Umhlanga Reed Dance

The Umhlanga Reed Dance is one of the best-known cultural events that take place in Swaziland-or officially the Kingdom Of Eswatini. This holiday takes place during the end of August or the beginning of September, depending on the year and lasts for over a week. Tens of thousands of thousands of girls take part in this festival, all of them attired in bright clothing and present freshly-cut reeds to the Queen Mother to ostensibly repair the windbreak around her royal palace. Afterward, there’s a big celebratory dance.

The History Of The Umhlanga Reed Dance

This holiday was first created in the 1940s while Eswatini was under the rule of Sobhuza II. It’s a festival that was adapted from a much older festival known as Umchwasho. Umchwasho was a traditional chastity rite that was common in Swaziland. During the course of Umchwasho, unmarried women had to wear tassels made of wool and worn around the neck. These women couldn’t have sexual relations through the ceremony.

Facts About Eswatini

Since we’re talking about a festival that’s observed in the Kingdom Of Eswatini, we thought it would be a good idea to list some facts about this country. Facts that will hopefully place the Umhlanga Reed Festival in its proper context.

  • Eswatini is one of the last absolute monarchies in Africa and the world for that matter.
  • The second-largest monolith in the world is at Sibebe Rock in Eswatini.
  • Eswatini is home to over 130 different mammal species, 500 species of birds, 111 species of amphibians and reptiles, and over 3,500 different indigenous flora.
  • In 2020, King Mswati III had 15 wives.

Observing The Umhlanga Reed Dance Festival

As we stated earlier, this festival just doesn’t occur on a single day but is observed over an 8-day period. On the first day, girls from all over Eswatini gather at the Queen Mother’s royal village. They arrive from one of the hundreds of chiefdoms and when they enter the village they’re registered for security.

On the second day, the girls are separated into two groups. A group of girls age 8 to 13-years old and a group that contains girls 14-22 years old. In the afternoon, they march (or are sometimes transported) to the reed field-accompanied by their supervisors.

During the third day, the girls cut approximately 10-20 reeds using long knives and tie them into a bundle. The following day, the girls return to the Queen Mother’s village while carrying their reed bundles.

On the fifth day, the girls take a day of rest to make final preparations for their costumes and their hair. On the sixth day, the girls drop their reeds outside the Queen Mother’s quarters. After they’re done, they then go to the arena and dance. The dancing will continue until the seventh day, the King is present.

On the eighth and final day, the King commands that cattle be slaughtered in honor of the girls. When that’s been done, the meat is distributed to all of the girls and they return home.

Where is it celebrated?
Eswatini (Public holiday)
When is it?
This year (2023)
September 4 Monday
Next year (2024)
September 2 Monday
Last year (2022)
September 5 Monday