About 90% of the population are indigenous Swazi people. They have managed to retain their culture and have an air of sophistication.
You will often see Swazi people dressed in the colorful national dress known as ‘mahiya’, often accessories with a shield and spear. In fact, Swazi businessmen are often seen dressed in the traditional a mahiya robe, with a spear in one hand and a briefcase in the other. This image serves as a powerful illustration of how the Swazi culture has managed to guard itself against aggressive modernization.
The remainder of the population are made up of Zulu, Tsongo-Shangaan and European people.
The Swazi people have a dual monarchy approach in that there is a queen mother and a king who rule in unison. The succession to the throne is not hereditary. Following the king’s death the royal council chooses a queen mother from the king’s wives, based mainly on her status. She will often rule until her son is old enough to do so.
When the popular King Sobhuza II died he left behind 120 official wives (the unofficial count is double). Polygamy is still practiced, but largely on the decline. This has more to do with the cost of such an endeavor to the potential husband, than with growing awareness of aids. Nearly two-fifths of the adult population is HIV infected.
One of the two major festivals still celebrated is the Reed Dance or ‘Umhlanga’. Every August the king gets a chance to add to his ever-growing number of wives at this traditional dance.
All the young virgins perform in front of the queen and from amongst them the king chooses his next wife – an honor the girl cannot refuse although it is by free choice that the maidens attend the reed dance. The dance is testament to how proud a nation the Swazi people are, and how willingly they serve an absolute monarchy.
The most sacred Swazi ceremony is the Ncwala, or first fruit ceremony. The ceremony is held in December or January, depending on the moon. It involves a collection of plants from the Lebombo Mountains, water from the rivers and sea water from the ocean of Moĉambique, by bemanti (educated men).
On the night of full moon young men harvest the Lusekwane (acacia plants) and make their way to the Royal Kraal at Lobambo. According to tradition, if the leaves on the branches wilt, it is a sign that the young man has been intimate with a maiden or married woman.
These branches are used to build a kraal. On the third day, a bull is sacrificed and the regiment heads gather together. The king comes out of retreat and dances before his people in ceremonial dress. He then eats the first fruits and vegetables of the season. It is forbidden for anyone to taste these before the king has sampled them at this ceremony.
Two days later, everything from the ceremony is burnt. The rains are expected to start falling after this.