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Published: May 16, 2012
The ruler of the Swazi nation and the last supreme monarchy in all of Africa, King Mswati, has suspended the annual parades of virgin girls following fierce protests within and outside Swaziland of the annual function in which half naked young women parade before the King topless.
The last bare breast parade was held in August 2010 which Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe attended of what was termed the Reed Dance – a colourful spectacle whose purpose Swazi traditionalists claimed was to bond the nation, instilling good morals (virginity is essential for attendance) and allowing rural girls to travel outside of their home areas.
The parades however were also an opportunity for the King to pick an additional queen from the group of chaste girls.
A source connected to the Mswati royal family warning our journalists told ZimEye Monday that the King who was criticised for his lavish lifestyle by figures such as former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, has not only suspended the parades, but he has also banned all foreign journalists from entering the country. The parades used to be held annually during the August-September period.
“They were suspended a long time ago, and foreign journalists are not allowed inside; even those from South Africa are not allowed inside the country,” he said.
Meanwhile independent reports that state that the King has lost two of his wives who fled the royal palace with one managing to escape to the United Kingdom.
FACTS ABOUT REED DANCE:
In an eight day ceremony, girls cut reeds and present them to the Queen Mother and then dance. The Dance normally takes place in late August or early September. Only childless, unmarried girls can take part.
The aims of the ceremony are to preserve girls’ chastity, provide tribute labour for the Queen Mother and encourage solidarity through working together.
Day 1: The girls gather at the Queen Mothers royal village. They come in groups from the 200 or so chiefdoms and are registered for security. They are supervised by men, usually four, appointed by each chief. They sleep in the huts of relatives in the royal villages or in the classrooms of the four nearby schools.
Day 2: The girls are separated into two groups, the older (about 14 to 22 years) and the younger (about 8 to 13). In the afternoon, they march, in their local groups, to the reed-beds, with their supervisors. The older girls often go to Ntondozi (about 30 kilometres) while the younger girls usually go to Bhamsakhe near Malkerns (about 10 kilometres).
If the older girls are sent to Mphisi Farm, the government will provide transport. The girls reach the vicinity of the reeds in darkness, and sleep in government-provided tents. Formerly, the local people would have accommodated them in their homesteads.
Day 3: The girls cut their reeds, usually about ten to twenty, using long knives. Each girl ties her reeds into one bundle. Nowadays, they use strips of plastic bags for the tying, but those mindful of tradition will still cut grass and plait it into rope.
Day 4: In the afternoon, the girls set off to return to the Queen Mother’s village, carrying their bundles of reeds. Again they return at night. This is done “to show they travelled a long way”.
Day 5: A day of rest where the girls make final preparations to their hair and dancing costumes.
Day 6: First day of dancing, from about 3PM to 5PM. The girls drop their reeds outside the Queen Mothers quarters. They move to the arena and dance, keeping in their groups and each group singing different songs at the same time.
Day 7: Second and last day of dancing. The king will be present. He can publicly court a fiancé if he so wishes.
Day 8: King commands that a number of cattle (perhaps 20-25) be slaughtered for girls. They collect their pieces of meat and can go home.