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For the town north of Durban, see Umhlanga, KwaZulu-Natal.

Umhlanga, or Reed Dance ceremony, is an annual Swazi and Zulu cultural event.[1] In Swaziland, tens of thousands of unmarried and childless Swazi girls and women travel from the various chiefdoms to Ludzidzini to participate in the eight-day event.[2] Umhlanga was created in the 1940s in Swaziland under the rule of Sobhuza II. The ceremony was an adaptation of the umcwasho ceremony, an older cultural practice in Swaziland.[3]

The young umarried girls were placed in female age-regiments. Girls who fall pregnant outside marriage had their families fined a cow.[3] The reed dance continues to be practiced today in Swaziland. In South Africa, the reed dance was introduced in 1991 by the Zulu king Zwelithini. The dance here takes place in Nongoma, a royal kraal of the Zulu king.[4][5]

South Africa[edit]

Umkhosi woMhlanga in Nongoma, South Africa.

In South Africa, the ceremony Umkhosi woMhlanga takes place every year in September, at the Enyokeni Royal Palace in Nongoma, KwaZulu-Natal.[5] The girls come from all parts of Zululand, and in recent years there are also smaller groups from Swaziland, as well as more distant places such as Botswana and Pondoland.[6]

All girls are required to undergo a virginity test before they are allowed to participate in a royal dance.[5] In recent years the testing practice has been met with some opposition.[7]

The girls wear traditional attire, including beadwork, and ‘izigege’ and ‘izinculuba’ that show their bottoms.[8] They also wear anklets, bracelets, necklaces, and colourful sashes. Each sash has appendages of a different colour, which denote whether or not the girl is betrothed.[9]

As part of the ceremony, the young women dance bare-breasted for their king, and each carries a long reed, which is then deposited as they approach the king.[10] The girls take care to choose only the longest and strongest reeds, and then carry them towering above their heads in a slow procession, up the hill to the palace.[6] The procession is led by the chief Zulu princess, who takes a prominent role throughout the festival.[6] If the reed should break before the girl reaches that point, it is considered to signal that the girl has already been sexually active.[10]

The ceremony was reintroduced by King Goodwill Zwelethini in 1991, as a means to encourage young Zulu girls to delay sexual activity until marriage, and thus limiting the possibility of HIV transmission.[4] In 2007, about 30,000 girls took part to the event.[10] The organisers of the ceremony have occasionally enforced strict rules on photographers, as some of them have been accused of publishing the pictures on pornographic websites.[11]

In past years, the event was attended by the President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, and then Premier of KwaZulu-Natal, Zweli Mkhize.[12]


Princess Sikhanyiso dancing at umhlanga.
2006 The Reed dance in Lobamba, 2006.

In Swaziland the girls gather at the Queen Mother's royal village, which currently is Ludzidzini Royal Village.[1] After arriving at the Queen Mother's royal residence, the women disperse the following night to surrounding areas and cut tall reeds. The following night they bundle them together and bring them back to the Queen Mother to be used in repairing holes in the reed windscreen surrounding the royal village.

After a day of rest and washing the women prepare their traditional costumes consisting of a bead necklace, rattling anklets made from cocoons, a sash, and skirt. Many of them carry the bush knife they used to cut the reeds as a symbol of their virginity.

Today's Reed Dance ceremony developed in the 1940s from the Umcwasho custom where young girls were placed in age regiments to ensure their virginity.[13] Once they reached the age of marriage they would perform labor for the Queen Mother followed by dancing and a feast. The official purpose of the annual ceremony is to preserve the women's chastity, provide tribute labour for the Queen Mother, and produce solidarity among the women through working together.[3]

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 centre of the field and put on a special performance for the crowd. The King's many daughters and royal princesses also participate in the reed dance ceremony and are distinguished by the crown of red feathers in their hair.


  1. ^ a b Patricks, Richard M. (July 2000). "Cultural Resources - Swazi Culture - The Umhlanga or Reed Dance". SNTC website. Swaziland National Trust Commission. Retrieved 2009-10-04. 
  2. ^ "Umhlanga / Reed Dance". STA website. Swaziland Tourism Authority. Retrieved 2009-10-04. 
  3. ^ a b c SNTC. "Swazi Culture The Umhlanga or Reed Dance". Swazi National Trust Commission. Retrieved 15 August 2014. 
  4. ^ a b McNeill, Fraser G. (2011). AIDS, Politics, and Music in South Africa. Cambridge University Press. p. 27. ISBN 978-1-139-49959-0. Retrieved 2013-08-21. 
  5. ^ a b c Milena Ivanovic (2008). Cultural Tourism. Juta and Company Ltd. p. 155. ISBN 978-0-7021-7185-7. Retrieved 2013-08-21. 
  6. ^ a b c "Nongoma". Zululand Tourism. Retrieved 20 August 2013. 
  7. ^ "The Zulu Reed Dance - A Celebration of Purity". Howzit MSN News. Retrieved 20 August 2013. 
  8. ^ "Zulu Reed Dance". Eshowe. Retrieved 20 August 2013. 
  9. ^ "Dance History And Theory". Gauteng Province Education. Retrieved 21 August 2013. 
  10. ^ a b c Steven Dubin (2013-01-07). Spearheading Debate: Culture Wars & Uneasy Truces. Jacana Media. p. 61. ISBN 978-1-4314-0737-8. Retrieved 2013-08-21. 
  11. ^ "Goodwill says virginity testing here to stay". Sowetan LIVE. Retrieved 20 August 2013. 
  12. ^ "Trees planted at Reed Dance". The Witness. Retrieved 20 August 2013. 
  13. ^ "Umcwasho maidens 1895". Swaziland Digital Archives. Swaziland National Trust Commission. Retrieved 2009-10-18. 

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Umhlanga_(ceremony) — Please support Wikipedia.
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32 news items

National Geographic

National Geographic
Fri, 03 Oct 2014 06:21:06 -0700

It is the last Sunday in August, the penultimate day of Swaziland's week-long Umhlanga ceremony, or Reed Dance, an annual event in which girls from the age of five to their early twenties—known as maidens—gather at the Swazi royal residence in ...
The Swazi Observer
Sat, 20 Sep 2014 18:07:30 -0700

image His Majesty King Mswati III appreciating the Imbali regiment during the Shiselweni Region Umhlanga ceremony yesterday. The ceremony continues today which will mark the end of the reed dance ceremony for the year. (Pics: Simon Shabangu).
The Swazi Observer
Tue, 19 Aug 2014 18:07:30 -0700

ALL girls from Mbilaneni who will partake in the forthcoming Umhlanga ceremony will undergo a screening process before getting the go-ahead to trek to Ludzidzini. The screening is to ensure whether a maiden is fit enough to be part of the national ...

E! Online

E! Online
Tue, 04 Nov 2014 17:02:04 -0800

Noted for leading an opulent lifestyle, the King also practices polygamy and has 15 wives—he's made a habit out of selecting a new wife every year during his country's annual Umhlanga Ceremony (aka Reed Dance). The King has 13 royal palaces, owns a ...
The Swazi Observer
Tue, 26 Aug 2014 17:56:15 -0700

image FINALLY: Imbali upon arrival at Ludzidzini Royal Residence yesterday, marking the beginning of the Umhlanga Ceremony. Libutfo libulala inyoka lonyaka. This shows that the maidens heard the announcement that His Majesty King Mswati III had ...
The Swazi Observer
Wed, 18 Jun 2014 12:30:00 -0700

YOUNG maidens from Nkwene have revealed how police once pounced on the suspect serial 'killer' during last year's Umhlanga ceremony. Mpendulo Msibi was amongst those who led Imbali from Ekujabuleni during the reed dance. In an interview with ...
The Swazi Observer
Tue, 17 Jun 2014 17:56:15 -0700

IN one of the timely revelations, suspect serial killer Mpendulo Msibi is said to have led Imbali during the umhlanga ceremony. Imbali from Emhlohlweni revealed that Msibi was one of their leaders when they attended the ceremony last year and the ...
Times of Swaziland
Tue, 27 Aug 2013 20:11:15 -0700

MBABANE – The annual Umhlanga ceremony began in earnest as 50 000 maidens yesterday registered to participate. The acting Imbali Overseer, Hlangabeza Mdluli, said maidens had come in numbers following His Majesty King Mswati III's call to attend ...

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