The Reed Dance is a traditional opportunity for Swaziland’s maidens to pay tribute to the Queen Mother. Although the King has used the occasion to choose wives a few times, the ceremony is not about him primarily. The king’s own children partake in this event
In Swaziland, girls begin the rite by gathering at the Queen Mother’s royal village, which currently is Ludzidzini Royal Village. After arriving at the Queen Mother’s royal residence, the women disperse the following night to surrounding areas and cut tall reeds. The following night, they bundle the reeds together and bring them back to the Queen Mother to be used in repairing holes in the reed windscreen surrounding the royal village.
After a day of rest and washing, the women prepare their traditional costumes consisting of a bead necklace, rattling anklets made from cocoons, a sash, and skirt. Many of them carry the bush knives, which they had earlier used to cut the reeds, as symbols of their virginity.
The women sing and dance as they parade in front of the royal family as well as a crowd of dignitaries, spectators, and tourists. After the parade, groups from select villages take to the centre of the field and put on a special performance for the crowd. The King’s many daughters and royal princesses also participate in the reed dance ceremony and are distinguished by the crown of red feathers they wear in their hair.
The present form of the Reed Dance developed in the 1940s from the Umcwasho custom, where young girls were placed in age regiments to ensure their virginity. Once they had reached marriageable age, they would perform labour for the Queen Mother followed by dancing and a feast. The official purpose of the annual ceremony is to preserve the women’s chastity, provide tribute labour for the Queen Mother, and produce solidarity among the women through working together