Africa as a continent has an overwhelming and extravagant culture. The continent’s richness in culture is influenced by its cultural diversity. This diversity is captured in its ways of life including food, dressing, marriages, music and dance.
While there are so many dances in different parts of the continent, most from southern Africa seem to be extremely popular. Among such is the reed dance.
The reed dance is a popular dance among the Zulu people of South Africa as well as Swaziland. The event is one of the most popular cultural events among the people of both cultures.
Also Known as Umhlanga Reed Dance, the dance is a dance that dominates the umhlanga ceremony, in which young childless ladies come to dance in the name of the king. The dance in both Swaziland and among the Zulus has taken a center stage with of thousands of girls attending.
The Swaziland reed dance has been traced back to the 1940s during the time of the kingdom’s longest monarch and one of the longest kings in recorded history, Sobhuza II. Sobhuza brought the dance in adaptation of an older Umcwasho ceremony. The Umcwasho ceremony is a traditional rite of chastity in the kingdom
The dance in the Kingdom is done between late August and early September. The event spans for a period of 8 days and has the aims of promoting the chastity of Swaziland girls, paying tribute to the Queen mother, and building solidarity among the girls.
On the first day of the reed dance ceremony, Swaziland girls from the about 200 chiefdoms of the kingdom gather at the royal village of the queen mother. On the second day of the event, the girls are put into two groups based on their ages; between 8 to 13 years and 14 to 22 years. They are then transported to different places where they can gather reeds.
Third day of the event is highlighted by the gathering of reeds by the girls and tying them in bundles. On the fourth day, the girls would return to the queen mother’s village and the fifth day is set aside for rest and preparation of costumes.
The three remaining days of the Swaziland reed dance are marked by the dance proper. While the sixth day would have the girls dancing around the queen mother’s house, the seventh would have the king witness the dance of the girls which is supposed to be bare-chested.
On the eighth and final day of the event, the through the king’s command, cows are slaughtered and shared to the girls.
As with that of Swaziland, the event in South Africa attracts young girls from all over the Zululand. Girls from other neighboring countries including Swaziland and Botswana, also attend the event.
Also known as Umkhosi woMhlanga, the ceremony is an annual event that is held at Kwazulu-Natal. The event in South Africa is held in September, at the palace of the king. It has its history to 1991, when the present king of the Zululand Goodwill Zwelithini introduced it.
Girls attending the reed dance are expected to carry out virginity test to ensure that only virgins get to attend. This has however faced much opposition in recent times.
At the height of the ceremony, it is expected that the virgin girls would come and dance bare-chested before the king and other dignitaries. Emphasis is placed on virgin girls in a bid to promote chastity towards curbing the HIV/AIDS menace that had ravaged the country in 1990s.
During the dance, girls carry long reeds which symbolize their virginity and dance in a procession to the Enyokeni palace. No girl’s reed is expected to break until she reached the palace else it would be considered she has known a man or more. The procession is led by the chief Zulu princess.
The event is only meant for young girls who have never married and are virgins, hence the first restriction is toward married women and non virgins.
Also, there is age restriction to the dance. Girls below and above certain ages are not expected to be a part.
While it is easy to find reed dance videos and reed dance pictures online, there are actually restrictions against snapping the girls or having a video of them while dancing. This is mainly to ensure that the privacy of the girls is kept.