Photos of the uMcwasho Ceremony, Swaziland

Images of the World
Flag of Swaziland

The uMcwasho Ceremony

In Swaziland boys are organised in age-groups that form the basis of the traditional warrior regiments. A similar thing sometimes happens with unmarried girls who join together under the patronage of a princess or chief's daughter and wear the "umcwasho" uniform, colourful tassels indicating their status: the younger girls who may not yet have a boyfriend wear blue and yellow woollen tassels, tied to a string of beads around their head while the older ones who already have a boyfriend wear red and black.

Young girls with uMcwasho
Mcwasho procession
Girls in the market
Swazi girls, Lobamba
Discarded tassels
Boy with tassels
Collecting beads
Lobamba Royal Village
Having breakfast
Boy drinking
Traditional man
Girls preparing
Girls getting ready
In full regalia
Girls marching
Accompanying the girls
Girls before the dance
Marching from Lobamba
Crossing the road
uMcwasho dance
Solo dancer
Girls celebrating
Groups dance
Singing and dancing
Young girls dance
Small dancing shields
Marching into stadium
Marching in Lobamba
Girls wearing cords
Led by
Swazi warriors
Lomzimane Vilakati
During National Anthem
The King and entourage
Leading the girls
Princesses marching
Marching warrior
Girls and leader
Dancing in stadium
Small girls dancing
Calling the girls
Father and daughters
The King at uMcwasho
Princesses dancing
Three girls dancing
uMcwasho dance

The uMcwasho is basically a chastity rite and during this time, that may last a number of years, they have to obey special laws regarding clothing, food, morals and behaviour: they may have no physical contact with boys and any boy who violates this has to pay a fine, traditionally a cow. If he refuses, the girls come together in a group, march, singing and dancing, to his house, dance around it and hang their "umcwasho" tassels on the door to mock him so everyone can see who the culprit is.

At the end of this period a colourful ceremony is held in which they discard their woollen tassels. Held in late August, this ceremony may be held instead of the "uMhlanga" or Reed Dance that is usually held around this time. The girls come together in the Royal residence of Lobamba and, early in the morning, they throw down their tassels in a big pile. Old women retrieve the beads from the strings that were used to tie the umcwasho to their heads and then the whole pile is set ablaze: the girls are now free again: those who had been wearing blue and yellow may now have a boyfriend and those who had red and black may marry or change boyfriends!

After the girls have bathed in the river and prepared themselves in their traditional finery, wearing the short "indlamu" bead skirt, necklaces and colourful sashes, they march, singing and dancing as they go along, towards Somhlolo National Stadium on the other side of the highway; all traffic has to stop until the hundreds of girls have crossed the road. They continue dancing in their groups on the grounds near the stadium until it is time for them to enter.

They now march into the Stadium, preceded by groups of warriors. Large groups of men, in their traditional "emabutfo" regiments, carrying large shields and "sakila" knobkerrie fighting sticks or battle axes march with the girls into the Stadium, the girls still singing, dancing and blowing metal "police" whistles.

There are hundreds of girls dancing and they are joined by some of the traditional regiments; the King also dances with his Balondolozi regiment. The whole Swazi cabinet may be there, the ministers all in traditional dress with their wives and children. It is an incredible sight, with hundreds of girls singing and dancing until sunset. As in the "uMhlanga" or Reed Dance ceremony, the King may choose one of those girls as a new wife. For the others, they go back to their homes, now free to either take a boyfriend or marry.