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Swaziland Reed Dance

Photographer: Kim Ludbrook


An estimated 30,000 young unmarried women and girls from across Southern Africa but mostly from Swaziland gathered for one week to attend the annual 'Umhlanga', or Reed Dance ceremony, at the Royal Residence near Mbabane, Swaziland. The ceremony is specifically for the maidens to show honor and respect to their Queen Mother and the King Mswati III.


The traditional rite of passage ceremony sees the girls arriving in groups from their villages or areas and being registered so all 30,000 girls are accounted for. After the registration the girls are sent out by foot to the nearby valleys to cut and gather ten foot tall reeds to be brought back to the residence.


During this period the girls are informed and educated about becoming women, HIV AIDS, safe sex and other aspects of modern life. After this the girls gather for two days of celebration and dancing.


On day one they gather en masse as they deliver their reeds to the Queen Mother and to the controversial King Mswati III. After having delivered the reeds to the Royal Residence they then proceed to 'march past' the king and other VIP guests and tourists in a nearby stadium in their groups.


The final day of the ceremony sees cattle being slaughtered and each of the girls takes a piece of meat back to her village.