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The Kingdom of Swaziland is a tiny landlocked country enveloped on one side by South Africa and by Mozambique on the other. It’s not a country that we hear too much about in the West, so I was doubly mind blown to learn some Swaziland facts and information about how this country works during my recent travels through Southern Africa.
It’s a gorgeous green and hilly country with some of the most fascinating culture I have witnessed in my life. Some may consider these customs ‘bizarre’ but it’s important to remember that these Swaziland facts about the King, culture, history, traditions, and other customs are normal here. This is all part of their culture and belief systems, and has been for thousands of years. They would consider our lives strange just as we may to theirs, but they are (mostly) just different!
Swaziland would be a great stop while backpacking in South Africa to learn about all these amazing customs. As a disclaimer, all this information and swaziland facts are my current understanding from my recent trip to Swaziland and I have fact-checked it as best as I could. My apologies if some things are a bit off!
Swaziland Facts: The King of Swaziland
- The Kingdom of Swaziland is an absolute monarchy, and the King rules by royal decree.
- The King is polygamous (to put it lightly) and has many wives. It is considered rude to ask how many wives the King has, but it is believed the current one has 15.
- The King before last had 70 wives, and this information was only released after he passed away. He is rumored to have had over 600 children.
- It is illegal to speak badly of the King or of any Royalty. If you do, you may go ‘missing.’
- Culturally speaking, the King’s wives all respect each other and live within the same compound. However each King may be different.
- The current King has each of his wives in separate lavish palaces.
- All the King’s wives are present at each of his wedding ceremonies to a new wife.
- He may also have mistresses when he pleases.
Swaziland Facts: Choosing the King
- The King’s first wife is called the State Wife. This is ideally the wife he marries for love, and she may not bear any children for him. All subsequent wives are below her, and she will be in charge of the home and living place (until he chooses a new queen mother).
- The next King is not simply the first born son. At any point the King may choose one of his wives to be the ‘Queen Mother,’ and her only child/son may be the next King. It must be her only child/only son.
- The King is not supposed to have children with his first ‘love’ wife because this way it would be far more likely he would choose her as the Queen mother, which would discourage him from having more wives.
- If a King dies and his successor is too young, his mother and uncles will rule until he is of age. One recent King was 9 when he came to power, so his mother and uncles ruled until he was old enough.
Swaziland Facts: Choosing Wives
- Each year there is a massive traditional fertility ceremony where all pure women (yes, virgins) who are ‘of age’ (have hit puberty) will go down to the river near the queen mother’s compound and collect reeds in a big procession. This is called the ‘reed dance.’ They will perform dances and chants as they bring these reeds up to present to the queen mother & royal family of Swaziland, wearing only grass skirts and traditional jewelry.
- Before this ceremony, virginity checks are conducted to ensure purity of the women dancing for the King.
- From this ceremony each year, it is customary that the King would choose a new wife to marry, but he can do as he pleases.
- All eligible women are expected to take part in this ceremony in hopes they will be chosen, which would be a very high honor and especially great because they will have their family looked after.
- One of the youngest wives was chosen by a 16 year old King – she was 11. This is considered normal in their culture.
Swaziland Facts: Finances
- About 70% of the country lives below the bread line, but it is often difficult to count in countries like this because many people don’t earn actual cash (they may trade goods) or have a measurable income (they may sell crafts on the street).
- The King must provide for all his wives and their families, and the previous king’s wives and families. This adds up quickly!
Swaziland Customs & Culture Facts
- Many traditional clothing outfits involve a sarong with the King’s face printed twice on it. It is considered very rude/illegal to have it upside down or inside out, and you must have one face in the front and one in the back – not on the sides.
- Men must not wear hats inside or in the presence of a chief or the King. Women can wear hats though.
- You are expected to hand people things, eat, and do most things with your right hand. Your left is considered the hand you ‘wipe yourself’ with, and your right is what you use to engage with others. It is very rude to hand someone something with your left hand in the Kingdom of Swaziland .
- There are women’s jobs and men’s jobs. Men generally go out to make money for the family, and women will weave baskets, grind corn, and cook. Unmarried men must do all these things.
HIV/AIDS in Swaziland
- This country has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the world. Some may say the King’s polygamy may be related to this.
- The rate of AIDS skyrocketed after 2001, when the constitution was changed that required women to have virginity checks each year.
- In many African cultures condoms are considered taboo, and there are a lot of programs in place to educate the people about their importance. You can find condoms in many bathrooms, government buildings, and border offices here.
- There is also a cultural belief in Africa that you can cure your HIV/AIDS by sleeping with the youngest possible virgin. It’s a deeply ingrained belief that poses a big problem and leads to rape.
Swaziland Facts: Landscape + Nature
- Swaziland is exceptionally hilly, green, and mountainous. The landscape is full of rolling hills and rocky mountain peaks in the north, and in the south is largely flatland and sugar cane fields.
- There are a few big private game reserves and national parks in Swaziland, and lots of wildlife. It is not abnormal to see grazing zebras, impalas, warthogs, or many species of antelope perusing the countryside within the national park.
Visiting Africa? Read more:
- Cheating Death at Angel’s Pool, Victoria Falls
- Complete Cape Town Adventure + Sunset Guide
- A Night at the Okavango Delta in Botwsana
- Journal from my Road Trip through Namibia
- Zimbabwe: Rhinos are Nearly Extinct, and Here’s What You can Do to Help
- Journal from Road Trip through Botswana, Zimbabwe, and Zambia
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