10 Reasons to attend the Swaziland Reed Dance Festival

Swaziland Reed Dance Festival

The Swaziland Reed Dance Festival, also known as the Umhlanga Festival, is a captivating and vibrant celebration of tradition and culture in the Kingdom of Eswatini. This annual event holds deep historical and cultural significance for the Swazi people, dating back centuries. The festival brings together thousands of participants, both locals and visitors, to honour and showcase the rich heritage of Eswatini. From the gathering of reeds to the grand procession and traditional dances by young woman from all over the country, the Reed Dance Festival offers a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in the customs and rituals of this enchanting kingdom.

Here are 10 compelling reasons why you should make attending the Swaziland Reed Dance Festival a priority on your cultural bucket list:

1. Preparations leading up to the Swaziland Reed Dance Festival

The Swaziland Reed Dance Festival is an extraordinary eight-day celebration where young girls skill-fully cut reeds and offer them to the Queen Mother as a symbolic act of repairing the windbreak around her royal residence.

Swaziland Reed Dance Festival
Reed dancers on their way to drop their reeds outside the Queen Mother’s quarters in Lobamba. Image credit: Deidre Schoeman.

The proper festivities kick off on day six, when dancing gets under way in the afternoon. Each group drops their reeds outside the Queen Mother’s quarters in the Lobamba area, next to the Ezulwini Valley, then moves to the main arena in Ludzidzini.

Swaziland Reed Dancers
Young dancers getting ready for the afternoon festivities at the Reed Dance Festival. Image credit: Deidre Schoeman

2.  A celebration of traditional dance and music

Little can prepare you for the sheer scale of the pageantry, with column upon column of girls advancing across the parade grounds where they dance and sing their songs – a dazzling celebration showcasing the strength, resilience, and talent of young women.

The dancing continues on day seven, when the king is present.

3. A vibrant display of traditional colours, costumes and adornments

The Swaziland Reed Dance Festival is an absolute feast for the eyes where traditional colours, costumes and adornments take centre stage. Witness a visual spectacle of vibrant colours, intricate costumes embellished with beads, feathers, and mesmerising patterns. Every individual becomes a living canvas, proudly displaying their cultural heritage and embracing the richness of Swazi culture.

Reed Dance Festival Costumes
Every individual becomes a living canvas, proudly displaying their cultural heritage and embracing the richness of Swazi culture. Image credit: Deidre Schoeman.

4. Local crafts, food and market stalls

Take a stroll through the festival grounds, and you’ll find yourself immersed in a world of creativity and craftsmanship. Local artisans showcase their skills, offering a variety of unique and intricate handmade products. From intricately woven baskets, traditional clothes and colorful beadwork to beautifully carved wooden sculptures, there’s something for everyone. These crafts are not just souveniers; they are tangible pieces of Swazi culture, representing the passion and talent of the local artisans. From the hearty staple dish called “Sishwala” to the succulent grilled meat known as Braai, there’s a feast waiting to be devoured. Visitors are also encouraged to bring their own picnic baskets into the stadium as long as they pass through the vigilant security checks at the entrance gates. It’s a wonderful opportunity to relish good food and create lasting memories in a safe and secure environment.

swazi colours
Swazi wrap-arounds at a stall. Image credit: Deidre Schoeman.

5. Bonding with the friendly Swazi locals

Immerse yourself in the true essence of hospitality as you engage with the friendly locals of Swaziland. Whether it’s the customs, the festival grounds’ security police, or even the Royal Family members participating in the Reed Dance, these individuals exude warmth and a genuine welcoming spirit. They embody a sense of tranquility and are deeply passionate about sharing their rich culture with others.

Swaziland Reed Festival
Zaritha van Wyngaardt and Deidre Schoeman enjoying the festival with locals. Image credit: Kim Paffen.

6. Arrival of the King and Dignitaries

Picture this: a majestic parade, fit for royalty.

What a truly remarkable moment it is when King Mswati III and his warriors grace the field, weaving through the singing and dancing girls. The energy on the field is simply captivating! It’s awe-inspiring to witness the girls unleashing their passion and determination, while the crowd in the pavilion is engulfed in the electric atmosphere. Each person eagerly anticipates catching a glimpse of the royal entourage. This is a moment that resonates with tradition, pride, and an overwhelming sense of anticipation.

7. Off-site explorations with a local guide

As the Reed Dance celebrations take place in the afternoon, we suggest booking a local guide for a half-day self-driving tour. This will allow you to explore a quick Mbabane Inner City Tour, visit Sibebe Rock (the largest exposed granite rock in the world), and experience a homestead visit at a local village just a stone’s throw away from Mbabane.

Sibebe Rock Swaziland
Zaritha van Wyngaardt at Sibebe Rock. Image credit: Deidre Schoeman.

Watch our YouTube short on the homestead visit below.

We highly recommend using Thumi for a half-day tour. He is a professional with extensive knowledge about the history and culture of Swaziland. To top it off, he is simply a genuinely nice person.

Also read wildlife photographer, Kim Paffen’s article on 18 Best things to do in eSwatini (Swaziland).

8. Excellent accommodation options

Swaziland’s accommodation options are as diverse as its landscapes, catering to every budget and preference. Whether you seek adventure or tranquillity, luxury or simplicity, rest assured that Swaziland has it all.

House Damicha in Swaziland
House Damicha, highly recommended as a self-catering option in Ezulwini, Swaziland. Image credit: Deidre Schoeman.

9. Stay connected with your loved ones back home

While most restaurants and accommodations are equipped with WiFi, based on our experience and the locals’ recommendations, Swazi Mobile is the best option for visitors. Swazi Mobile can be conveniently purchased at pop-up stores located on every street corner and in shopping centres.

ethiopian coffee swaziland
Ethiopian coffee and Wi-Fi at Queen of Sheba Restaurant in Ezulwini. Image credit: Deidre Schoeman.

10. Swazi customs at the border is a blissful experience

Experiencing Swazi customs at the Oshoek border from South Africa is truly a blissful experience. The staff is incredibly friendly and welcoming. If you’re driving, make sure to have the following vehicle papers readily available:

  • Original vehicle registration papers
  • Vehicle license papers-
  • Third-party insurance

Click here for updated information on the vehicle documents required to enter Swaziland from South Africa, please read here.

Debunking the Reed Dance Festival Myth:

Does the King select a young maiden to marry at every year’s festival?

No.

Conclusion:

Visiting the Swaziland Reed Dance Festival was a definite 2023 highlight and we highly recommend this festival on your bucket list.

Additional events and festivals to look forward to in Swaziland include the following:

MTN Bushfire: Swaziland’s biggest musician arts festival and Africa’s answer to the Glastonbury Festival.
Luju Food & Lifestyle Festival: A celebration of taste, sounds, sight and aromas of Swaziland.
Inyatsi Swazi Frontier: An internationally recognised MTB stage race held annually in North West Swaziland.
Incwala Festival: Swaziland’s mort important ritual festival that hundreds of years old.
Swazi Rally: A very popular biking and car stunt show which draws participants and spectators worldwide.
Marula Festival: Marking the harvest of the Marula fruit, this lengthy festival is full of cheer and celebration.

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The Obvious Choice
Zaritha van Wyngaardt. Owner and Founder of The Obvious Choice.

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