A Glimpse into Swazi Traditional Living

Swazi traditional dancing

The first thing that became very apparent to me about Swazi traditional living was that these guys know how to dance! I mean really dance.

We’re talking about high kicks that went well over their heads, hip shimmying, you name it. They’ve got the moves.
Swazi traditional dancing - Swaziland At the Mantenga Cultural Village, visitors can view traditional dance performances several times a day.  Each dance tells a story and has a meaning.  One of Swaziland’s most famous dances is the Umhlanga, or Reed dance.  It’s performed in late August/early September each year by young single women.  The purpose of the dance is to pay respect to the Queen Mother, but it is also a favorite among local men as our guide Michael explained to us – in part perhaps because of the short beaded skirts worn by the dancers.
Swazi traditional dancer - Swaziland

Most of Swaziland’s festivals involve traditional dancing and locals tell me they’re not to be missed.

school children watching swazi traditional dancing in SwazilandMantenga Cultural Village is not only for tourists.  There was a school group of local children who sat in front of us.  One of the boys was more interested in checking out J.P. my husband who is 6’4″ (198 cm) than he was in watching the performance.  I found them equally fascinating as a few of the children shyly waved hello to me and smiled when I waved back in return.

trying my hand at Swazi traditional dancing -Swaziland

I SO do NOT have all the right moves for Swazi traditional dancing.

Less fascinating for me, but very entertaining for J.P. was when I got brought up on stage to try traditional Swazi dancing.  I quickly got the hang of the few simple steps demonstrated to me, but I definitely did not have the Swazi rhythm and felt very awkward among all the graceful dancers who were seemingly born with rhythm running through their veins.  Fortunately, J.P. couldn’t figure out the video camera, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.  Believe me I was EVEN WORSE than I looked.
Swazi traditional village in Swaziland Next up was tour of a traditional Swazi village with 16 huts showing how Swazi’s lived in the 1850s.  Each family lived in a hut made of local materials.  Swazi communities are very tight-knit, in part given the close quarters living conditions.  Swazi men were traditionally and still allowed multiple wives.  Fortunately each wife had her own hut.  Perhaps given the multiple wives it should come as no surprise that each man also had his own hut – in case he needed to be on his own and think explained our guide.  Given the headaches that I give my husband who has just one wife, I can imagine, Swazi men must have a lot to think about.

I left the Mantenga Cultural Village admiring how integrated dance was and still is into the Swazi culture.  When I think back on the “big moments” in my life, the only one that involved dance was my wedding dance.  I don’t think I’ll ever have the moves and grace of a Swazi dancer, but I’m working on my rhythm…at Zumba class.

Know Before You Go to Mantenga Cultural Village in Swaziland

  • Mantenga Cultural Village is open from 8:00 – 5:00 everyday
  • The Swazi traditional dance performances are held at 11:15 and 3:15 everyday.
  • You may find yourself on stage – you’ve been forewarned.
  • There is also a lovely restaurant on-site.  If you sit outdoors, do not leave your food for a second, or you find it in the mouth of a hungry monkey!  (Monkey photos coming).
  • Sibane Hotel is conveniently located nearby and is the nicest hotel I stayed in during my time in Swaziland.
  • You may also want to check out the Malolotja Canopy Tour and Hlane Royal Park, both in Swaziland.
  • See Swazi Cultural Village homepage for further info.

Thank you to the Kingdom of Swaziland Tourism for providing me with a royal experience.

Comments

  1. says

    I love the top photo. When I was in Uganda a few years ago I was SO SCARED that I would be called up on stage to dance with these orphan kids that also had all the right moves. Fortunately it was just a speech I had to make. My son also told me I need to take a year of dance lessons if I’m planning to attend his wedding – whenever that might be. Yes I am that bad.

  2. says

    Reminds me of the time I was picked to dance with the Zulus in Durban. I love to dance but watching people and trying to duplicate their moves always make me feel like I have two left feet.
    Swaziland’s on my list for the next time I visit So. Africa.

    • says

      @InsideJourneys – Yeah, someone else that was pulled up to dance! I definitely have 2 left feet when it comes to Swazi dancing. Highly recommend a visit to Swaziland, I loved it.

  3. says

    This is such a lovely post. I love your photos and the short video. I’ve seen Zulu dancing countless times but I don’t think I’ve seen Swazi dancing before.
    I had no idea Umhlanga is a Swazi word, I thought it was Zulu. I’ve haven’t been to Swaziland yet but posts like this make me realise there is still so much to see in Southern Africa.

    • says

      @Emm – Thank you for your kind words. It was my first time seeing Swazi dancing as well. It also made me realize how much there is to explore in Africa.

  4. says

    Thanks Laurel for this post and sharing your experience. A must visit and on my todos. Will love to part-take in the Reed dance and I am sure will be crap on my moves too. Its important to see the anthropological richness of a place and you have very correctly pointed out on your post :)

  5. says

    Here I was, reading your post and thinking about what an interesting insight it was into the culture of the Swazi people… and then you had to go and compare it to Zumba!!! :)

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