Once a year thousands of Zulu people make the long journey to the King of the Zulu nation’s royal residence at KwaNyokeni Palace. Here, every September month, young Zulu maidens will take part in the cultural festival, the Royal Reed Dance festival - or Umkhosi woMhlanga in the Zulu language.
Steeped in the history of the rise of the Zulu kingdom the Reed Dance festival has been tirelessly celebrated by countless generations, and attracts thousands of visitors from throughout the country and from across the world.
It is a great honour for the young women to be invited to take part in the Reed Dance ceremony, and its also a source of great dignity and pride for their families and communities. According to Zulu tradition, only virgins are permitted to take part in the festival to ensure that they are ritually ‘pure’.
The Reed Dance festival is a solemn occasion for the young women, but also an opportunity to show off their singing, dancing and bead-work, the fruits of many months of excitement and preparation.
The Reed Festival takes its name from the riverbed reeds, which are the central focus of this four-day event. As the ceremony begins the young women prepare to form a procession led by the chief princess. One of the daughters of the Zulu King is also the leader of the group of maidens as they go through this important rite of passage.
The reed-sticks are carried in a procession by the young maidens who are invited to the King’s palace, with the rest of the Zulu nation helping them to celebrate their preparation for womanhood.
Each maiden carries a reed which has been cut by the riverbed and it symbolizes the power that is vested in nature. The reeds reflect a deep connection with origin of the Zulu people, where, tradition tells us, the original ancestor emerged from a reed bed.
And still, today an expectant hush falls on the crowd as the chief princess is the first to choose a reed. Shouts of joy and celebration greet her as the reed remains intact, and, with bated breath, each of the young women takes it in turn to choose a reed.
Accompanied by singing and dancing, the stately procession winds its way up the hill to the palace entrance where the king awaits, flanked by his royal regiment.
As leader of the group of young women, the chief princess kneels down before the king and presents him with a reed to mark the occasion, before joining the young women in a dance of tribute to the king.