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Shawn Dispatch

Swaziland: Rich in History and Smiles

Map of Swaziland
With only 17,364 square kilometers (about 11,000 square miles) of land, Swaziland is the smallest country in the southern hemisphere. Abeja and I can confirm this, since we took a bus halfway across the country - from the South African border to Mbabane, the capital - in less than 3 hours. We were excited to be visiting such a small and mysterious country since neither of us had met anyone who had ever been to Swaziland before. We learned that Swaziland, despite its size, is a culturally rich and unique country with plenty of friendly people, beautiful scenery and a fascinating history.

This part of Africa has been inhabited for more than 100,000 years. Its current residents, however, are descendents of the Nguni tribe, which, came down to this area from the north in the 1600's. The Nguni quickly took over a large area, but over time found themselves being closed into a progressively smaller area by other groups of people. King Ngwane III, leader of the Nguni when they settled in this area, is now considered to be the first King of Swaziland. The following King, Sobhuza I had to face an even greater threat to the kingdom from the conquering Zulus, and though he married two of Shaka Zulu's daughters, more territory was lost. Before he died in 1839, he dreamed that white people would be coming to conquer, and warned his subjects not to accept their money because they would be corrupted.

The following ruler, King Mswazi, is credited with unifying the kingdom and those who swore allegiance to him were known as Swazis. Kings in Swaziland have many wives, and when the king dies there is usually a great deal of jockeying for position amongst them. One of them will be chosen by the Grand Council as the Queen Mother, and her son will become the next king. At the time, she must have only one son and he must still be an unmarried minor. She will rule as regent until he comes of age, and can take power as the new king. Before Mswazi took over, his mother, Thandile, consolidated royal power by creating "warrior leagues" among different clans, and successfully kept the invading Portuguese out.

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The sights and sounds of Swaziland
As the European land rush in Africa progressed, Swaziland was becoming more and more of a pawn in the conflict between the Dutch Boers and the British. In order to keep his nation intact, King Mswazi had to side with the British, whose cattle grazing and mining began to take a large chunk out of Swazi territory. Eventually Swaziland fell under British rule, and although the Swazi's gave up independence, they gained a state of peace which has lasted until the present. In 1968, English rule was lifted and King Sobhuza II took power. Today Swaziland is one of only three monarchies left in Africa.

Traditional family life plays an important role in the politics and economics of Swaziland. Along the highway, Abeja and I noticed small compounds of four or five huts that look like tiny villages. We learned that these were the homes of the Nguni extended family. Men in Nguni culture can legally have more than one wife if they choose, but they must build a separate house for each of them, and one for the children. The wife's parents receive a dowry for their daughter, and for the children when they are born. This dowry is usually paid in cattle, which was the standard currency before European domination. The wife's status is not based upon age, or the date of her marriage, but on her general status in society. The wealthier the man and the higher his status, the more wives he usually has. King Sobhuza II, for instance, had over 100 wives and 600 hundred children. When he died in 1982, the son of his most senior wife, Dzeliwe (Great She-Elephant) was selected to be king. King Mwsati III still rules today.

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It's a bird, it's a plane, nope it's the moon over Swaziland
Swaziland is a peaceful country, and all the people we've met have been very friendly. Because Swaziland maintained much of its autonomy under British rule, many of the tribal customs and traditions have survived. The native language - Siswati - is still spoken and there are many celebrations. The grandest of these, the Ncwala, is held in late December or January, depending on the positions of the sun and moon. It is a celebration of the first rites of spring, when the King gives his people permission to eat the season's first fruits. The king's bedding and household items are also burned, to usher in the new season. [Check out Abeja's article to find out more about our adventures in Swaziland.]

Although we didn't get to see as much of Swaziland as we would have liked (we were stuck in Mbabane for days dealing with money hassles and with getting visas to Mozambique, the next stop on our trek North to Zimbabwe) - what we did see proved that this tiny country is packed with beauty and charm.


Kevin - Music Can Keep a Family Together... Even After Death
Monica - So Who Was Shaka Zulu- Really?
Kavitha - da Vinci and Michelangelo have nothing on the San Bushman
Kevin - Mbira, Mbira, in the Hand, Who's the Coolest Cat in the Land?
Abeja - Traveling in Fairyland: Visiting Swaziland's Colorful Culture and Wildlife

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