MY CULTURE, MY HERITAGE
By: Nompilo Mkhwanazi
The annual ceremony known as the’ Mkhosi wo Mhlanga’ or Zulu reed dance, is a centuries old tradition that now accommodates all Nguni tribes. This ceremony takes places in September, right at the beginning of spring, at the eNyokeni palace in Nongoma, Zululand.
Girls from all over the country come for this traditional festival to have an opportunity to learn more about the Zulu culture as well as to celebrate the importance and pride of being a virgin.
“Since I was young I have always attended the reed dance ceremony and I love it- I am proud to be a virgin and I am glad there is such an opportunity to embrace myself as a virgin,” said Ziyanda Mthiyane.
The reed dance motivates young girls to stay as virgins and to give themselves only to people who will marry them. The reed dance promotes purity until marriage. Older Zulu women teach young girls about the importance of being a virgin and the challenges they will face.
They usually conduct sessions where they talk to the girls about real issues currently affecting young women. Topics of discussion include teenage pregnancy, cervical cancer and HIV-AIDS.
“Before we go to the reed dance there are camps which take place around our communities- that is when we get tested if we are still virgins or not and in that camp we get to practice Zulu dance and songs,” said Mthiyane.
The most interesting part of the ceremony usually takes place on the saturday when the girls hand over their reeds to King Zwelithini ka BhekuZulu. Men also participate in this ceremony through singing and stick fighting.
“There is nothing more fun than the day where we give in our reed to the king. You just get a feeling that you have made it and can be proud of yourself,” said Mthiyane.
According to Zulu tradition the original ancestor emerged from a reed bed, so laying the reed at the king’s feet is a sign of respect for the Zulu tradition.
Reeds can be used for many things like building traditional hurts, craft mats and baskets which Zulu people are famous for.