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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] though 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 Reed dance in Lobamba

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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7 news items

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
Sun, 24 Aug 2014 17:56:15 -0700

Magagula, who addressed issues pertinent to safety and security during the Umhlanga Ceremony and International Trade Fair, said members of the police service would be highly vigilant on the roads ensuring that behaviour of road users was in compliance ...
The Swazi Observer
Fri, 22 Aug 2014 17:56:15 -0700

The Republic of China on Taiwan has donated E3 million towards the Umhlanga ceremony. This was during a presentation at the Ludzidzini royal residence yesterday. Those who made presentations on the day were MTN Swaziland, who donated E400 000 ...
The Swazi Observer
Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:56:15 -0700

MINISTER of Tourism and Environmental Affairs Jabulani Mabuza has implored Swazis to extend a warm welcome to international visitors who will tour the country during the Umhlanga ceremony/Trade Fair period. Mabuza said Swaziland was renowned for ...
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 ...
Times of Swaziland
Tue, 26 Aug 2014 19:26:15 -0700

Last year, Msibi, who is facing nine counts of murder in that he allegedly killed young girls ranging between 12 and 24 years in age, is said to have been questioned by police during last year's Umhlanga ceremony. Maidens. He had escorted the area's ...
The Swazi Observer
Sat, 30 Aug 2014 18:07:30 -0700

With our Umhlanga ceremony tomorrow, we have a lot of tourists wanting to buy our traditional attire, can the banks help the street vendors to have swiping machines please! The tourists don't carry cash and I promise you with this innocent looking ...

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