Partying Swazi princess casts pall over reed dance

A drinking and dancing celebration by the king’s daughter shocked a Swazi traditionalist enough for him to deliver a spanking to the teenage princess, and cast a pall over Swaziland’s annual royal bride-choosing rites.

Royal officials had tried to keep word of Princess Sikhanyiso’s party quiet, but acknowledged late on Monday that it had occurred on Friday, and Swazi papers reported the story for the first time on Tuesday.

The kingdom’s annual reed dance, featuring 20 000 girls in beads and traditional skirts, ended late on Monday with no public indication of whether King Mswati III had chosen a bride from among any of the dancers.

Royal officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue is considered sensitive, said on Tuesday the king had privately chosen three potential brides and might unveil one at a ceremony in southern Swaziland this weekend.

According to tradition, the king is meant to select a bride at the reed dance, the culmination of a rite of spring at which girls gather reeds to build a wind break for the queen mother. But in recent years, the king has increasingly made his choice in private, after a thorough screening by palace aides and his mother.

Days before this year’s reed dance, the king announced he was ending a ritual banning sexual relations for girls younger than 18 and symbolised by the wearing of woolen tassels.
The king revived the ancient umchwasho rite to fight Aids, which is at crisis levels in Swaziland, but ended the rite a year earlier than scheduled because it was ridiculed as old-fashioned and unfairly focused on girls.

His eldest daughter Princess Sikhanyiso, a 17-year-old who was rarely seen in the umchwasho tassels herself, threw Friday’s party with loud music and alcoholic drinks to celebrate the end of the chastity rite.

“We were so shocked that the girls decided to turn the reed-dance ceremony into a drinking and dancing spree,” Ntsonjeni Dlamini, who is in charge of overseeing traditional affairs, said on Monday.

Dlamini said he was compelled by tradition to beat the celebrating girls—including the king’s daughter—with a stick.

“I was so surprised to see Princess Sikhanyiso drinking and dancing when I expected her to lead by example by respecting herself as a leader,” said one of the girls involved, Nonhlanhla Dlamini, who is not related to Ntsonjeni Dlamini.

The king and his family are no strangers to controversy.

Princess Sikhanyiso has raised eyebrows in this conservative kingdom by wearing Western-style skirts and jeans. Her father has come under international pressure for resisting reforms to introduce more democracy in the country. His lavish lifestyle, including indulging a love of top-of-the range cars, contrasts with the absolute poverty of most of his subjects.

The Aids crisis has compounded the poverty, with estimates that about 40% of the country’s one million people are infected with the HIV virus.

According to Swazi tradition, the king is always meant to have a bride in waiting. He can only marry her when she is pregnant.

Mswati’s late father, King Sobhuza II, who led the country to independence from Britain in 1968, had more than 70 wives.—Sapa-AP

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