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.

Laurel Robbins is the founder of Monkeys and Mountains, an adventure travel blog and company that helps people plan their active holidays in a sustainable way. Although Canadian, she lives in Germany. You can find her in the mountains on most weekends.
2013-06-03T13:23:50+00:00

31 Comments

  1. Sand in my Suitcase November 9, 2012 at 3:42 pm - Reply

    Very interesting post on Swazi culture! (Looking forward now to your monkey photos 🙂

    • Laurel November 9, 2012 at 6:59 pm - Reply

      @SandInMySuitecase – Thanks. The monkey photos are pretty cute, funny how if you take 300 of them, a couple of them will turn out 🙂

    • Laurel November 20, 2012 at 10:02 am - Reply

      @Sand in my Suitcase – The monkey photos are coming 🙂

  2. Leigh November 9, 2012 at 5:49 pm - Reply

    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.

    • Laurel November 9, 2012 at 6:58 pm - Reply

      @Leigh – Haha, that would make two of us then 🙂

    • Laurel November 20, 2012 at 10:02 am - Reply

      @Leigh – Haha, glad you were spared the humiliation and you and me both 🙂

  3. Zhu November 10, 2012 at 2:48 am - Reply

    Fascinating! I heard about their culture and I find the people so beautiful… I need to visit Africa!

    • Laurel November 20, 2012 at 9:59 am - Reply

      @Zhu – Yes you do 🙂

  4. InsideJourneys November 11, 2012 at 4:18 am - Reply

    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.

    • Laurel November 20, 2012 at 9:57 am - Reply

      @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.

  5. Emm in London November 12, 2012 at 12:21 pm - Reply

    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.

    • Laurel November 20, 2012 at 9:54 am - Reply

      @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.

  6. Muza-chan November 13, 2012 at 4:38 pm - Reply

    Great photos 🙂

  7. Jennifer November 14, 2012 at 12:56 am - Reply

    What an amazing s experience to visit these villages and get d glimpse into their culture!

    • Laurel November 20, 2012 at 9:48 am - Reply

      @jennifer – I loved it, especially since every dance/song has a special meaning to it.

  8. D.J. - The World of Deej November 14, 2012 at 2:16 am - Reply

    Awesome experience. Of course, I have zero rhythm so this would be tough for me:)

    • Laurel November 20, 2012 at 9:48 am - Reply

      @D.J. – You and me both 🙂

  9. Natasha von Geldern November 15, 2012 at 1:46 am - Reply

    I wasn’t sure about going to this cultural village but ended up really enjoying it. The dancing was so impressive and the music so infectious it was impossible not to!

    • Laurel November 20, 2012 at 9:47 am - Reply

      @Natasha – Great to hear from someone else who has been. Glad you enjoyed it!

  10. Andrea November 16, 2012 at 1:17 pm - Reply

    Awesome post and great photos! This looks like so much fun

  11. Vicky November 18, 2012 at 10:11 pm - Reply

    Wow, sounds like you had an amazing experience Laurel 🙂 Great, vibrant pics too…

    • Laurel November 20, 2012 at 9:43 am - Reply

      @Vicky – I did, I love Swaziland so much, especially the people!

  12. Ali November 19, 2012 at 3:02 pm - Reply

    Sounds really interesting! I would’ve hated being pulled up on stage though, I do NOT dance!

    • Laurel November 20, 2012 at 9:41 am - Reply

      @Ali – I love it, but turns out I can’t dance either 🙂

  13. Abhishek Behl (Wild Navigator) November 20, 2012 at 7:45 pm - Reply

    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 🙂

    • Laurel November 22, 2012 at 5:40 pm - Reply

      @Abhishek – I’m sure your dance moves would be better than mine :). Thank you for your kind words.

  14. Abby November 25, 2012 at 1:13 pm - Reply

    You look so beautiful, dancing with them! I bet you found moves you never knew you had lol.

    • Laurel November 27, 2012 at 3:26 pm - Reply

      @Abby – You are WAY to kind, unfortunately I realized that I had no moves, but it was still fun, anyway.

  15. Turtle November 26, 2012 at 7:47 am - Reply

    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!!! 🙂

    • Laurel November 27, 2012 at 3:24 pm - Reply

      @Michael – Well Zumba was my cultural reference 🙂

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