Ready for the 2018 Reed Dance

HUNDREDS of young maidens from Umzinyathi gathered in Greytown on Saturday to prepare for the Royal Reed Dance, set to take place from September 7 to September 9.

Once a year, thousands of people make the long journey to King Goodwill Zwelithini’s royal residence in Nongoma to experience the colourful cultural festival, the Royal Reed Dance — or Umkhosi woMhlanga.

A dignified traditional ceremony, the Reed Dance festival is a vibrant, festive occasion which depicts the rich cultural heritage of the kingdom of the Zulu and celebrates the proud origin of the Zulu people. The festival takes its name from the riverbed reeds — the reed-sticks are carried in a procession by thousands of young maidens who are invited to the King’s palace each year.

It is a great honour for the young women to be invited to take part in the Reed Dance ceremony, and its also a source of great dignity and pride for their families and communities.

According to Zulu tradition, only virgins are permitted to take part in the festival to ensure that they are ritually “pure”. Each maiden carries a reed which reflects a deep mythical connection with the origins of the Zulu people where, tradition tells us, the original ancestor emerged from a reed bed.

Zulu mythology has it that if a young woman who is not a virgin takes part in the Reed Dance ceremony, her reed will break and embarrass her in full public view! And still today, an expectant hush falls on the crowd as the chief princess is the first to choose a reed. Shouts of joy and celebration greet her as the reed remains intact and, with bated breath, each of the young women takes it in turn to choose a reed.

Accompanied by jubilant singing and dancing, the stately procession winds its way up the hill to the palace entrance where the king awaits, flanked by his royal regiment.

In recent times, however, the King has used the Reed Dance festival as an opportunity to educate the Zulu youth, focusing on vital social issues such as practicing sexual morals and behaviours which prevent teenage pregnancy and lower the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

By paying tribute to the king in this way, the Zulu nation, represented by the young women, bestows on the king the symbolic power to rule over the Zulu kingdom and its loyal subjects in the year to come.To demonstrate his gratitude, the king responds with a sacrifice to the royal ancestors on behalf of all the young women and their communities throughout the kingdom.