SWAZILAND CULTURE AND TRADITIONS
The culture of Swazi people involves music, food, religion, architecture, kinship among many othe things. The Swazi people are composed of various Nguni clans who speak the Nguni language SiSwati.
The Ngwenyama is considered the head of the nation alongside the Ndlovukati who is the spiritual leader of the nation.
National cultural events often involve the Ngwenyama or Ndlovukati. At home, the patriach of the family is the head and in the past, often practiced polygamy. This headman, usually referred to as umnumzane is central to all activities of the home.
A group of homes forming a community and the land they reside on forms a chiefdom or umphakatsi. Several chiefdoms form an inkhundla which then belongs of a regional division of the country. This connects the older traditional leadership structures to more modern forms of government.
There are national cultural events such as umhlanga, emaganu and incwala which take place at Royal residences of the Ngwenyama and Ndlovukati. Local cultural events in communities or imiphakatsi, take place at the residence of the chief also called emphakatsini. Weddings, funerals and religious events are usually carried out at family homesteads where neighbors are usually invited to partake.
SANGOMA, INYHANGA – TRADITIONAL HEALERS OF SWAZILAND
Inyanga performs rituals that are common to that of a “sangoma”. The role of a “sangoma” is to find the cause of misfortune or disease. The “sangoma” prescribes actions to rectify the misfortune or in the case of illness, prepares medication to cure illnesses. They are more accurately described as “which finders” as apposed to the European misinterpretation and given the epithet “which doctor”. To learn the craft, learners “tangoma”, (plural of “sangoma”) attend various “schools” and undergo “lutfwasa”, a learning process which may take up to a year or longer. About a dozen or more learners are resident at a small homestead of Bethany, headed by LaMabuza which is situated near Matsapha in central Swaziland. During this learning process, the learners will have to observe various taboos: no sexual relations, no quarreling, and no shaking hands among others.
“Throwing of the bones” (“ematsambo”), is a collection of small bones, a variety of other small objects like dice, beads etc which are thrown on a mat and depending upon the way the objects and bones fall, a solution to the problem can then be divined. During “indumba” the small house that is the learners base, there would be drumming and they will enter in a trance, grunting and sweating dance to the drums and communicate the message of the “emadloti” (ancestral spirit). A red cloth is draped over their shoulders, the drum rhythm changes to that of “emaNdzawe” (or Ndau which is people living in Mozambique or Zimbabwe), This is done because in past history, a group of Swazi’s marauding in the area had come across some cattle belonging to those of “emaNdzawe”, they had been instructed not to kill the cows as they were to be offered as a sacrifice to the ancestral spirits.
The Swazi’s killed the people daring to oppose them as well as the cattle. As a result thereof, the “emandawe” spirits have haunted them and therefore, they require being placated in these ceremonies. The “tangoma” would speak with a strangled voice in a language that was said to be an old form of “Ndau”, a language only known to them when in a trace, and shake vigorously to the rhythm of the drums. Through dreams and vision that are interpreted by another “sangoma” as indicating a normal person has a calling to become a diviner. Although the calling is more than often resisted because a “sangoma” is distinguished by her appearance with her hair in “siyendle” style, decorated with traditional medicine, small bottles and subject to many taboos. In Swaziland there are far more woman “tangoma” than men. The calling becomes irresistible and hence she becomes a learner ‘sangoma.
The student learns to use the traditional medication “umutsi” and the ceremonies that are associated with that. These medicines consist of mainly roots and ground bark but can contain animal parts as well. Some rituals performed include medicine put in water in clay pots, stirred with a special stick that it forms a froth of which a small amount is then eaten and applied to their face and on top of their head. During the two day ceremony which is called “kuphotfulwa” the candidate is initiated as a fully qualified “sangoma” as they have now completed their “iNtfwasa” training.
A herbalist “Inyanga” (plural: tinyanga) does not perform rituals that are common to a “sangorma” Herbalists often have a large variety of “umutsi” which are traditional medicines kept in artistically carved vessels. The men’s costumes of the “inyanga”, especially if they are from outside the country, may also be different.
UMTSIMBA – THE SWAZI LOBOLA, WEDDING CEREMONY AND DISSOULUTION
Lobola negotiations can be long and complex. The main purpose of Lobolo is to determine the worth of the bride. Often during the negotiations either a bottle of brandy or traditional sorghum beer is placed on the table which is not usually drunk. This gesture is known as “imvulamlomo” which means “mouth opener”. The purpose of this tradition is to make everyone feel welcome.
The potential wife’s delegation decides whether the alcohol will be consumed or not. The amount is affected by many different factors and the circumstances of the bride to be. Lobolo is considered customary in Swazi marriages and the purpose thereof is to build relations between the prospective families. In the event of death of either spouse the marriage is then dissolved. Should the wife leave her husband as a result of abuse, the husband may have to pay a fine to the father or if the wife refuses to return then the husband can make a claim against the Lobola. If the wife initiates a divorce, the father will have to repay some of the Lobola.
The wedding ceremony takes place over several days which includes seven stages and is called “umtsimba”. The first stage is the preparation of the bridal party, the second stage is the journey of the bridal party. The third stage is the first day of the wedding ceremony and lasts three days. The fourth stage is when the actual wedding ceremony takes place and is known as “umtsimba”.
The fifth stage is known as “kuteka, this is the actual wedding and the final stage is when gifts are given by the bride to the groom’s family. In the final stage it is the first time that the bride actually gets to spend the first evening with the groom and husband and wife. The wedding ceremony and functions include traditional beer called “umcombotsi”. Traditional attire is worn and during the functions gifts of sweets, coins, and fruits are given by the audience to the dancers. Many traditions and rituals are followed during the wedding ceremony during the various stages.
After the wedding ceremony is completed, only then is the Lobola transferred, however this can take months or years after the ceremony. The Swazi tradition states: “akulotjolwa intfombi kulotjolwa umfati” which when translated means: the bride price is paid for a woman who is legally bound in marriage and not for a single woman.
INCWALA OUR MOST SACRED CEREMONY
This is one of the most sacred ceremonies of the Swazi culture which takes place in December over a few days. Various preliminary rituals take place that are know as “iNewala Lencane” and “small iNcwala. When these rituals and ceremonies are complete, it marks the kinship with the king reaffirmed and the nation is then renewed. It marks the beginning of the New Year and only then, may the fruits of the new harvest be eaten. The King also performs certain rituals on main day of the ceremony and the whole nation practically comes together at The Royal capital of Lobambo where huge ceremonies are held.
All young maidens from every part of the country gather to take part in the Reed Dance.Most of the participants are teenagers.
Umhlanga usually takes place in late August or early September.
The maidens pay respect to the Queen Mother.At the ceremony the girls wear short beaded skirts with ankle bracelets and jewellery with colorful sashes. The women sing and dance as they parade in front of the royal family as well as a crowd of spectators, tourists and foreign dignitaries.
After the parade, groups from select villages take to the center of the field and put on a special performance for the crowd. The King's many daughters also participate in the Umhlanga ceremony and are distinguished by the crown of red feathers in their hair. Usually the king chooses his wife at the reed dance ceremony from among the participants.
MARULA FESTIVAL: A TRIBUTE TO MOTHER NATURE
February marks the start of a wonderful celebration season and includes the marula festival which is a cultural event in Swaziland which serves as a tribute to the riches of mother nature and an annual royal celebration. The Marula festival is a time of celebration including song dance and the celebration of harvesting the fruit. Festivities are led by King Mswati 111 and Her Majesty the “Indlovukazi, the Queen Mother. The festivities are held from February and can continue up until May or as long as the harvesting season last. According to Swazi tradition, the marula fruit is sacred and not merely a fruit. Marula contains medicinal properties it aids fertility and its sweet and highly alcoholic beer are held in the highest regard and marula is also utilized for domestic needs. Marula trees are also protected by traditional laws. Marula’s contain anti-oxidants, are high in vitamin C and are rich in minerals. The bark of the trees are utilized for medicinal purposes but because of the value of commercial potential, the oil of the seed kernels is the most valuable part of the tree as it is rich in conditioning and moisturizing properties and products have been produced using the oil as a base.
Incwala or Kingship Ceremony is the most honorable events in the kingdom of Swaziland. It takes place during December/January.
The King and thousands of young men and warriors take part in various rituals, dances and songs. The dates for this ceremony are announced each year by the King, usually a few weeks before the event and are also determined by the phases of the moon.
The ritual begins with a journey by the "Bemanti" (people of the water), who go to the Indian Ocean to collect water and on their return to the royal kraal, the "Little Incwala" begins, preceding the full moon.
Young men collect the sacred branches of the "lusekwane" shrub, a species of acacia.
On their third day, the young men ritually slaughter a bull.
On the fourth day is the termination of the Ncwala when the king in full ceremonial dress joins his warriors in the traditional dance. The king then eats the first fruit of the season after further rituals at his special hut.
CULTURAL VILLAGES IN SWAZILAND
CULTURE THAT STOOD THE TEST OF TIME
The Swaziland culture can be viewed at the Swazi National Museum (Leobanba Swaziland) and several interesting artifacts are held there showing an impressive collection from various eara’s. Dating back from the 18th century. This long history and fascinating culture for such a small nation is astounding. The history of each king can be seen at the museum.
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