The Incwala festival brings Swaziland together to gain blessings from the ancestors, sanctify Kingship and beg in the harvest season with high hopes. Over the years though, the Incwala has done more than just unite the Swazi nation; it has brought nations together with common goals; to see the people behind one of the last few monarchies left in the world, their Majesties, as well as to participate in the colourful, memorable traditions of Swaziland.
That the Swazi people are a humble, respectful and friendly people and that the country still has evidence of unspoilt nature is merely the cherry on top. Every year the numbers of inbound tourists in the country rise tremendously come the December/January period. With tourism being the fastest growing industry in Swaziland and in the world, Swaziland’s traditions have become major draw cards for visitors.
The influx of visitors to these occasions helps preserve the local traditions which are on the brink of extinction in other countries. This often contributes to the conservation and sustainable management of natural resources, the protection of local heritage and a revival of indigenous cultures, cultural arts and crafts.
As with other years, the Swaziland Tourism Authority has set up an information point at Eludzidzini where they will be giving information about the Incwala Ceremony throughout it’s duration. There will also be guides who will help tourists (both local and non-resident tourists) participate in the ceremony because after all, Incwala ayibukelwa (everyone must dance).
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 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 that forms a central fire in the cattle byre. Objects are burnt and dancers celebrate the future to come.
The Incwala 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.