• January 26th

A Nation of Dancers

Written and photographed by Sophie Ibbotson.

What’s in a name? Shakespeare tells us that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But King Mswati III would beg to differ. On the occasion of Swaziland’s 50:50 celebrations — 50 years of independence and his own 50th birthday — he announced that his country would be renamed eSwatini, with immediate effect. The crowds roared. With that change of name, the last symbol of colonial rule was gone.

I travelled to eSwatini with Africa Exclusive, invited as a guest for the 50:50. The entire country is smaller than the neighbouring Kruger National Park in South Africa, but its culture is disproportionately rich. Swazis and Zulus, Afrikaners and British, and settlers from Portugal, Mozambique, and beyond have collectively built a patchwork of arts, customs, and ideas which is utterly beguiling.

Dance is the strongest, most dramatic form of cultural expression in eSwatini; and the passion, the rhythm, are infectious to those fortunate enough to spectate. Warriors dance before the king at the Incwala, and young girls have their turn at the Umhlanga Reed Dance. These are the two most significant dates in the national calendar.

In Manzini and in Mantenga, I watched uncountable dancers perform. No photographic can truly capture the energy, the atmosphere, but I do hope that the vibrancy and enthusiasm do come through.

Sophie Ibbotson is an entrepreneur, writer, and lover of wild places. She is the founder of Maximum Exposure, which develops and promotes tourism in emerging markets, and the author of five Bradt Travel Guides.

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