The festival actually takes place within a week. The first few days are a private affair, but the last two days are a different story! Bare-chested, bare-lapped virgins, dressed in the most colourful beads and attires ever, pick up their reeds in a ceremonious affair, and dance towards the royal residence in a joyous and colourful procession.

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Spectators often appreciate the dancing procession by throwing money at the girls’ feet. The reeds themselves are symbolic of the Zulu tradition that their ancestors originated from a reed bed.

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Zulu mythology has it that if a young woman who is not a virgin takes part in the Reed Dance ceremony, her reed will break and embarrass her in full public view! And still, today an expectant hush falls on the crowd as the chief princess is the first to choose a reed. Shouts of joy and celebration greet her as the reed remains intact and, with bated breath, each of the young women takes it in turn to choose a reed.

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Accompanied by jubilant singing and dancing, the stately procession winds its way up the hill to the palace entrance where the king awaits, flanked by his royal regiment. As leader of the group of young women, the chief Princess kneels down before the king and presents him with a reed to mark the occasion, before joining the young women in a joyful dance of tribute to the king.

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All in all, the festival has, and continues to be, an avenue to celebrate unity, life, virginity and royalty. ‘The Reed Dance is Swaziland!’  

References from Times Live, Zulu, Sowetan Live and Swazi Travel

By the way, Swaziland is here! (Image via CIA World Factbook)

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1 Comment

  1. Santos says:

    This traditional dance is typical African, and traditions that enhance our values and identities in the continent should not be abused by anyone who does not understand. If the traditions harm lives, then we can all condemn, but dancing- oh my! Beautiful, beautiful!

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