Monday in a Picture – Peace Corps Press Corps 

As you know from various posts last week (here and here), Swaziland recently celebrated young maidens (unmarried, childless girls and women) in the Umhlanga (pronounced oom-shlan-ga) ceremony. Umhlanga directly translates into reeds. One of our very own Swaziland PCVs participated this year with the regiment from her community. 

I was asked to document the event for Peace Corps Swaziland. I started preparing by trying to acquire a press pass. After different conversations with staff and other interested parties, I was given the contacts for an administrator of the foundation that supports Umhlanga. The contact, a Swazi prince, was able to provide me with the necessary email addresses and a list of documents that I would need to qualify for the press pass. All of this would have to be done in three days. 

I completed the paperwork and submitted the documentation. Time was passing, and I hadn’t heard anything. Finally, the day came for the maidens to deliver the reeds to the Queen Mother. I contacted the administrator at the foundation and received instructions on how to pick up my press pass. There was some confusion when I went to pick it up, but everything was sorted and I walked away with my very own press pass. 

I walked back to the stadium and joined the other media gathered at the event. As this was my first event as an official member of the media, I imitated the others in my attempt to not draw attention to my inexperience. They took pictures of regiments marching pass. I took pictures of those regiments. They stood behind a certain lamppost. I made sure I didn’t pass that point. Eventually, the king and his regiment arrived. With the wave of a hand, the media was invited over to photograph His Majesty King Mswati III on the red carpet. 

I was able to be on the field as the PCV maiden marched pass with her regiment. I was also able to photograph the regiment of senior princesses among others.

I received my invitation to Peace Corps Swaziland two years ago this month. If anyone would have told me then that I would be getting in high-five distance of and photographing the king, I wouldn’t have entertained the possibility. Thankfully, I’m surrounded by those challenge the notion that anything is impossible. The picture above was taken by Leslie M. as I was about to take pictures on the field. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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P.S. – This is one of the shots that I was able to get while the king was greeting international dignitaries. 

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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 – Marula and Buganu

This past weekend, Swazis and friends in the northern region of the country celebrated the marula festival. The festival celebrates the harvest of the marula fruit, its resiliency, and the resiliency that it symbolizes for all of Swaziland. The tree produces delicious fruit, even in drought stricken summers. The festival happens at one of the royal residences, and the king and queen mother attend along with hundreds of Swazis. 

Swazis celebrate the marula fruit by home brewing buganu (pronounced boo-ga-new), which is a beer made from the fruit. One PCV, who lives in northern Swaziland, agreed (with his host family) to host a number of PCVs so that we could experience the fruit, the beer, and the festival. He and his host family spent considerable time brewing many liters of buganu for this weekend. The inner council of the community leadership came to his homestead to sit and share buganu with the volunteers. They talked about the fruit and beer before explaining how the beer is made. Then, there was a live, hands-on tutorial of home brewing buganu. The picture above is of the hosting host mom preparing to start the buganu brewing process. 

The fruit is removed from its skin, and placed in clean water. After three days, the seeds are removed from the fruit. Then, the mixture sits for another day. At this point, the beer is ready to be enjoyed. We learned that women typically brew the buganu for her husband and the family. Some women also sell buganu. A 25 liter container sells for between 50 and 100 emalangeni (pronounced emma-lan-gay-knee), which is the currency of Swaziland (on par with the South African rand). 

There will be another marula festival in a few weeks in a different region of the country. This is due to the marula fruit ripening at different times in different parts of the country. We learned that the fruit is not to be picked from the tree, as it is not yet ripe. The fruit should be picked up from the ground once it has fallen. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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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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