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Umhlanga reed dance Day – September 4, 2023

Umhlanga Reed Dance Day marks the end of the Umhlanga festival and is celebrated in the last week of August or the first week of September. This year, it takes place on September 4. The timing of the event is based on ancient astrology and is decided by the leaders of the community. Every year, more than 25,000 Zulu maidens from all provinces of eSwatini gather at the royal palace to participate in the Reed Dance which has evolved from a centuries-long Swazi tradition to a modern-day celebration that brings the country together and is the center of great economic activity.

History of Umhlanga reed dance Day

The annual Umhlanga Reed Dance marks the biggest cultural gathering of the Swazi people. Coming after an eight-day ceremony, unmarried girls gather in a centipede-like structure and dance with reeds. The festival begins in late August or early September and aims to strengthen bonds of community amongst a new generation of homemakers. A captain, locally known as ‘induna’ is appointed by the royal family to announce and organize the ceremony. The use of the reed as the official mascot is a nod to the historical relevance of the plant to the lives of the Swazi people.

The Umhlanga evolved from the old ‘umchwasho’ custom of eSwatini, which was observed until August 19, 2005. In the old rituals, young girls were kept outside of their tribe, and their activities were monitored by the elders. To keep a girl from getting pregnant before marriage, her family was required to pay a fine to the local chief. The young girls of the country would also pledge allegiance of service to the Queen Mother of eSwatini. Pride, joy, and unity fill the air, as young maidens wear short beaded skirts and dance in bare-chested unison to celebrate their pledges. The festival also promotes the handicraft industry. Hundreds of regional business outlets, selling houseware, stone craft, wood artwork, and complex glass, are stationed across the venue each year.

The Umhlanga has received international scrutiny for a while now. From the nudity to virginity tests, there’s a lot that has come under question. While the officials of the country reject foreign interference, citing a half-baked knowledge of the customs of the country, many local leaders are leading the wave of change by outlawing virginity tests of girls younger than 16, as a relic of the past.

Umhlanga reed dance Day timeline

1968
The Spring of Independence

eSwatini gains independence from the British Empire and establishes itself as a unitary absolute monarch.

1991
A Cultural Reckoning

King Goodwill Zwelithini reintroduces the dance to reestablish old norms.

2005
A Dawn of Reforms

The country adopts a new constitution and abolishes the prevalent chastity rite of ‘umchwasho’ after decades of protests for structural reform.

2018
A Historic Name Change

On the eve of its 50th independence, the Kingdom of Swaziland renames itself the Kingdom of eSwatini.

Umhlanga reed dance Day FAQs

What is the purpose of the Umhlanga Reed Dance?

The Umhlanga Reed Dance binds the unmarried women of eSwatini in their pledge of purity and girlhood. It celebrates the intergenerational bond of the community.

Is Umhlanga Reed Dance Day open to foreigners?

Guests are welcome to watch the event. They are, however, not allowed to take photos and upload content related to the event on the Internet.

How is the date of Umhlanga decided?

The Reed Dance is held around the full moon. The exact date is decided by the elders of the community, not the government.

How to Observe Umhlanga reed dance Day

  1. Study the history

    eSwatini is the second smallest country on the continent, and its soil has borne witness to a tremendous history. The proud Swazi culture distinguishes itself for its food, religion, music, kinship, and architecture. From their language to their art, there’s a lot to explore about the people of this unique landlocked country.

  2. Plan a trip

    Tourism is one of the biggest contributions to the country’s economy. Mark the celebration by paying a special visit to the place during/after the festival, and gain first-hand experience of the diversified culture of eSwatini.

  3. Raise awareness

    H.I.V/AIDS is an epidemic in eSwatini, with more than 27% of the country’s youth with an active diagnosis. The emerging populace is looking for guidance and substantive care from the international community. Read and learn about the culture of the country, and raise awareness regarding the urgency of their needs.

5 Interesting Facts About ESwatini’s Reed Festival

  1. It’s a grooming ritual

    Young women are groomed by the elders of society to take pride in their virginity.

  2. It’s a cultural zeitgeist

    Thousands of girls wear traditional beadwork and come bare-breasted to express pride in their culture.

  3. It’s a symbol of unity

    Thousands of people from the neighboring regions of KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape, and Botswana come together to celebrate the festival.

  4. The message from the king

    The king addresses the crowd and encourages young girls to practice chastity until their marriage.

  5. The scientific support

    The festival raises awareness regarding the H.I.V./AIDS epidemic in the country, which claims over 2,300 lives a year.

Why Umhlanga reed dance Day is Important

  1. It’s a show of unity

    Umhlanga Reed Dance Day is a remarkable show of unity and commitment to Swazi culture. The celebration has an unfettered place in history. The young maidens are accompanied by the Swazi princess, and pledges are drawn out for mutual support and respect between the King and his subjects.

  2. It’s a symbol of progress

    Several reforms have been implemented to the way the event is carried out. From restrictions against virginity tests to the outlawing of the chastity pledge, the government and the monarchy continue to implement changes that reflect the will of the people.

  3. It’s a craft’s fair

    Hundreds of merchants and handloom workers congregate at the king’s palace to celebrate the festival and participate in the fair. The events mark the biggest economic activity in the country and are a great way for independent artists to showcase their craft to a large audience.

Umhlanga reed dance Day dates

YearDateDay
2022September 4Sunday
2023September 4Monday
2024September 2Monday
2025September 4Thursday
2026September 4Friday

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