Mantenga Cultural Village

Eswatini: Africa’s last and only absolute Monarchy

In 2018, to mark the 50th Anniversary of independence, King Mswati III announced that the Kingdom of Swaziland had been renamed as the Kingdom of Eswatini, reflecting the traditional name for the state of eSwatini. And while there were murmurs of discontent from the populace who felt such an impactful change should not have been done without adequate consultation or ‘public participation’, there wasn’t much they could do. He is after all King of the Absolute Monarchy, the tiny, landlocked country, located between South Africa and Mozambique.

In today’s world, there are very few absolute monarchies, i.e. absolute power vested in the ruler of the land who either inherits or is ‘selected’ as King. Eswatini is the only absolute monarchy in Africa (and one of a few in the world), the other two that exist (nearby Lesotho and far away Morocco) are by constitution.

And being King of this green hilly land is envied far and wide (globally I’d say, particularly by men) for the most celebrated aspect of the Eswatini culture, the annual reed dance. Held annually in August/September, it draws thousands of ‘subjects’ from across the kingdom towards the (Royal) Ludzidzini Court. All eyes are on the key participants, young childless, unmarried girls dressed in traditional regalia and bare-chested, who will parade and dance for the Royal Queen mother and the King, and from whom His Majesty will select (yet another) wife. Currently King Mswati has 15 wives and ‘about’ 36 children.

Alas, when I travelled to Swaziland Eswatini I hadn’t done my homework and found out it was during the wrong season so missed it entirely. Plus, I learned that there are two capitals in the country, the executive one Mbabane (where I was) and the legislative, more culture-centered Lobamba (where the annual reed dance is held). They aren’t very apart and require adequate time to explore both.

Nevertheless, I was able to experience just a little bit of the culture of dance and lifestyle, and appreciated their warm hospitality as a people.

If you do get a chance (especially outside the Reed dance season), and you go to Mbabane, take time to visit the Mantenga Cultural Village nearby the Lushushwane River. Easily accessible, you’ll be taken on a cultural tour through a traditional polygamous homestead, where you’ll learn about their history, livelihood practices and way of life, as it has evolved over decades past. The highlight will be at the end where you’ll feel a taste of their energy and vibrancy. Dancing to the beat of well worn African drums, and dressed up in colourful regalia, the young men and women do their utmost to demonstrate the bravery, exuberance and pride of their people in cultural song and dramatic dance.

Don’t forget to see the beautiful waterfalls beside the village. Consider ending your day with a sunset drive on the outskirts (won’t take long as the city is small) and conclude with a 5-star dinner at one the many exotic hotels and spas along the way.

If you are in Johannesburg or environs, consider taking the 4-5 hour road trip or 1 hour flight to visit this little-explored Kingdom. While much less developed, it has its charm in its tranquil environment and slower pace of life, a welcome change to life’s busy-ness in general. Plus you get to immerse in learning more about (yet another) distinct community of Africans, the eSwati or Swazi Nation.

Add this country to your bucket list (if you haven’t been and now aspire to)! 🙂

Whichever way, be bodacious and keep travelling to enjoy unique experiences and to create memories to last a lifetime!

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