Day seven: Dancing time

The day of big dancing started off like every other day – with me unsure of what was going to happen. It turns out that Monday’s activities are a replica of Sunday’s, except that the reeds have already been delivered.

When it was time to parade for the king at the kraal, I knew not to look in his direction. The queen mother still looked like she was sleeping.

And then things started to change.

Men from the king’s regiments stepped out of line to perform kudlalisela for me, which is an act of respect and appreciation. At its simplest, it is a bow, but the men usually danced forward and made an elaborate bow.

Then my girls told me to sing.

I wasn’t expecting this because they had me sing the day before. I was thinking, today is the official performance. Can they really want me to sing now in front of every one?

Of course they did, because they loved showing me off.

It is a strange thing, being put on display for others. This is why I practiced so long and hard, but I am also happy to show off for disbelieving Swazis. The gasps, jaws dropping, and looks of surprise is oddly reaffirming to why I am here and why I should be respected and treated more like a Swazi than a tourist.

So I sang.

Gwalagwala gwalagwala
Phumani ngibukele

Ngoba ngaliselikhona
Phumani ngibukele
Ngoba ngaliselikhona

Men in one of the kraals started to point me out and comment that a white girl was singing.

Then the tourists came running with their giant cameras.

And then I changed songs to Mine ngilitjitji phaca (I am a pure maiden). The response is called out to the princess who created the song, but instead, my group was calling out my name, Hloniphile, which means respect. Essentially the response says, “Say it, Hloniphile!”

At this point, a camera man and his assistant, both of whom I recognized from other cultural events because they dress in Zulu traditional wear, saw me.

I was standing front and center of my group calling out the lines, and they came up right in front of me and asked me to slow my walking pace down, because they had to walk backward downhill in order to film me. (I will be asking them for this footage when I see them next, which I hope is at Incwala in December.)

Remember, traditional wear includes bare-chested females, beginning in the first photo below. All were taken by fellow PCV Kirby from

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Leading the group onto the field singing Mine ngilitjitji phaca.

They followed until we turned onto the field, where the Peace Corps photographers were waiting for me.

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Still singing.

We continued on around the back of the field to the large mass of participants waiting for the king to arrive at the field so the show could start.

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The president of Zambia Edgar Lungu and King Mswati III.

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The king’s retinue in the stadium.

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Nonduduzo, the head maiden, on the left with black feathers, and Sikhanyiso, the eldest princess, in orange with the staff.

My group and I sang and danced until we lined up, at which point I asked our leader to line everyone up. Our formation was a disaster the day before, so I was really hoping for uniform lines with uniform spacing. Apparently I was asking too much, especially because our first line left no space between us and the previous group, and the group after us was on our tail.

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Somehow we were directly behind the same group again, who easily overshadowed us.

I was able to form about 12 lines for my group and the girls only kind of stayed in line. One of my favorite comments from my friends watching was that it looked like I was trying so hard and the rest of my group did not care. This is a mostly accurate statement. They even sung a song we had not practiced, so I did not know the words. Fortunately we eventually changed to something I knew, so I could sing along. One of my friend’s Swazi siblings said they were surprised to see me singing at all.

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My group said they were going to take their shirts off. As you can see, they did not. I was irked about this because I could have matched.

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Singing and dancing on the field.

At least there had been spectacular parts of this event before our moment in the spotlight on the field because it wasn’t particularly special.

We headed to the back of the field again to do our own dancing and singing while the parade finished. Then the police made us get in line because the king was coming!

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The king and his retinue on the field greeting the participants.

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The king’s bow.

I watched his special staff cross back and forth across the field and he eventually neared. I had been waiting for months for the king to greet me. I thought him stopping in front of me was highly probable but not guaranteed. The rest of my group really wanted him to greet us as well, because he is their king. They told me to sing and dance hard and perfectly so the king will notice us.

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I was watching the king approach. Also note the tan lines on my feet. I had put sunscreen on my feet, which immediately collected all the dust. My feet were disgusting.

The king did not even look our way. The news and the regiments did, with many of them stopping for photographs and kudlalisela, but there was no king.


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President Lungu from Zambia and King Mswati III leaving the field. If you look straight back along the line in the grass, in the orange is Princess Sikhanyiso and in the blue to the right is the new bride-to-be.

After the king returned to his seat, the special dances started. The head maiden danced solo, the second-eldest daughter danced with many of the other elder royal young women, and finally the eldest princess performed a solo dance that included many modern interpretations of the traditional dance, including the moonwalk. Her dance was quite lengthy and was shown on the news the following night.

Finally, the dancing was finished, and after a quick round of goodbyes, I departed, already thinking about next year.


All my posts about the event are listed below.

Day one: Registration at Umhlanga

Day two: The first day of marching

Day three: Cutting umhlanga

Day four: Another long march

Day six: Delivering the reeds to the queen mother

Delivering the reeds in photos

A few more photos from dancing Umhlanga

This entry was posted in Africa, Peace Corps, Swaziland, Tradition and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Day seven: Dancing time

  1. Pingback: A few more photos from dancing Umhlanga | travelin' the globe

  2. Pingback: Wednesday photo: Language test | travelin' the globe

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