A common tradition in Swaziland (Swazi) permits the King, Mswati, to choose a new bride every year. It might seem odd to outsiders, but the best way to celebrate chastity for King Mswati III of Swaziland is to watch thousands of young women and girls – all of them virgins – dance topless.
Such is the Umhlanga Reed Dance, an annual rite that sees girls as young as five dance, chant and lay reeds at the feet of Mswati and the Queen Mother. “I’m proud to be Swazi and to be a virgin. We are here to show unity with the king and with each other,” participant Gcebine Dlamini, 18, told Reuters.
This year’s Umhlanga held on Sunday and Monday featured 80,000 “maidens,” the Swazi Observer said. Among the special guests included Mandla Mandela, Nelson Mandela’s grandson. In the past, the king has used the reed dance to select a new bride.
The songs performed included “I am a virgin, please come and inspect whether I am still pure,” and “We do not want political parties in Swaziland,” the Observer said. swazi_king_mswati That last one might be in reference to Mswati’s controversial reign.
He’s considered Africa’s last “absolute monarch,” Reuters said. Worth an estimated $200 million, the 44-year-old king has 14 wives and gets to appoint the tiny nation’s prime minister, the New York Times said. He’s known to bestow his brides with cars as wedding gifts and shopping trips, including a recent excursion to Las Vegas, Reuters said. That doesn’t sit well with critics who contrast the king’s lavish lifestyle against a nation with the world’s highest HIV/AIDS rates where two-thirds of its population lives in poverty.
Still, the Times of Swaziland said Mswati spent an unusually long time inspecting the virgins this year.
While he normally takes 10 minutes to interact, he more than doubled that this weekend.