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01 Sep 2009 08:16
Over 80 000 women and girls, some as young as four, participated in this year’s Reed Dance in Swaziland on Monday.
The women, known as imbali, came from every corner of the small Southern African country, with the government providing trucks to take them to the Royal Kraal in Ludzidzini.
The dance draws hundreds of tourists from South Africa and the West to view the imbali dance bare-chested in traditional costumes. Most carry a small animal hide shield and sticks.
Only childless, unmarried girls are allowed to take part.
Swaziland’s near-absolute monarch King Mswati III sometimes usesd the dance to select a new wife.
The ceremony aims to encourage young Swazi women to keep their virginity until they are considered old enough to be married.
Several of the imbali came from South Africa. Among them was nine-year old Khayisele Khulungwane of Rustenburg.
“I thought it was going to be a little bad but it wasn’t, it was fun, said Khayisele.
“I didn’t want to wear traditional clothes, I thought people would laugh, so I was only going to dance behind others. But my father told me I must do away with shyness.”
Khulungwane’s father Godfrey is proud of his daughter, saying “she goes to the best school in Rustenburg”.
“The way of living is different here. They have [the Reed Dance], and they have different kinds of cultural events,” he said.
Culture is a recurring theme in Swaziland. When many of the dancers are asked why they they answer: “Because it’s my culture.”
During the four-hour event, children sang songs which glorified Mswati and condemned his enemies.
“This land is your land our king, your enemies want to destroy you,” they sang.
Political parties have been officially banned in Swaziland since 1973, when Mswati’s father, Sobhuza II, threw out the system of constitutional monarchy negotiated by Britain, and became an absolute monarch.
The situation remained unchanged until 2004 when a new Constitution was promulgated. However, it was written without the input of much of civil society, including leading opposition group the People’s Democratic Movement (Pudemo) and many trade unions, such as the Swaziland Federation of Trade Unions (SFTU). - Sapa
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