Sunday, August 31, 2014

Signs of the Times

(source: Times of Swaziland)
This photo was in the Swazi Times during the week, showing some of the maidens arriving to participate in Umhlanga (the Reed Dance). At the time, I thought nothing of it, but earlier today I was down in the Lobamba area and I realised just how significant the photo is. There were plenty of girls around earlier today, even around the Gables supermarkets, and they all looked liked this: western clothing, with emahiya (traditional patterned cloth) packed away to be worn only during the ceremony. I was fortunate enough to experience an Umhlanga during King Sobhuza's time, and in the country in those days emahiya and even emajobo (part of traditional male clothing) were common everyday sights even in the towns and cities; not now. Even just a few hours before today's main event (today was the 'real' day of course, the delivery of reeds) emahiya-wearing was about 2% everywhere I was. Times have changed. Umhlanga is now an event like AIDS day or Valentine's day, not something arising naturally out of our country's culture. (& BTW, have you noticed how the numbers of girls attending -- according to the papers' headlines -- have been decreasing by between 10 000 and 15 000 each year?)

It would be interesting to know how many Swazi folktales and other fundamentals of oral literature these modern girls know; for sure they know all about Rihanna, Lil' Wayne, and Niki Minaj (whose recent video has already been downloaded 100 times more than Swaziland's total population). As we move more and more towards a global village, so the unique details of a culture tend to disappear, swallowed up by the greater whole. Or, as some have put it, we all know more and more about less and less.

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