Africa is one of the most admired continents in the globe due to its rich culture emanating from its diversified groups. Among the prominent cultures in South Africa, the outstanding one is that of the Swazi. The Swazi culture is one exciting tribe that has for years caught the eyes of residents and tourists. The aspect making this ethnic group even more famous is their South African dresses, which most people know as the Swazi traditional attire.
The Swazi culture has distinct features that make it stand out from the other tribes. Their beliefs, ceremonies, residential units; are some of the characteristics that make this tribe unique.
Who makes up the Swazi?
Since there are very many cultures in a country, it makes it vital to know the identification of the Swazi tribe. The Swazi refer to a tribe, nation, or an ethnic group that speaks the ‘siSwati’ language. Most of the siSwati speakers reside in South Africa and Mozambique. In South Africa, the Swazi can be found in Swaziland, which is a small landlocked country with an estimate of 17, 368 square kilometers.
Since they are the dominant tribe in this region, Swaziland is often referred to as ‘the land of Swati.’ For those who may be wondering, Swati is also another name used to refer to the Swazi nation.
History of the Swazi tribe
The Swati tribe acquired its name after the prominent king Mswati II, who acquired his throne in 1839. The lineage of this ethnic group can also be traced back to the era of chief Dlamini, which up to date is the royal clan title. Roughly three-quarters of these Dlamini clan names comprise of the Nguni tribe, and the other quarter belonging to the Sotho and the Tsonga. With time, these clans have intermarried amongst themselves.
When comparing these tribe tribes, you will note minor differences among the Swazi group. Despite the differences, this nation still extends its devotion to the duo monarchs of Ngwenyama ‘the Lion’ (which is seen as the king) and Ndlovukati ‘the She-Elephant (which is regarded as the queen mother).
Domestic unit of the Swazi tribe
Typically, a household comprises of the father, who is the head of the family, the mother, and the children. This is no different from the household in this ethnic group. In a home, which is known as the indlu, there is a man, his wife, and children. A sophisticated house stead, on the other hand, is made up of households, in which members share the agricultural tasks, and eat from one kitchen.
In case there are multiple households on the homestead, each comprises of a single polygamous family, an agnatic family, or a complex family grouping. In some instances, the wife has an attached co-wife who is known as the inhlanti. Both of them work alongside each other, and together with the children, they make the ‘house.’ Once a son marries and has children, he, his wife, and children form another house within the premises of the ‘house’ of his mother.
The Swati still live in the traditional Nguni huts which are made of thatch and poles which are bound together with ropes. Despite being a place for living and comfort, the huts also have a significant meaning in village life.
The indlunkulu hut is used as a shrine. There is also a hut where only the wives of a man live.
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Religious beliefs of the Swazi
The Swati believe in a supreme being whom they call Mkhulumnqande. They think that Mkhulumnqande formed the earth but demands no sacrifices. There is also a belief that Mkhulumnqande is not to be associated nor worshipped with the ancestral spirits. It is the role of the Swati men to offer sacrifices to the ancestors during the traditional religious ceremonies. On the other hand, the women communicate with the spirits, while the queen mother acts as the custodian of the rain medicines.
Marriage units in the Swazi tribe
The Swazi traditional wedding is one of the most favorite ceremonies in South Africa. Not only is it a beautiful occasion, but a time to admire the traditional attire styles. In this tribe, unions between the same clans are forbidden, and this helps maintain social ties. In the past, polygamous marriages were, but presently, they have reduced due to the spread of Christianity. Sub-clans are frequently formed to facilitate the union of members of the same clan. Divorce is also present in this ethnic group and has increased as a result of urbanization.
Traditional attire of the Swazi
It is obvious that the South African traditional clothing outstand when one is looking at the African traditional dresses and skirts. In this tribe, the Swazi traditional dresses are particular to gender and age. According to the Swazi culture clothing, infants aged 3 months are clothed with protective medicines only. Males that are between 3 months and three years are given tiny loin skin to wear, whereas the females of the same age group are required to wear no cloth or sometimes wear a string of colorful beads.
Males between 3 years and eight years wear loin skin while females of the same age wear a string of beads and a skirt that is made of grass or fabric. Males aged 8 to 17 are required to clothe themselves in loin skin and a penis cap, whereas females aged 8 to 15 must clothe themselves in a skirt made from grass or skirt and short toga of fabric, which must be accompanied by bead necklaces.
Unmarried males clothe themselves in loin skins and cloth and bead ornaments, while the females wear a dress of fabric, and hold their hair up in a small bun. Married males clothe themselves in loin skins whereas the females that just got wedded clothe in skin skirts and skin aprons, and an apron under their armpits.
The reed dance
One of the most popular cultural celebrations of this tribe is the Umhlanga Reed Dance.The eight-day ceremony commences in late August or early September. The ritual requires the unmarried girls to cut off reeds and hand them over to the queen mother.
After giving away the reeds, the traditional dance follows. The ceremony is held to make the unmarried girls pay homage to the queen mother and the king. It is a good time to spot some of the most creative African traditional wear.
Arts and crafts of the Swazi tribe
The Swati ethnic group is famous throughout South Africa due to its appealing arts and crafts, which they still use to date. They have colorful beaded jewelry that is breathtaking.
From history, the religious beliefs, to the traditional attires, it is crystal clear that the Swazi culture is one to be admired. The Swati people have stayed true to their roots and continued to entertain us with their traditional dances such as the reed dance.