The Block

Elva Morden, a nurse, midwife and ordained minister, spent more than two decades in Swaziland doing missionary work. At the end of long days helping others, it was crafts and needlework she turned to for her own relaxation. This block was created from a piece of printed fabric Elva donated that is typical of the imported cottons used by Swazi women to make clothing. The central image, which is embellished with French knots and surface embroidery, features a native couple walking down a road, with the majestic Lubombo Mountains as the backdrop. Leopard-print fabric undulates around the border, evoking images of this stealthy hunter’s lithe movements.

Swaziland - Portable market hut in Mbabane
A reed hut in Swaziland
Crafts (3638279522)
Wood carvings
Swaziland landscape
Swaziland landscape

Mantenga Swazi Cultural Village (1)
Men in traditional warrior attire [/caption]

Traditional designs of cloth

Cultural Profile

The Kingdom of Swaziland, or Umboso weSwatini, is a small, land-locked nation almost completely surrounded by South Africa. It was named after a Bantu tribe, the Swazi, and is home to one of the oldest and one of only three remaining constitutional monarchies on the continent. Geographically, Swaziland encompasses four distinct regions. There are three velds (ridges), including the scenic Highveld, which averages a height of 1,200 metres above sea level. The densely populated Middleveld is somewhat lower at 350 to 1,000 metres, while the Lowveld, which is mostly covered by bush and grassland, reaches to only 270 metres. The fourth region is the Lubombo Mountains, which stretch across the eastern border Swaziland shares with Mozambique. Sugar is the country’s largest export crop and while only about 10% of the land is arable, nearly 70% of Swazis depend on subsistence farming for their living. Swazis and Zulus make up most of the population and siSwati and English are the official languages.

Swaziland enjoys a stability and peace not often found elsewhere on the continent. The people, who are known for their warmth and friendliness, approach life with a laid-back attitude. Family is the principal social unit and courtesy, respect and patience are codes by which the members live. Despite modern influences, Swazis still place a high value on their cultural traditions, which act as behaviour guides through every stage of life. They are staunchly committed to safeguarding their rich cultural, social and natural heritage for future generations.

Two of the nation’s most important and well-known ceremonial events are the iNcwala (first fruits) and the Umhlanga (Reed dance). The iNcwala is a highly symbolic and sacred ceremony that is timed according to the astrological location of the planets. It is also a lengthy celebration that incorporates many rituals, praise-singing and dancing that lasts for weeks. The Umhlanga is an occasion during which thousands of young maidens from throughout the land gather reeds for the iNdlovukazi‘s (Queen Mother’s) homestead and honour her through song and dance. Their costumes of short skirts decorated with beads, buttons and fringes are complemented by numerous anklets, necklaces and bracelets. Vibrant sashes are worn around the waist, each with a differently coloured wool streamer that denotes whether or not the girl is betrothed. According to tradition, during this celebration, the King and other suitors each choose a young maiden to become their brides.

Many Swazis throughout the country still wear traditional clothing called lihiya, a colourful toga-style garment tied over one shoulder and worn over a wraparound skirt of similar material. Women often sport the ever-popular sicholo, a beehive shaped headdress made of hair––which involves coating the hair with clay and piling it high on the head, supported by a band. Men still carry shields, knob sticks and spears. The country is renowned for a variety of arts and crafts, including recycled glasswork, carved soapstone, uniquely designed candles, hand-woven cotton fabrics, beadwork, pottery, sisal basket weaving, and rugs.

People have been coming to Canada from Swaziland since 1974, but to date their numbers remain small.

Sponsor: Dorothy Taylor | Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons