Swazi culture

The Swazi are part of the millions of Bantu-speaking peoples of Africa who migrated at different times from farther north and eventually arrived to the south-eastern region. They brought cattle and seed for cultivation, and handmade products of iron, wood, skin and clay.

There occurred physical mingling and cultural diffusion and borrowing. In their process of historical growth, the Swazi developed their own political system, a dual monarchy that, though unique, fits into the general category of centralized chiefdoms. At the head there is a hereditary king Nwenyama (Lion) of the Dlamini clan, and a queen mother Ndlovukazi (Lady Elephant).

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Swaziland is a country of 11.200 m2 at the south east of the continent, limiting with South Africa, Mozambique, and Ethiopia. It is of great importance to this society the abundant supply of water. People do not consider droughts or floods as acts of God or nature, but as signs of royal displeasure.

The Swazi had no script by which they could transmit their past to paper, and their approach to time was episodic rather than chronological. They remembered floods, wars, and famines and the major time unit was a reign. Swazi historians are generally old men interested in the past and their versions of history frequently contradict each other. They recall the name of some twenty-five kings, but they only agree in the last eight, beginning with Ngwane II. He and his kinsmen settled in Shiselweni, the “Place of Burning”. There he died and annual pilgrimages are made to the place where he is buried.

Nwane’s grandson, Sobhuza I, came into conflict with Zudze from the Ndwandwe clan for some garden lands. Sobhuza was a pacifist and, in order not to have problems with the Ndwandwe, he moved north. They encountered Nguni and Sotho groups, and forced them to declare their loyalty to the Dlamini clan or else they’d be destroyed. Swazi refer to this people as Emakhandzambili (the found ahead). Sobhuza I later created alliances by marrying Zidze’s daughter and sending two of his own daughters as wives for Shaka, of the Zulu. When he died, he left his successor a strong kingdom, respected and feared by neighbouring tribes.

Mswati, Sobhuza’s son by Zidze’s daughter, was the greatest of Swazi fighting kings. He reorganized the army into age regiments. He established homesteads as mobilizing centres for men in outlying districts. His name was the terror of the north conquered groups were rebuilt as part of the Swazi state. It was a period of intertribal conflict and many chiefs and relatives came to him looking for protection.

Immigrants and clans conquered by Mswati are known as Emafikamuva (those who arrived after). Of the clan names, one fifth are regarded as True Swazi, one seventh Emakhandzambili, and the rest are “those who arrived after”. The name “Swazi” is an English mispronunciation of Mswati.

Before his death in 1839, Sobhuza had foreseen in his dreams the arrival of white-skinned people. During Mswati’s reign, Boers (descendants of Dutch colonists) had begun to settle on the west of the present-day territory f Swaziland. In the south British colonists were also settling and competed with the Boer for control of the region. Boer wanted grazing land for their cattle and a port on the Indian Ocean, and they tried to gain control over Swaziland. In the 1840s, the Swazi welcomed the first Europeans into the continent and became allies with both groups. In 1846 the Boer signed an unofficial treaty with a Swazi outcast, in which they were entitled most of Swazi western lands.

In 1868 Mswati died and he had not chosen a main wife. Mbandzeni was selected as the heir, but he was murdered by his jealous brothers. Finally a successor was chosen, but he put his mother to death and a woman from her same clan was selected queen mother.

In 1880 the Swazi provided military assistance to the British against the Pedi, and the British government recognized Swazi independence. During Mbandzeni’s rule Swaziland was taken over by white settlers. Offy Shepstone was hired to govern and settle disputes among the white community in Swaziland. Despite the trust placed on him, he worked for his own benefit and by the end of Mbandzeni’s reign, most of Swaziland’s valuable resources and land had been sold off to whites. He died in 1889, a heir ruled only briefly and died. Gwamile, his mother, and an older prince were selected regents and in charge of raising the future king Sobhuza II. This was a period of violence and conflict due to the scarcity of land. Gwamile is remembered for her wisdom and moderation during this time.

In 1894, the British handed Swaziland over to the Boers as a protectorate. Rinderprest, a cattle disease, destroyed Swazi’s source wealth. There was a tax imposed on people, which had to be paid in cash, and that forced many Swazi to start to work on the city for white employers.

In 1902, the British won the Anglo-Boer War and Swaziland became a British protectorate. They continued with the tax policy and brought Zulu police (very violent) to enforce tax collection. In 1907 the land was divided in “white areas” and “native areas”, and all Swazi were forced to move to the latter, which represented only one third of the country and was poor in resources. The British controlled the people using their own political institutions.

Gwamile decided to fight the white in their own terms, and created a school of western education for the king and princes. Later Sobhuza was sent to Lovedale College in South Africa. When the Swazi were given the right to collect taxes, the queen mother used the money to pay the king’s education and cure the cattle disease. Sobhuza was installed king in 1921 and fought to regain land through the British courts and established the Lifa Fund to buy back land for the native people. In 1968 he achieved the independence of his country and the power of the Dlamini clan had greatly increased.

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