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JJoining the friends and relatives of thousands of young girls attired in traditional Zulu dress to watch them sing, dance and celebrate their culture, is a powerful and moving experience.
This annual ceremony, known as the Mkhosi woMhlanga or the Zulu reed dance, is a centuries-old tradition. It takes place in September, right at the start of spring, at the eNyokeni Palace in Nongoma, Zululand.
Girls from all over the country arrive in the area for the traditional Zulu festivities. These are spread over several days and represent an important rite of passage for the young women.
AAs well as joining in traditional singing and dancing, the reed dance is an opportunity to school the girls in their culture. Older Zulu women teach the young girls, who have to be virgins in order to participate, about how they should act as grown women. As part of this, they promote celibacy until marriage and teach the girls respect for their bodies.
While the lessons and ceremonies are steeped in Zulu tradition and culture, this mass gathering of young people is also an opportunity to discuss contemporary social issues that affect them, such as HIV and teen pregnancies.
For visitors, the highlight of the event is the reed-giving ceremony. Led by Zulu princesses, the young women make a sea of colour in intricately beaded outfits as they each collect a cut reed and present it to the king. Zulu men also participate in this part of the ceremony, singing and mock fighting.
According to Zulu tradition, the original ancestor emerged from a reed bed, so the laying of reeds at the king’s feet symbolises respect for the Zulu culture. The reeds are also used to build traditional Zulu huts and to craft the mats and baskets for which the Zulu people are famous.
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
KwaZulu-Natal Tourism Authority
Tel: +27 (0)31 366 7500
How to get here
While visitors to the ceremony are welcome, it’s wise to arrange a guide who can tell you more about the ceremony and help you to understand cultural sensitivities and taboos.
Best time to visit
The Zulu reed dance takes place in early September.
Things to do
Zululand is home to world-famous national parks and private nature reserves. The area is also particularly rich in historic, cultural and coastal attractions.
The Zululand Heritage Route follows one of the oldest trade routes through Zululand. It begins at the Dokodweni Toll Plaza and ends 250km further north at the town of Phongolo.
What to pack
It’s generally already very warm in Zululand in September but afternoon thundershowers can occur so summer clothes and raincoats or umbrellas.