Sawubona! — It was with this salutation that Sibusiso greeted us at the entrance of the Mantenga Swazi Cultural Village. Sibusiso is a young Swazi man. Like many others, he speaks English quite well but is proud of his native language, siSwati, language that he uses in his daily communication with his people. As a tourist guide, he also uses siSwati expressions that convey words or concepts that are part of his culture and tradition and impossible to translate into English.
Sibusiso guides us through a group of huts made out of mud and covered with grass. His intention is to show the way Swazis still live nowadays. Swazis are a peaceful people, established in a well-defined territory, between Mozambique, to the East and South Africa to the North, West and South.
Most tourists come to Swaziland to admire the beauty of the scenic view and landscapes, but also to enjoy the wildlife in game reserves and wildlife sanctuaries. Others come to get acquainted with authentic African tradition, strongly alive in the core of the Swazi people who have been keen in transporting it throughout the generations.
Swaziland is the only remaining absolute monarchy in Africa. This monarchy retains ancient traditions once common in other parts of the African continent but extinct long ago. In Swaziland, traditional ceremonies are real and have been surviving over progress remaining part of the Swazi way of living.
As Sibusiso guides us through distinct areas of the cultural village, he explains the traditions of his people. These traditions go beyond the King’s circle and enrich many aspects of modern life too. For example, Incwala is a ceremony where warriors dress in war costumes made out of skins and feathers and show off their bows and arrows, it is a celebration of power and pride of the African men. Umhlanga or Reed Dance is another celebration that gathers hundreds of young virgins who bring reeds to the residence of the Queen Mother. In this event, they dance bare-breasted for the King. Traditionally, the King can choose one of these virgins to become a princess. These ceremonies have remained intact for centuries.
The duality between old and modern, African and western, is one of the most fascinating but also controversial of the Swazi people. Simple daily life reflects the contrast between solemnity and ritualism in a unique blend of tradition the modern rediscovery of ancient rituals. Traditional weddings are celebrated along with more modern and westernised celebrations. Funerals have both a ritual and a Christian celebration. Duality extends itself to power and government itself. Ministers always belong to the King’s tribe, the Dlamini, and many political relations inside government are marked by lineage and fidelity. Tradition and King are both connected to the people and there is no reference to one without the other. Current young king Mswati III is an honoured figure by Swazis and in all stores and public offices, his photo is displayed as a sign of loyalty and respect.
Our guided visit continues. We meet, on one side a group of men, all dressed in traditional costumes. They are fixing and repairing the village’s huts. On the other side, a group of women are sitting on a mat made out of grass, they sculpt the hair of a young girl in a laborious and time-consuming but marvellous work of art with colourful beads. Further along the way, a young man throws a fist of grains to some chicken and goats roaming around. A group of small vervet monkeys sees the food and surreptitiously tries to steal it and run away. The same instinct arises in us when we see and smell an appetising strikingly appealing chicken barbeque which a group of young men are preparing.
In the evening, as often happens in hot lands, there is dancing. We attend the performance of traditional dances presented by a group of energetic and athletic young men and women, with plenty of vigour and rhythm to the sound of whistles and drums.
At the end of our visit, we have the feeling of experiencing how it would be to live more than a century ago in a small village in Southern Africa. We bid our Swazi guide Sibusiso goodbye. A native language word is always appreciated by Swazi people, and greetings are a very special mirror of Swazi good manners, so we follow the etiquette by saying…“Hamba Kahle!”, that means, “Stay well!”