Yearly, thousands of young women and girls (virgins) in Swazi entertain King Mswati III of Swaziland by baring their breast to dance. This may sound purely bizarre but nothing matters more to the people involved than the Umhlanga Reed Dance which sees young girls shouting in excitement while dancing and laying reeds at the feet of Mswati and the Queen Mother. Here’s everything to learn about the dance including why they go bare.
All You Must Know About The Swazi Bare-Breast
1.The Birth of Swazi Bare Breast Dance.
Established in the 1940s, the Swazi bare breast dance is a traditional dance or chastity rite performed annually in which young girls are made to perform to ensure their virginity. It is an eight-day event and since the ceremony’s inception, it has been holding til date.
2. Who Are The dancers?
Swazi girls (strictly virgins and unmarried women) are the dancers and the tradition begins with the girls rallying together at the royal village of the Queen Mother’s royal which is now Ludzidzini Royal Village. They are then tasked with fetching reeds from the nearby areas ahead of the ceremony which they bundle back to the Queen Mother. The reeds are usually used to repair windbreak around the Queen mother’s royal home. The girls which also include the King’s numerous daughters are allowed to take a day rest after the task before they get their traditional costumes ready. On the sixth day, they will all head to the main arena, where the dance will commence. It will continue on day seven and up until the main day which is the eighth day when the king will grace the occasion present. The girls’ costumes include a sash, a skirt, rattling anklets from cocoons, bead necklace and sometimes a knife used in fetching the reeds from the bush which represents the fact that they have not been defied by any man. To look different from other participants, the royal daughters are differentiated by adding red feathers to their costumes.
3. Who Gets Entertained?
It is safe to call the ceremony, “the king’s event”. This is because, on the main day of the ceremony, the virgin girls dance and chant in the presence of the royal family, visitors, spectators, and other noble people. Followed by the performances by other groups selected from some of the Swazi villages. During the dance, the King can choose a new wife. Noteworthy is the fact that the king already has about 14 wives and he is known to shower his wives with cars and shopping trips as wedding gifts.
4. Everybody Strives To Be The King’s Bride
Since the king can choose a wife at the ceremony and he is famous for treating them like princesses, numerous single Swazi girls and women leave their various communities to the Ludzidzini Royal Village just so they can take part in the dance. On the contrary, the families of some girls who refuse to attend because they are not virgins, have had children outside wedlock or sheer stubbornness are punished by fining them for cows. They are also deprived of some benefits in the village. This practice doesn’t go well with critics who have slammed the king citing HIV prevalent in the country as two-thirds of its population are infected by the disease and the country is known to have the highest HIV rates in the world.
Why They Go Bare?
Well, there is no known reason why the reed dancers choose to go almost bare but the official purpose of the yearly ceremony is to protect the women’s virginity, encourage unity and singleness of purpose among the women who work together to impress the Queen as well as to honor the Queen Mother by offering labor to her. However, some human rights activists have claimed that the whole idea behind making the girls appear semi-nude is so the King can choose a wife.
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Why YouTube Authorized The Display
It’s probably an otherworldly treat or a plain strange culture to a lot of people, but Swazi bare-breast dance has essentially gained little more acceptance and has also built a credible space on Youtube. In other words, there are no more restrictions to Swaziland’s famous reed dance which features bare-breasted women.
The former restriction on the dance had not augured well with some culture oriented activist groups who thought it appropriate to voice out their concerns.
It all started when TV Yabantu which showcases and propagates the African heritage to the whole world through its youtube channel, showed the famous Swazi bare-breast dance and its content was flagged as inappropriate. The channel, a culture-oriented online video production company is also known to produce content that “protects, preserves and restores African values”. It had been adding 3,000-4,000 new subscribers every month for its unique contents.
Youtube had also put a label on the channel which was launched in 2016, advising advertisers that its content was “not suitable for most advertisers. But the tech platform’s take on the content channel did not resonate with the management at TV Yabantu.
In a bid to clear the misconceptions, the head of Yabantu TV, Lazi Damini contacted Google emphasizing that the channel was simply reflecting the cultural values of his community. Unfortunately, the company said that the content violated the platform’s standards.
This then raised concerns among the management who then decided to act. Lazi Dlamini chose to use a campaign to persuade the tech giants to rescind their decision. He had organized a series of protests, working with more than 200 cultural groupings from Swaziland
The protest involved women who posed bare-breasted with placards that read “Google are racist” and “my breasts are not inappropriate” in a bid to get the tech company to rescind the restrictions.
Some of the women who interacted with the media bemoaned the manner in which their cultural heritage was labeled as inappropriate or regarded as porn.
They emphasized that posing in a sexually suggestive manner that was quite different from posting pictures with a traditional theme. However, the protesters have been made calm as Youtube has opted to lift the restrictions on the grounds that nudity is allowed on the platform when it is culturally important or contextualized.