In short

Incwala is the main ritual of royalty in the Kingdom of Eswatini. It is a national event that takes place during the summer solstice. The main participant in the incwala is the king of Eswatini; when there is no king, there is no incwala.


Incwala and the King of Eswatini

Incwala takes place over a period of approximately one month, beginning with the small incwala, incwala lencane, and culminating with the large incwala, incwala lenkhulu. A number of activities, such as lusekwane, kuhlamahlama and umdvutjulwa, mark key events in this centuries-old tradition.

The incwala ritual is controlled by national priests known as Bemanti (water people) or Belwandle (sea people), as they fetch river and sea water to strengthen the king. The leader of these men is a chief of the Ndwandwe clan who is assisted by other male relatives. Another chief is from the Ndwandwe clan of the royal village of Elwandle. These men fetch water and herbs respectively from the country's rivers and sea.

At the very beginning, the Bemanti set out with sacred vessels towards the sea, a little south of Maputo, in neighboring Mozambique, and another group, towards the Lusutfu, Komanzi and Mbuluzi rivers. Departure is a festive occasion. When the Bemanti meet a Swazi during the journey, they plunder (kuhlamahlama) the countryside and take the beer they find in the huts. 

The fines are very light: a pin, a grass bracelet, a small coin or other trifle that has been in contact with the person can be offered. Any tendency to demand exorbitant fines, such as a new hat or jacket, is discouraged. If a man does not have a small item with him, he can later bring an exchange for the first offering. Wherever they go, the Bemanti are treated with the utmost respect. 

At each house where they sleep, an animal is killed and its tail tied around the vessel. For the Swazi who live in the outlying districts, their visit is a sign that the Incwala is at hand, and the chiefs often give money and see that the Bemanti receive large bowls of beer as they are eager to help “support the work of kings”.

In this event, the Bemanti come to Ludzidzini, the royal capital. The king and the Bemanti meet in the stable. In the queen mother's enclosure and in the harem (sigodlo), a special beer is brewed which they can seize and take to the chiefs. The regiments present wear semi-Incwala dress, the graceful coats of cattle tails hang from the shoulders to the waist, flowing tails are attached to the right arms, white feathers and magnificent black feathers shine in their hair, their loin covers are made of leopard skin.

The costume resembles war attire, but at the Incwala men may only carry simple staves (imizaca, singular umzaca) instead of spears and clubs (although these are sometimes hidden behind their shields) . 

The restriction on dangerous weapons is intended to guard against the possibility of fighting breaking out, as excitement is at its height. The veterans slowly sing the first of the sacred songs known as the “hand song.” The women pass through the upper entrance of the stable to join in the singing and dancing. The king's wives stand in order of seniority at the front. in front of the regiments. They sport new shawls and newly blackened skirts (tidziya in the plural). 

Behind them is the Indlovukazi, the Queen Mother with her attendants and co-wives of the late king. The sacred songs of Little Incwala are followed by a number of solemn chants known as imigubho, which are rich in historical allusions and moral precepts. Imigubho are also sung at other gatherings in the capital or on the chiefs' farms. The end is marked by the singing of Incaba Kancofula, the Swazi national anthem. An interim period follows for about 15 days at different royal residences and imiphakatsi across the country where incwala songs are sung.

The lusekwane marks the beginning of the great incwala. This is where the young men go to look for the lusekwane, the sacred tree. Lusekwane is a species of acacia that grows relatively little in some areas of Eswatini and near the coast. It grows and is collected in the same place (the royal kraal of Egundvwini near the Bulunga Mountains) and large quantities are chopped for ceremony. Only pure young people can fetch the lusekwane. 

Indeed, the Swazis say that the tree was made expressly to distinguish the “impure” from the “pure”; a distinction which is drawn between men "who have spent their strength in children or intrigued with married women and young people who, although they have had loves, have made no woman pregnant." Sacred shrubs are used to construct a sacred enclosure for the main event of royalty. The lusekwane is cut at night in the presence of the moon and brought back to the royal capital in the morning. 

After the young warriors return, they collect imbondvo, the leaves of a shrub that grows near the capital. The sacred enclosure (inhlambelo) is built with the lusekwane and imbondvo at the bottom. This day is especially marked by the bull fight called ''umdvutjulwa''.

The beast must be taken into the hands of the young people who went to look for the sacred tree. The advisors lead it with the other animals to make it manageable, through the narrow door of the inhlambelo, and all the other animals come out after a few seconds. The “pure ones” stand tense, ready to pounce when the umdvutshulwa emerges and strike it with their strong young hands. Throwing the bull with your bare hands is a test of strength and a test of purity.

After lusekwane, it is the big day when the end of the year is marked. On that day, the King appears in all his splendor, and the ambivalent attitude of love and hatred felt by his brothers and by his subjects unrelated to him and to each other is dramatized. Only sacred incwala songs are sung on this day. Two songs are heard at once, the lullaby singing of the boys as they lead the incwambo (parts of the umdvutjulwa) into the inhlambelo and a song of hatred of men and women. 

Now he is strong enough to bite (luma) the most powerful crop of the new season and after that his people can perform their own "firstfruits" ritual. On this day he is Silo, a nameless creature, a monster of legends. The next day is a kubhacisa day. There is a restriction on what people can do on this day, and the king remains isolated within the sacred precincts. Regiments cannot shake hands or engage in sexual activity. The king can only see ritual wives. The last day of incwala is a day of purification where all material that is no longer needed is burned. 

Among these are the remains of the undvutjulwa, the previous year's gourd (luselwa), utensils and fines collected by Bemanti during the kuhlamahlama. The warriors and women enter the stable and sing and dance only imigubho because all incwala songs are now closed. As the people dance, they “know” that rain must fall to put out the flames. No matter how strong the storm, people do not seek shelter until, soaked to the skin, they finally end the performance with the incaba kancofula. The last day of Incwala ends with a feast and rejoicing.

One last service remains to be rendered to the sovereigns: weeding the fields. Early the next morning, the warriors gather in the stable, sing ordinary marching songs, and set out for the Queen Mother's largest corn garden. It usually takes a few days to weed them out, then the regiments slowly return to their districts. The permanent royal battalion moves to the king's gardens and, after clearing them, usually works in the queens' gardens. 

Throughout the country, local contingents serve their local leaders, demonstrating in the order of their service the hierarchy of their society. And everywhere, before people eat their food, conservative leaders gather the members of their farms and ritually participate in the new season's harvest; chiefs important enough not to attend the king's Incwala have a more elaborate rite about them than commoners.

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Today, the Kingdom of Eswatini celebrates Incwala for a month. This feast in honor of the king includes many ancestral rituals such as lusekwane, kuhlamahlama, and umdvutjulwa #mythology #myth #legend #calendar #June #E Swatini #incwala