Location: KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa
Date: late August/early September
Description: This type of celebration (called Umkhosi woMhlanga in the Zulu language) gathers all the maidens of the land to show their virtue, talent and beauty as well as pay tribute and show their allegiance to their rulers. It is a festival typical for the two smaller provinces of South Africa, which are KwaZulu-Natal and Kingdom of Swaziland (for the latter visit post „Reed Dance Festival: Swazi“).
The dance festival is convened when the river reeds are ready for cutting, which thus begins as a communal task and symbolical act of social solidarity.
The reed is an important symbol for power of nature and origin of the nation, since Zulus believe that their first ancestor emerged from a reed bed.
Important parts of the festival are ritual purification of all the girls, walking to the harvesting place, where the reed is cut and then bringing the plant to the royal palace in procession with joyful singing and dancing. The performance of the young girls – who are representation of the nation – is a way how to bestow the symbolic authority to the rulers. In return the king makes sacrifice on behalf of all the young women and their communities, which is also the last part of the festival.
Although the Reed Dance Festival should be based on displaying virtues and chastity of the maidens, many unwanted pregnancies result from it and sexual abuse is reported every year. Therefore both Swazi and Zulu authorities have recently used the festival as an opportunity to educate their people about sexual safety and morality, in an attempt to prevent teenage pregnancy and spreading diseases.
Source: ROY, Christian. Traditional festivals: a multicultural encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, .