Swazi reed dance
King Mswati III of Swaziland was crowned in 1986 at the age of 18 years becoming the youngest monarch in the world. He was given the name Makhosetwi, which means the ‘King of the Nation’.
In Swaziland, the health of the king is symbolic of the nation’s prosperity and his fertility is believed to ensure the fertility of the land. The nation expects him to have many wives and children. During his long reign his father, King Sobhuza II, had 65 wives and more than 100 children.
King Mswati III, known as ‘the Lion’ and the Queen Mother, Ntfombi Tfwala, called ‘the She-Elephant’ are considered the embodiment of the nation. They have distinct political and religious responsibilities, as well as important roles in cultural affairs, as shown at the traditional Swazi Reed Dance ceremony.
The Reed Dance, or Umhlanga, is a spectacular annual event where up to 25,000 girls from throughout the Swazi Kingdom participate in a female rite of passage into womanhood. The girls arrive, marching in unison, carrying offerings of reeds from up to 40 miles away. They first encircle the royal compound of the Queen Mother, symbolically strengthening and affirming womanhood throughout the kingdom.
The climax of the ceremony involves young princesses, wearing red feathers in their hair to reveal their royal status, leading the girls into the royal compound to dance before the King. Adorned in beautiful necklaces, bracelets and anklets, and short puberty aprons the girls lure the attention of the King, princes, and chiefs and excite the crowd. Their vibrantly colored woolen sashes with color-coded tassles indicate whether or not they are eligible for marriage.
When the King is attracted to a girl for her beauty and talent in dancing he drops to his knees in front of her, throwing his shield to the ground as he holds his battle axe high in the air to indicate his admiration and desire.
During the Reed Dance he will choose a new wife from one of the clans with which he needs to align himself. His many marriages and children affirm his connection to every clan in the Swazi kingdom and help maintain unity and peace throughout the nation.