The Incwala is Swaziland’s most important cultural event and many of its inner workings remain shrouded in secrecy. © Courtesy of Swaziland Tourist Board
The Marula season begins each year in mid-February and continues until early march, bringing with it a celebration of the harvest of the marula fruit. The Swazis hold an annual Marula Festival celebrated at the Royal Residence of the King at Ebuhleni and Hlane Royal Residence in the Hhohho Region of Swaziland between February and March. Both the King and the Queen Mother are presented with marula beer from each household, in keeping with it being a ‘fruit fit for kings.’ Only afterwards can Swazis drink their home brew. www.thekingdomofswaziland.com
The 19th April brings nationwide celebrations for King Mswati III’s birthday.
MTN BUSHFIRE Arts Festival
MTN BUSHFIRE is Swaziland’s answer to Glastonbury. This annual performing arts festival is one of the biggest and best of its kind in southern Africa, held over a long May weekend at House on Fire, it offers music and theatre, film, workshops and a global food fair.
Imvelo is an annual mountain biking competition held every June at Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary sponsored by Nedbank Swaziland and Big Game Parks. It comprises a series of races over different distances, the longest being 64km, and is followed by a party for all cyclists. www.thekingdomofswaziland.com
This is Swaziland’s best known cultural event. Running from late August and on into September, this eight-day ceremony sees young girls cut reeds and present them to the Queen Mother (Indlovukazi) – ostensibly to repair the windbreak around her royal residence – and then dance in celebration. Up to 40,000 girls take part, dressed up in brightly coloured attired – making it one of the biggest and most spectacular cultural events in Africa. Taking place over a week, it is largely private; however, its final two days are open to the public. Dates for the event are announced relatively close to the time as the precise timing of the event is determined using ancestral astrology. www.thekingdomofswaziland.com
Simunye Country Fair
This three-day weekend of family fun is held every year at Simunye Country Club and attracts thousands of visitors from around Swaziland and beyond. There are games, rides, children’s entertainers, beer tents, goat races and circus acts. A line-up of bands take the stage and manager Thea Litschka even gives a snake handling demonstration. www.thekingdomofswaziland.com
This is Swaziland’s most important cultural event. A ceremony that has lasted for hundreds of years, it is one of the last remaining examples of what was previously common practice in many African countries. It has a spiritual power that is largely lost on outsiders, and indeed many of its inner workings remain shrouded in secrecy. Although often translated as ‘first fruits festival’, the tasting of the first of the season’s bounty is only one part of this long rite. Essentially this is about cleansing and renewal, and – above all – celebrating kingship. Although not a tourism event per se, visitors with an interest in Swaziland culture are always welcomed. Respect for total privacy is required on certain special days when the nation gathers for its own focus, without outside interference. Taking place late December or early January, dates for the event are announced relatively close to the time as the precise timing of the event is determined using ancestral astrology.