The Royal Reed Dance or better still know in the Zulu dialect as the Umkhosi woMhlanga is a popular festival ceremony for the Zulus in the Republic of South Africa, Swaziland and the Zulu people living in other parts of the southern Africa regions.
The interesting but very controversial festival comes of every year around mid-September and the festival attracts some 25,000 tourists across the globe to the Enyokeni Royal Palace in Nongoma which is located in the KwaZulu-Natal province in the northeastern part of the Republic of South Africa.
Nongoma is some 300 km north of the judicial capital Durban and also serves as the seat of the Nongoma Local Municipality in the province.
The festival was thought to have developed in the 1940s and 50s from the Umcwasho where young girls were placed in age regiments to ensure that their virginity is intact before they marry while some say the festival serves an opportunity for the Zulu king to choose a new wife from the many virgins who take part of the ceremony. But all these assertions about the genesis and purposes of the festival have not been verify and stand to be corrected.
As part of Swazi custom, King Mswati II, 45, is permitted to choose a new bride every year
Before the festival begins each year in South Africa, girls come from all parts of the Zululand including Swaziland, Botswana and Pondoland. Pondoland is a natural region on the South African shores of the Indian Ocean. It is located in the coastal belt of the Eastern Cape province
Swaziland also celebrates its version of the festival but the major one is celebrated in the Enyokeni Royal Palace, Nongoma, in the Republic of South Africa.
All the girls who come to the Enyokeni Royal Palace and want to participate in the ceremony are required by tradition to undergo a virginity test before they are allowed to participate in the royal dance. This is where the controversy surrounding the festival begins.
The first controversy has to do with how real virgins will be identified by the person who is suppose to test for the girls’ virginity coupled with protest from some clan heads of the Zulu tribe, claiming that that the virginity test tends to drive young girls from participating in the festival making it somehow problematic but notwithstanding on this, the virgin girls are selected for the festival.
The person to initiate the virgins is into the festival is the old Princess of the Zulu king, and she plays the lead role in the ceremony. The principal role of the princess is to teach the virgins how to behave when they start to date men, how to choose good husbands and how to treat their husbands when eventually they get married to them. She also teaches them how to maintain high standard of personal hygiene especially, around their pubic areas.
The virgin girls are known as “imbali” in the Zulu language and they are led to a river bud by the princess to cut a Reed (A Reed is a strong and long cane that grows around small rivers). The Reed cane is believed to be the symbol of the girls’ virginity.
The girls wear traditional attire known in the Zulu language as ‘izigege’ and ‘izinculuba’ which is some kind of short skirt that show their bottoms but their upper part including their breast is not covered. It is completely naked.
They also wear anklets, bracelets, necklaces, and colorful sashes. The sash has appendages of different color, and each color denote whether or not the girl is betrothed to a man or not.
Due to this semi nakedness of the girls, another controversy arises, various feminist activist groups have spoken vehemently against the festival as denigrating to womanhood as they claim including that it does not show decency and that some unscrupulous tourists ceased the opportunity to take pictures of the girls from close angle with high standard cameras and publish the pictures in pornographic websites.
The procession begins at the riverside and with the princess leading the delegation, they march straight to the Enyokeni Royal Palace where the Zulu king is seated on his royal thrones in a very colorful and well costumed African ornaments.
After the canes are handed to the king, the girls then took to dancing to show their success in the festival. They dance in front of the king and many dignitaries; some include government officials, foreign diplomats, special invited guests and many tourists who have trooped to the Enyokeni Royal Palace in Nongoma for this exciting festival.
The king then gives his blessing to the girls, congratulating them for keeping their virginity and some token of reward are presented to the girls to encourage up and coming young girls to also keep their virginity till marriage.
Anthropologists do not know how long this tradition will last. In recent years, the festival was surrounded by controversy. The practice was denounced by many feminist organizations who found the tradition denigrating to women. Also, by lack of an efficient organization, every year incidents occur, often girls being attacked or raped. Unfortunately, 2009 edition, a virgin was killed and 11 other were injured when in the suffocating crowd of girls panic and confusion struck.
A UK Newspaper, Dailymail.co.uk Publication on 19 May 2013 of a certain young woman, miss Tintswalo Ngobeni, 22, who fled to England from the southern African nation as a teenager after she caught the attention of the millionaire monarch, a notoriously oppressive ruler known for his lavish lifestyle.
Tintswalo Ngobeni & King Mswati III
She is currently seeking asylum in Britain after she spurned the advances of the polyamorous King Mswati III of Swaziland and refused to join his harem of 13 wives.
As part of Swazi custom, King Mswati III, 45, is permitted to choose a new bride every year.
Miss Ngobeni, who now lives in Birmingham, was just 15 when the King made his advances after seeing her at the palace of his fourth wife, LaNgangaza. She said she was ‘terrified’ when she learned of his marriage intentions.
She added: ‘He started calling me at boarding school. He would ask me if I wanted to be a part of the royal family. I had to keep quiet about my fears but I knew I didn’t want to get married to him and have a life devoted to the king.
‘His wives are kept in their palace, surrounded by bodyguards, and they can’t really go anywhere unless the king says so. The only thing they do is go to America once a year, as the king gives them a shopping allowance.’
Miss Ngobeni was forced to abandon a comfortable lifestyle in a private boarding school as her aunt, who was her chief guardian, arranged the escape to England to join her mother, who moved to Birmingham five years earlier, fleeing an abusive husband.
The father of 27 children, King Mswati III was a guest at the William and Kate wedding as well as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations last summer.
The king’s sixth wife escaped from the royal harem last year, citing years of ‘emotional and physical abuse’ by her husband.
They also dance for visiting Dignitaries such as South African President