Today, the 4th and most significant day of Incwala sees great ceremony and the King and his regiments appear in full war dress and dance between noon and 20h00.
Heralding the New Year, Incwala also known as the Festival of First Fruits¹ 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.
An annual event, Incwala takes place between the months of December and January, on a date chosen by Swazi astrologers in conjunction with the phases of the moon and sun and lasts for three weeks. The historic purpose of the ceremony is to unite the country, gain the blessing of ancestors, sanctify the kingship, and celebrate the beginning of the harvest season.
Lusekwane, a species of acacia forms an integral part of the Incwala, traditionally the ceremony encourages purity of its participants and begins with young men leaving from the royal residence and marching 50km to cut branches of the sacred shrub. 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 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.
Kelly White, Managing Director of the UK Swaziland Tourism Office commented:
³The 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!²