Every year in South Africa an annual ceremony known as the Mkhosi woMhlanga or the Zulu Reed Dance, a centuries-old tradition takes place once a year, right at the start of spring over several days, at the eNyokeni Palace in Nongoma, Zululand.
South Africa has over the centuries advanced and modernised; but in this part of the country they still hold onto their tradition with this event that see’s young virgin girls sing and dance half naked with a skirt and partake in other activities such as collecting and presenting cut reeds in homage to their culture.
This festival is designed to help young Zulu girls prepare for womanhood; and is a highlight for many tourists visiting the country who join the friends and relatives of thousands of young girls attired in traditional Zulu dress to watch them sing, dance and celebrate their culture. This is an emotive, powerful and moving experience.
The festival takes place every year in September. More than 10,000 maidens from all over the country come to the KwaZulu-Natal region, to celebrate this significant part of the Zulu heritage. The ceremony lasts for several days and is a very popular South African tourist highlight.
The maidens collect reeds and bring them to the King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu to inspect and then choose his youngest wife. According to Zulu tradition; laying the reeds to the king’s feet symbolizes respect for the culture.
The reeds symbolize power from nature and are used to build traditional Zulu huts. By paying tribute to the king in this way, it vests the king symbolic power to rule over the Zulu kingdom. In recent years the king uses that festival as an opportunity to educate the Zulu nation and focusing on issues such as prevention of teenage pregnancy and lowering the risk of contracting HIV. The Kings message is that the girls must stay virgins, until they are married. Therefore only virgins are permitted to be part of the ceremony.
Did you know according to the Zulu tradition and myth the reed of women will supposedly break if she is not a virgin. It is a great honour to be invited for the majority of the girls? For them it is an educational experience and the opportunity to learn from senior females how to behave before the Zulu king and be proud of their virginity and naked bodies. During the ceremony the maidens get watched by suitors, but they are encouraged not to argue or respond immediately.
After protracted discussions and if the father accepts the suitor the two families meet and gifts are exchanged as a sign of a cordial relationship. Of course, the opinions about this tradition are split, but many girls are proud to be part of this century old tradition.