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Cultural explorations & why the rock rabbit has no tail


Nelson Zwane is a Swati, and Creative Feel asked him about a Swati saying or belief that has assisted him greatly in his life and career. ‘Liku sasa alatiwa, which translates to “be good to the people on your way up the ladder, you will need them on your way down”. This has taught me to treat every person I meet with the utmost respect and to earn the respect.’
     Digging a bit deeper into the Swati culture, Zwane has highlighted some interesting practices. One of these is the Umhlanga (reed dance): unmarried girls cut off reeds and hand them over to the Queen Mother (Ndlovukati). After giving away the reeds, the traditional ceremony dance begins. The ceremony is held for unmarried girls to pay homage to Ndlovukati and the King (Ngwenyama). The Umhlanga, says Zwane, is a good time to spot some of the creative African Traditional wear. Closely linked to the Umhlanga is the chastity rite, which was ended in 2005. Traditionally, girls were expected to remain virgins until they got married. While this is no longer law in the Kingdom of Eswatini, the custom is still celebrated ceremonially in the Umhlanga.

Traditional dancing in Eswatini

     Another cultural practice of the Swati is Incwala, the first food ceremony, and is the main ritual of Kingship in the Kingdom of Eswatini. The main participants are Ngwenyama, Ndlovukati, royal wives and children, royal governors (tinduna), the chiefs and the regiments. Zwane says that there is a strong social class system within the Swati people. ‘Clans are ranked in importance by their relationship to the royal clan, the Dlamini. In addition, they are a very proud nation when it comes to rhyming their clan names.’
     Traditional music is still a strong part of Swati culture today. ‘Music is one form of therapy in our culture and one can convey different messages using music,’ says Zwane. ‘Umbholoho(the music genre equivalent to Iscathamiya, made popular by groups such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo and The King Star Brothers, among others) is one popular type of music in my culture. Groups perform at weddings and other traditional events, entertaining guests for free.
     ‘Sibhaca – dancing and instruments like the retuned concertina (also used in traditional Zulu and Sotho music) have all been imported into Swaziland from elsewhere over the past century. These styles and sounds have been successfully integrated into what is now considered Swazi music.
     ‘Other traditional instruments played in Swaziland are the makhoyane (mouth-resonated bow), the isitolotolo (mouth harp), umtshingosi (bark flute) and the inkhostina (concertina). The isitolotolo is a common instrument in Swaziland due to its size and price (cheaper).’

AmaSwati singing and dancing


     Folk tales and stories are an important way to teach morals and values. Zwane’s favourite is the story of the rock rabbit, as it condemns laziness. ‘The story goes like this: A long time ago, when tails were being distributed, the rock rabbit’s friends, the hares, said to him: “Let’s go and get our tails!” The rock rabbit was a lazy animal and said: “Ahhh I can’t be bothered to go, please bring me one.” And that is how the rock rabbit ended up without a tail to date. In Swati, we say, “Imbila yaswela umsila ngokulayetela”, which translates to “if you don’t do things for yourself, you might get nothing at all”.’

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