Monday in a Picture – Umhlanga

While today is Labor Day in the US, we’re celebrating a different public holiday in Swaziland. Today is the public holiday of Umhlanga (pronounced oom-shlan-ga), which directly translates into reeds. The cultural event is also known as the Reed Dance. 

While today is the public holiday, the event started last week with the participants registering on Tuesday. Participation is only open to girls and young women who are unmarried and childless. A friend and fellow volunteer here in Swaziland is participating in Umhlanga. You can read more about her participation on her blog. I have learned more about the history, tradition, and logistics of the event as I have documented her participation. 

Last Thursday, the timbali (pronounced tim-bah-lee), which means maidens (and flowers), went to two specified places in Swaziland to cut reeds. Several princesses from the royal residences (who are also timbali) led tens of thousands on a march to the reeds before cutting the first reeds. The reeds were delivered to the queen mother yesterday. Today, the king and general public will watch 80000 maidens do a traditional dance meant to showcase their chastity. 

The above picture was taken as the timbali were preparing to march after cutting the reeds on Thursday. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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Monday in a Picture – Imali 

It’s said that the best things in life are free. For the things that have cost attached, there’s some form of currency. In Swaziland, cash is king. While some people have bank accounts and access to credit cards, this is not super common especially in more rural parts of the country. 

Swaziland’s currency is known as the lilangeni (pronounced lee-lon-gay-knee) for a singular unit, while multiple units are called emalangeni (pronounced eh-mah-lon-gay-knee). Prices in emalangeni would be expressed as E10 for something costing ten emalangeni

Swaziland’s Central Bank has authorized two different currencies to be used in the country. In addition to the emalangeni, the South African rand is also used. While both currency’s notes are used indiscriminately, rand coins are rarely accepted outside of border communities. The emalangeni and rand both come in note denominations of 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200. Both currencies also use different colors for the different denominations. While all South African rand notes feature a picture of former president, Nelson Mandela, Swaziland’s emalangeni notes feature King Mswati III. Prior to Mswati’s ascension to the throne, Swazi notes featured King Sobhuza. 

In the picture above, there are current notes (of 20 unit denomination) from Swaziland, South Africa, and United States. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

P.S. – Imali (pronounced ee-mah-lee) means money. 

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​Monday in a Picture – Incwala 

Today in Swaziland is a public holiday, as Swazis observe incwala (pronounced in-click wa-la), which is also known as the festival of the first fruits. 

The festival is a celebration of the king and his kingship. While the festival takes place over the course of several days, there is one main day. During this day, men and boys from all over the country do traditional dances and sing traditional songs with the king and his regiment in the royal kraal (pronounced exactly like “crawl”) at a royal residence in Lobamba. 

This year’s main day was Saturday. I was fortunate to attend the ceremony with some other volunteers. Immediately outside of the royal kraal, the king’s guards were lined up in uniform. Behind them was a small marching band in a different uniform. We noticed everyone moving towards the barricade, so we followed suit. The king was coming! Before the dancing and singing starts in the royal kraal, the band plays the Swazi national anthem and the king inspects his guards and their uniforms.

After the inspection, people are now free to pass through security and join the ceremony in the royal kraal. The rules are very strict for those wishing to enter. We were not allowed to take pictures of the royal kraal activities, wear shoes inside, or have any electronics with us. 

Once inside, all participants circle the king and members of the royal family while dancing and singing. While men and women are allowed to participate in the festivities (on the main day), people are separated by gender. For this festival, men drastically outnumber women. 

Before all of the ceremonies started, we were conversing with a group of men dressing for the ceremony. One of the men decided that I should adorn proper headdress. The picture above is him putting it on me.

Although we didn’t know the dance steps or the songs, the Swazi men and boys were extremely helpful and inclusive.  I am tremendously grateful for the hospitality that Swaziland, both individually and collectively, has shown.  

Happy Incwala Day! 
Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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