Reilly on the Road travel blog

Ready for Ncwala - the Swazi New Year festival

Dad...You're always embarrassing us (So much for black socks with sandals!)

Cooling off Around Sibebe Rock

The Most exclusive Lodging in Swaziland

Ahhh...My Rock!

We didn't actually tailgate, but as I watched various cars roll in to the royal "kraal" and the Swazis get out I thought of the a Harvard - Yale game; instead of racoon skin coats they wore leopard skins around their waists.

We were fortunate that our time in Swaziland coincided with one of their most important ceremonies - the Ncwala. It's kind of a New Year's, 4th of July and harvest celebratoin all rolled into one. Sometime in late November or early December - it depends onthe phases of the moon - preparations begin. Young men - warriors - are sent to Mozambique to collect sea foam and others water from Swaziland's main rivers. When they return to the royal residence or "kraal" in the Ezulwini Valley, the little Ncwala begins. Basically somwhere around 300 - 500 Swazis gather at the Roual kraal to sing traditional sonds and dance. They celebrate Swazi history, the king, and the coming harvest. Most of the songs are only sung during this ceremony, and while they are eager to have tourists come and participate, they don't allow cameras.

Ronnie and I were both keen on checking this out, after an afternoon visit to Reilly's Rock - one of Swaziland's best lodges named for Irishman Ted Reilly who helped create the Swazi national game reserve system. We hopped in the Encouragement and set off for the royal kraal. On the way we passed a young man and woman in traditional dress. We figured they must be going to the ceremony so we soppted and offered them a ride. They gladly accepted. They were brother and sister, and had been participating in the ceremony for 3 and 5 years.

When we pulled in, it felt just like some sort of bizarre homecoming. Everybody - men, women, children were walking around in traditional dress and lining up to pass through a metal detector to head in for the ceremony. It was a real mind twist to see a big shiny Mercedes Benz pull up and a man with a leopard skin around his waist get out.

They were very welcoming to us as outsiders, and as I had heard, there were no pictures, but they insisted we participate. Slowly, everyone - men on one side, women opposite them across the krall - started shifting from their left foot to their right, and with each shift you made "schhhhh" sound - like a steam train coming to a stop. Gradually everyone joined in and picked up the "dance step - left, pause, right pause, left, right left. And so it when on.

After several times through a step we'd stop and people would whistle and hoot, and then a new one would be introduced with different steps and different vocalizations. ON several steps,the men' would raise and lower the two sticks they held. On a fewe occasions, I'd get ahead of myself with the sticks and invade the personal space of my neighbor, but everyone was good natured about it.

After about an hour and a half, it was just over. The step finished, and people started breaking up and heading home. Most of them would be back the next day to do it again, and on Jan 6th the King would join them for the "Big" Ncwala.

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