50,000 Expected at Swaziland’s Incwala Festival: 20th December

Heralding the New Year, Incwala, also known as the ‘Festival of First Fruits’ is one of the biggest and most spectacular events in Africa. For the Swazi people it is an important religious ritual, a fertility ceremony designed to both prepare for the coming year and serve as a symbolic renewal of the monarchy.

This year the main day of the event comes earlier than usual, being held on Friday 20th December, a date determined by Swazi elders. It’s expected that some 50,000 will attend the 2013 ceremony. The festival, always taking place at some point in December and January, is a celebration that unites the country, helps gain the blessing of ancestors, sanctifies the kingship, and celebrates the beginning of the harvest season. Visitors are welcome but are required to respect tradition - ladies to wear skirts and men are allowed not to wear hats, unless they have traditional head dresses.

The ceremony starts with a 50km march by the Swazi men from the royal residence to cut branches from the sacred Lusekwane shrub. This ritual is all about purity, and if the young man has had sexual relations it is believed that the shrub will wilt in his hands. The branches and other plants are then used to build a royal kraal for the monarch.

On the third day of the festival a bull is ritually slaughtered by the youths, instilling solidarity among them and a spirit of valour.

The fourth day (20th December) is the culmination of the Incwala when the King, in full ceremonial dress, joins his warriors in the traditional dance. He then enters a special sanctuary and after some traditional rituals, eats the first fruits of the season.

The final act in this momentous occasion (day 6) signifies the end of the old year and welcomes the year to come. Regiments march to a forest and return with wood which forms a central fire in the cattle byre. Objects are burnt and dancers celebrate the future to come.

Kelly White, Managing Director of the UK Swaziland Tourism Office commented:

“The Incwala is a cultural sensation with enormous visitor appeal. Every year an increasing number of visitors travel to Swaziland to witness, participate and share in this very unique culture and way of life. For westerners the true meaning of the ceremony is difficult to comprehend, but it is nevertheless appreciated for its spectacle and beauty, and visitors relish the opportunity to join in the festivities, and come away knowing that no-one can throw a party quite like Swaziland!”