Kampala — THE Kabaka of Buganda, Ronald Muwenda Mutebi, was in Swaziland last week to attend the traditional wedding of King Mswati III to Queen La Mahlangu Zena.
Despite the gloomy weather forecasts predicting heavy rains, the day of the royal wedding turned out very clear and sunny. It started with a private luncheon at the Ludzidzini palace in honour of the bridegroom and Buganda's king, Ronald Muwenda Mutebi.
At a close range, King Mswati came across as a relaxed, likeable gentle giant. He smiles effortlessly and laughs from the heart. Under the often piercing gaze of his mother, he told countless jokes and made a perfect host. Together with his humorous jokes, the food and Amarula flowed endlessly. This is one of the many visits the Kabaka has made to the 400 year-old Kingdom - his first being to King Sobhuza back in 1977.
The Kabaka's visit started with an impromptu meeting with King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, 62, in Johannesburg and later a courtesy call on the powerful but soft-spoken Queen Mother (Ndlovukazi) Tombi at the Ludzidzini palace in the Ezulwini valley. This was followed by a royal banquet at Lonzintha Palace when King Mswati, the prime minister, Hon. Barnarbas Sibusiso Dlamini and senior Swazi royals received the Kabaka in splendour.
At the appointed hour, the Kabaka descended to the large open grounds of the palace set against the background of the Mtimba mountains.
The place was packed with huge blue and yellow marquees decorated with flying ribbons and balloons. As the Kabaka alighted, he was welcomed by a sea of singing Swazis. The umtsimba (wedding) ceremony was underway. King Mswati, already seated in a special bright yellow marquee, joined the crowd to welcome the Kabaka, who took a seat at his right hand side. As he eased into his chair, he saw several neat rows of senior women dressed in black skirts and red, black and white blouses.
Behind them were young girls and women (imbali) wearing nothing but waist beads and very skimpy skirts doing the ummiso dance while waving miniature Swazi shields and glittering knives. Burly bellowing and club-wielding men took up the rear. There were no loudspeakers or accompanying instruments. The air was filled with Swazi songs. The chief dancer was the bride herself, initially covered in a thick fur blanket and later with just a piece of cloth and a crown made of long black feathers.
From time to time she was joined in the dance by eight of her co-wives (emakhosikati), who seemed to murmur words of welcome and support. Apparently, she has been in the king's fold for two years and has two children with the Ngwenyama (king). So, press reports that she was a virgin "picked" on the wedding day are false.
Occasionally, the dancing Inkhosikati was joined by her jovial and agile husband - always in the company of a regiment of at least 20 strong men waving traditional Swazi shields and wooden clubs. The king and his men wore nothing but bright beads thrown across the right shoulder and waist plus a brief loincloth and a small leopard skin tied around their ample waists. It is not clear what, if any, was worn beneath.
Most looked rather mean with a round animal skin band on their heads. A bright coloured cloth was tied on their left biceps as if to draw attention to their "power".
As he performed the giya dance, the smiling bridegroom would by-pass the queen and as if he was on an inspection parade, would traverse the grounds waving a gold plated arrow whilst taking a keen and close look at the rest of the female performers. Each time he did this, a pandemonium broke out with ululations from the crowds. It was a unique cultural spectacle.
The paparazzi seemed to have a field day - shooting at everything in sight. But, as darkness fell, they were requested to fold their intrusive gadgets. At this point, the bride and her entourage, shed their tops and appeared re-energised in their dance moves. It was then that the Kabaka retired - leaving behind a joyous frenzy that must have continued long into the night.
The next day started with a thunderous down-pour filled with lightning, as if to cool down the atmosphere.
But the rains didn't deter the celebrations in the Lozitha palace, where the Inkhosikati showered her husband and the entire royal clan with an array of gifts at the umhlambiso occasion lasting a good five hours. The gifts included grass mats, crockery, blankets, furniture and gold-plated ornaments. She also presented the Kabaka with gifts. This marked the climax of the two-day fete. We couldn't but wish the couple every success and happiness in their new marriage.
The Baana ba Nambi, an association of Baganda living in Swaziland, hosted the Kabaka to dinner at another fine event, where they contributed generously to the reconstruction of the Kasubi Tombs.
The Kabaka's sojourn to Swaziland was most memorable - not least because, on our outward journey, some felon(s) "liberated" us in Ugandan style -- of our camera, computer and cash. But, who knows we may catch up with them at the next umtsimba ceremony?!