Over the years, the Reed Dance festival is seen as a solemn occasion for most young Zulu and Swaziland women. Apart from the platform that grants them a chance to show off their dancing skills, they are also able to prove how well they can sing and at the same time display their beadworks. The eight days celebration is often preceded with months of preparation and excitement.
The origin of Reed Dance is traceable to Goodwill Zwelithini when he introduced it in 1991 in South Africa. The Reed Dance takes place in a royal kraal of the Zulu king known as Nongoma in KwaZulu-Natal. Besides the dance, there is a deep mythical connection between the reeds and the origin of the Zulu people. According to tradition, it was found out that the original ancestor emerged from a Reed bed.
What is Umhlanga Reed Dance?
Also known as Umkhosi woMhlanga, the Reed Dance ceremony has come to be a yearly Swazi and Zulu event in which tens of thousands of Swazi girls who are not married gather to participate in it. The event is now so much pronounced that tourists from around the world travel down to the Kingdom of Swaziland to watch the maidens perform in their Swazi traditional attires. These Swazi attires include beadwork, necklaces, bracelets, anklets, colourful sashes, and izigege and izinculuba that show their bottoms.
The name of the festival
The name of the festival was derived from the reeds that grow around a riverbed and also form part of what young Zulu women who have passed a virginity test carry in a procession when they are invited to the King’s palace. The girls come from several parts of Zululand with their traditional Zulu clothes, recently, smaller groups of girls from Eswatini and distant places like Pondoland and Botswana also join in the ceremony.
Talking about their traditional attire, a beautiful thing about the sashes is that each of them has appendages of various colour that symbolise whether a girl is betrothed or not. As the Umhlanga Reed Dance ceremony takes place, a unique thing about it is that only unwed girls are allowed to partake in the event. And when they are dancing, as part of the ceremony, each maiden carries a long reed and dances bare-breasted for the King.
However, it is also worth noting that before the ceremony takes place, there are certain processes which are involved, and one of which is the camping of the Zulu maidens for what is known as Siyaya eMhlangeni in Dundee. Siyaya eMhlangeni means "We are ready for the Reed Dance". The purpose of the camp is for the girls to go through virginity tests before the annual ceremony would take place at the royal palace. Once they pass the test, it will then grant them the right to partake in the event.
When is the Reed Dance?
Usually, the Reed Dance Swaziland ceremony takes place towards the end of August. This period is considered to be the time when the seasons start to change and the reed becomes matured and ready to be harvested.
What is the purpose of the Reed Dance?
The main motive behind the Zulu Reed Dance is, first, to ensure that girls' virginity is preserved. By implication, it aims at encouraging Swaziland girls to practice abstinence from intimate relations while ensuring that their virginities are kept intact until they are mature to be married. Then, the ceremony grants the opportunity of paying tribute labour for the Queen mother.
As part of the activities that take place during the ceremony, once the Zulu girls cut the reeds, they take them back to the Royal residence, which would then be used for the Queen mother's hut as windbreakers. Apart from those, another significant opportunity that the ceremony avails the people is that of the promotion of solidarity and a sense of unity among the girls. The Zulu maidens have the privilege of bonding with those who are in their age group from different parts of the country.
More so, recently, it is reported that the platform of the Reed Dance festival is used to educate the Zulu people, especially the youth, on topics revolving around social issues. The issues can include ways of preventing teenage pregnancy, how to practice sexual morals and behaviours, and how to reduce the risk of the contraction of HIV/AIDS, among others.
The South African Reed Dance ceremony has grown to be a notable annual event that brings maidens from the nooks and crannies of the Zulu kingdom together. Apart from the entertainment aspect of the ceremony, it serves as a platform for showcasing the enriched cultural heritage of the kingdom. And most importantly, the promotion of abstinence from sexual activities until marriage time and other social traits.
READ ALSO: 20 famous women in South Africa