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Uncover a vibrant and welcoming culture in Eswatini, one of Africa’s smallest countries

Cultural practices of Eswatini

Welcome to the Kingdom of Eswatini, the landlocked country inside of South Africa, which boasts a rich culture and history of its own. Formerly known as Swaziland and despite being the smallest African country, Eswatini is actually full to the brim with unique experiences, and has open arms ready to welcome you in.

Hop on one of Contiki’s many South Africa trips for a chance to tour a village in Eswatini – a spellbinding MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experience that’ll allow you to meet and get to know locals and their beautiful way of life. You’ll learn siSwati greetings, try on traditional skirts and clothing, and meet this Swazi village’s female Chief. 

Find out about the importance of community and traditions in this conversation with Caro Mhlabane, a resident of this Swazi village, and the Chief of the village, referred to as Inkosikazi.

Hey Caro, it’s lovely to chat with you. Can you tell us something special about life in Eswatini?

“We are very happy people! We are who we are because of our cultures and traditions, so we try, by all means, not to lose that. All the kids, from a young age, are taught to dance and they are taught to sing all our traditional songs because these songs are meaningful and important. They hold a message.”

“For example, when the men dance, they carry sticks because the men’s duty is to look after and protect their family. Usually they get a shield as well, but sometimes it’s just a stick. This dance is a symbol of protection of the family, and that’s a unique part of our culture.”

In your village you have a female Chief. Is this unusual?

“It is unusual, normally we have a male chief, but when he passes away, his wife takes over his duties. It makes more sense this way as well because it’s so easy for the wife to become chief as she already knows the duties. She’s part of that family and she’s been there to see how problems are solved in the community, and how to do everything.”

“But, only a few places observe this practice. Our chief is the only female chief around here.”

Are there any challenges, or benefits, to being a female Chief?

“She doesn’t feel there are any challenges because the village knows that they should respect their chief, no matter who they are, and that she is in this position until the young boy who is meant to take over after her grows up. There are no difficulties because everyone knows everyone, including her, and the village knows that she is deserving of being the head of the community. So, there is no lack of respect.”

Can you tell us why it’s important for travellers to visit your village?

“It’s important for everyone to come visit our village both for travellers and for us. It’s important for you to experience different cultures and to have the opportunity to learn. It’s good also for us, especially the children, because they get a chance to meet people and learn how to treat visitors and tourists from other countries.”

“Of course, tourism is a source of income for us, and the money that you pay to visit and take a tour is used to support the orphans in our village. It’s a way of giving back to our community, so thank you!”

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Why is it important to your Chief that she welcomes travellers?

“First of all, she says that this home is not her home – it is a home for everyone. Kids here all come from different families, and families all come from different places. So, even if you are not from Eswatini, you are welcome here. This is your home.”

What does community mean to you?

“In our community, we treat each other like brothers and sisters. Your child is my child, my child is your child. We all know each other and we all take care of each other. If someone new comes to the village and they come from afar and they are hungry, we will welcome them and give them something to eat.”

“It’s a way of living that’s within us. That’s why it’s also important that we live under the Chief, because it’s with the Chief and the community that we all grow together. We are meant to love each other and we are told to dance together, to share food together. The community, it’s like a family to us.”

Cultural practices of Eswatini

Image source:Contiki

You’ve said before that the people here are all very happy. What’s something that brings you joy?

“When I wear my traditional attire. It tells you who we are, where we come from. I mean, it’s so important, and so I am always so jubilant once I wear my uniform – it makes me feel like it’s time to dance. The costume itself brings joy.”

And can we ask the Chief the same question?

“Of course. She says it’s the people that bring her joy. It doesn’t matter what skin colour you have, if you come to this homestead, she will appreciate you. Everyone was meant to live on this land, and when you come home to this village, she feels that warmth, and that is what makes her so happy.”

What does community mean to your Chief?

“She feels like it’s a chosen community because she looks after them and they look after her. She is proud to lead this community as the people are respectful and she knows she is doing a good job of giving everyone a home and the love they deserve.”

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Are there any challenges that the community faces?

“In general we are okay, but in the quieter seasons, when there are less visitors like you, our Chief faces difficulties with feeding our orphans because there are too many. If it’s a quiet season, it’s difficult and painful, as we aren’t able to always give them meals, or other necessities. We really rely on the work that we do here with people like you, so when it’s quiet these are the challenges the community sometimes faces.”

We brought some past Contiki travellers with us to this trip in South Africa so that they could experience Swazi culture, and here are some of their thoughts.

What part of the village’s culture or traditions would you like to take home with you? 

“The love that they have for each other, but also the love that they spread outside of the village. When we met the Chief she asked us where we are all from, and then she said we are all from Swaziland now and that we would always be welcome back here. She wants everybody to have a home and feel welcomed in the village, and I’d like to take those values back where I’m from.”

“For me, I’d like to take home the dancing and the singing. It brings you joy and it brings you love, so I’d like to teach everyone back home.”

Cultural practices of Eswatini

Image source:Contiki

Can you tell us what community means to you guys and how your perception may have changed after this experience?

“My perception of community is about people who are unrelated that build a life together. It means that we are together, even if we’re not related by skin colour or religion or whatever, and we stay together, and take care of each other, and relate.”

How is the village tour experience? Do you think it would be better to do it alone or as a group?

“As a group definitely! I mean, as a group you can laugh together, laugh at each other when you get the dance steps wrong, you enjoy the experience more. If I did it just by myself I feel like it would be a much different experience, but this was just amazing.”

“Coming together, especially on a Contiki when we’re all from different places and cultures, it just shows you how different people perceive the world and that we’re actually not all that different in the end. It’s a great experience.”

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