, EZULWINI, Swaziland, Aug 30 – About 140,000 maidens from all over Swaziland on Monday took part in the country’s annual ritual to honour the Queen Mother of the Monarchy.
A tradition that has been carried out for centuries, the event known locally as Umhlanga or the Reed Dance is mainly used as an opportunity to encourage young girls to abstain from any sexual activity until they get married.
Capital News journalist Evelyn Njoroge is in Swaziland to witness the tourism spectacle.
In the past, the King of the Monarchy used the ceremony to choose a wife, a tradition which motivates girls such as 16year old Nomathemba Dupe to stay pure.
“This is the eighth time that I’m participating in our culture; I just like being around the King (Mswati III) and everything that goes with my culture and my tradition,” she says
Unlike Ms Dupe, there are first timers such as 12-year-old Tengetile Motsa and eight-year-old Nomiso Matse who despite getting into the dance at their age, intend to do it for the next decade or so.
Despite the peer pressure they get from their friends at school whom they say have already engaged in sex, the girls say they strive to preserve their virginity in order to make their parents proud of them.
“My mother says it is important for me to be a virgin and so I believe it (keeping her virginity) will not be hard for me,” says Ms Matse who also adds that participate in the dance enables her to get in touch with her roots.
According to the Swaziland law, when a girl reaches 16, she is legally allowed to get married but most parents feel their daughters are ready for marriage and the challenges that comes with it once they reach 21.
Held every August or end of September when the reeds have matured and can be harvested, the girls who include the King’s daughters and clad in traditional attires, gather at their various chiefdoms where they are advised on various aspects of life.
They are then expected to deliver the reeds, accompanied by four men who are appointed by the chiefs, to the Royal household where they are used as wind breakers for the Queen mother’s hut.
Although the ritual has been held for centuries, it has not stopped the HIV/AIDS pandemic from ravaging the country with estimates showing that above 40 percent of the 1.5million-people population are infected with the virus.
Nomathemba’s mother Nosimo Dupe however reckons that the virus is spreading fast because parents have abdicated their responsibility of advising their children according.
“We have adopted 98 percent of the Western cultures and discarded our traditions most of which guided us well on how to live and bring up our children,” she argues.
When it comes to raising upright children, Mrs Dupe argues that parents should stamp their authority and let children know what it is they can do and those that they should not do.
“The cultures are there just to guide us. As parents you have to be strict sometimes. Your children will initially think that you do not love them because you are being too hard on them but at the end they will understand that it is for their own good and they will later come to appreciate the role you played in their lives,” she says.
Mrs Dupe says it is time Africa revived most of its traditions that encourages communal work and disciplining of the children so avoid losing its future generations to diseases like AIDS and other social ills.