9 July 2018

South Africa: Umkhosi Womhlanga - Dancing Naked for the King

Photo: Amada44/Wikipedia
Reed dance.

The royal reed dance also called Umkhosi Womhlanga is an annual festival celebrated in South Africa. Girls from Zululand and small groups from Swazi land participate in this ceremony.

This is an annual ceremony in which young maidens take reeds and deposit in Enyokeni Palace where the ruler lives. The princess leads the maidens in the procession because she plays a prominent role throughout the festival. They adorn traditional attires with elaborate beadwork. They also wear bracelets and ankles. But in all this beautiful attire, the girls are half naked.

The maidens are careful not to break the reeds. Once a maiden breaks her reed, she is considered to be sexually active. These girls are said to undergo a virginity test before they participate.

After they have all dropped their reeds, the maidens dance half naked for the king.

This tradition is said to have started in the 40s and required young virgins to dance for the royal king for an opportunity to be chosen as a young bride although there is no confirmation of this information.

After a while, the tradition stopped and was reintroduced in 1991 by Goodwill Zwelithini the traditional ruler. He used it as a measure to encourage high moral standard, abstinence from sexual activity until marriage and a measure to check the spread of HIV.

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