Swaziland has a fascinating culture that is often celebrated through its unique blend of musical styles. The country, which is landlocked by the Republic of South Africa and by Mozambique, is the last remaining country to use a system of government similar to the structure of an absolute monarchy. Although today it now has some democracy, most of the power still lies with their ruler, King Mswati III. In 2004, a humanitarian crisis was declared in Swaziland because the country was experiencing drought, land degradation, increased poverty, and HIV/AIDS. Ultimately, the devastating conditions in Swaziland have led to a distinctive musical style and culture which strive to inspire hope in the hearts and minds of its people.
HIV and AIDS have had the most significant and destructive impact upon Swaziland. Nearly two-fifths of the country’s adults are estimated to be affected by HIV/AIDS, which is one of the highest infection rates in the world. This epidemic has resulted in Swaziland having higher infant mortality, higher death rates, and a life expectancy of twenty-seven. One reason the spread of HIV/AIDS is so difficult to contain is the polygamous nature of Swazi culture. Men are encouraged by their society to marry as many women as possible, which makes it easy for sexually transmitted diseases to spread.
Instead of giving up hope, the people of Swaziland have joined in solidarity to overcome the country’s deteriorating conditions. Through local customs and music, Swazis strive to vocalize their conditions and raise their spirits. Their two most important cultural events are the Incwala and the Umhlanga.
The Umhlanga, or Reed Dance, takes place every year in August or September. The Reed Dance is a day long ceremony that gives the girls of Swaziland who are unmarried and have no children a chance to show their appreciation to the king through dancing and singing. During the first week, the girls walk to special designated forests in which they harvest reeds that they will present to the king. The older girls sometimes walk up to fifty miles away in order to reach the designated forest. Once the girls have around ten long reeds, they begin their walk back to the location where the Reed Dance will take place.
In recent years, the Umhlanga has held an additional purpose in the prevention of HIV/AIDS. Officials within the ceremony encourage girls to maintain their virginity until marriage because in a polygamous society it can be difficult to prevent the spread of sexual diseases. The Umhlanga...