The Umhlanga Reed Dance is a traditional dance and ceremony where up to 40,000 Swazi maidens gather and dance for the Queen Mother.
This Swazi cultural event is performed as a tribute to the Royal Family and dates back centuries in time. Taking place over a week, normally the last in August, it is largely private, however its final two public days are a spectacle that is unrivalled in Africa today. Thousands upon thousands of maidens dress up in brightly coloured attire and sing, dance together as they deliver the reed or umlanga to the Royal Residence. Their enjoyment of this ceremony is quite apparent as they use the opportunity of bonding with girls of similar ages from across the country.
As the maidens dance, warriors and other spectators often join the dance kugiya or throw money at their feet in appreciation of their skill. The King sometimes makes use of the occasion to publically introduce and court a prospective fiancee or Liphovela. This young woman will be given a dominant position amongst the dancing princesses. Unfortunately this particular feature often distorts media coverage of the event, which becomes obsessed with the polygamous nature of traditional Swazi society.
However, a traveller lucky enough to witness this event will appreciate its special purpose in bonding the nation, installing good morals (virginity is essential for attendance) and allowing rural girls to travel outside of their home areas. It is a massive logistical mission for the Swazi government, with food, water, transport and security concerns growing with each year, but Swaziland without Umhlanga is just not Swaziland.