News: Maidens out in force

2008-09-01

Lobomba - Undaunted by gale-force winds and a thick blanket of smoke, tens of thousands of bare-breasted virgins converged on the royal court of the tiny mountainous kingdom of Swaziland bearing reeds for the queen mother in a colourful annual ceremony.

As many as 60 000 maidens were estimated to have registered for this year`s Reed Dance, up from 40 000 in 2007.

The dance is one of the high points of the Swazi cultural calendar and an occasion for King Mswati III to select another bride, although Swazis deemed it unlikely he would choose a 14th wife this year.

Winds on Sunday fanned wildfires on hills near the royal court at Ludzidzini, 25km south of the capital Mbabane, coating everything and everyone in dust and smoke.

Half marching, half-dancing, the girls advanced on the court to bestow on the queen mother the reeds they were sent to cut on a riverbank during the week.

The reeds are used in the making of huts and fences.

They then returned in their "regiments" to an arena below the royal compound, where the king, clad in a leopard-skin loincloth worn over a wrap skirt and carrying an arrow-shaped axe, was due to dance around them.

This year`s Reed Dance was abuzz with talk about the lavish "40-40" bash being held in the capital next weekend to mark the king`s 40th birthday earlier this year and the 40th anniversary of Swaziland`s independence from Britain.

Mswati has been slated at home and abroad for spending R100-million on a party the country can ill afford.

Over 1 000 demonstrators, mostly HIV-positive women, took to the streets in Swaziland last week in protest over the party after it emerged that eight of Mswati`s wives, with children, maids and bodyguards in tow, treated themselves to a spot of shopping in Dubai for the event. - Sapa-dpa

Courtesy of IOL News

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