Swati - Rich Language and Tradition

Swati is known as siSwati, Swazi and Sewati. It is one of the Bantu languages of the Nguni Group, and it is spoken in Swaziland and South Africa. Swati is closely related to Xhosa, Zulu and Ndebele, but is a seperate language and one of South Africa's eleven official languages.

Swati is divided into four dialects: Shiselweni, Hhoho, Manzini and again Shiselweni. These divisions correspond with the four administrative regions of the country.

There are two strains of siSwati. The standard form of siSwati is spoken in the North and South West, and the other Swati is spoken in the very South, which has a lot of Zulu influence and is therefore not regarded as proper siSwati. This so called second dialect which is spoken, is referred to as Swazi.

In the 1750’s the Swazi descendants in South Africa, moved north towards KwaZulu-Natal, and from there, northwest towards the Ususthu River. This area, with its great mountain ranges, provided much needed security and safety from King Shaka Zulu and his warriors. Many Swazis have remained in this area. Swazi people have many traditional festivals, of which the most famous would be the Umhlanga and the Incwala. Here you will see the Swazis in their true form, wearing red feathers, flamboyant costumes, extravagantly colorful necklaces and shields.

Another siSwati tradition is an eight day Reed Dance ceremony for unmarried girls, held in late August or early September. The girls will dance in front of the Queen Mother, and present her with reeds that they have cut. This is a ceremony to preserve the girls’ chastity, pay tribute labor to the Queen Mother, and create solidarity by working as a team. The King will order the slaughtering of cattle on the last day, and the girls are allowed to collect meat and return home.

This Reed Dance is not an ancient siSwati tradition, but was derived from and old “umcwasho” custom. This involved girls being placed in age-regiments. When a girl fell pregnant outside of a marital relationship, her family was to pay the local chief a fine of one cow. Once the girls have reached an acceptable age for marriage, they would perform labor service to the Queen, ending the ceremony in a feast and traditional dancing.


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