On our return to Pretoria it was beer time at the Capital Craft Beer Festival. After waiting in line for almost two hours to get in we finally got to quench our thirst. After the days tasting Melissa and Emmily agreed that the best brew of the day was the fresh green coconuts with vodka.
We then began plans for a new adventure. Collie had pricked our interest in her tales of Swaziland, a tiny country between South Africa and Mozambique. One of the few remaining absolute monarchies, Swaziland had resisted the apartheid and many interracial couples from South Africa had fled there to live.
In the mean time we lazed about in the garden, ate awesome food, helped Melissa design a website for The Village DeVine and watched Will Farrell movies.
During one of the many regular blackouts we took the opportunity away from our electronic devices to hang out and drink wine by candle light. Filling the night with ghost stories and candle tricks.
After a frustrating morning with the hire car company and a delicious lunch of pap and chakalaka from a road side truck we hit the road on a four hour drive to the border of Swaziland.
Arriving late to our lodge in the Ezulwini valley we understood why Ezulwini translates as “place of heaven.” We settled in to our room and went to dinner. As we were eating we were approached by a gorgeous and smiley woman who introduced us to the things we should see and do while in Swaziland. There seemed to be a set itinerary of things which was repeated online, in pamphlets and by our lovely host. The more we encountered this, the more we realised that Swaziland was trying to manufacture a certain image of itself with a tourist trail encompassing cultural and natural activities designed to paint a pretty picture of their country. The woman mentioned visiting the memorial of their former king whom led them to independence prompting us to ask about the absolute monarchy. It was here that the cracks began to show in the smiling facade of Swaziland.
Being an absolute monarchy the only person who can veto the Kings word is the Queen Mother. Tradition is held in high regard in Swaziland with traditional values often trumping constitutional laws when it comes to legal disputes. This has a profoundly negative affect on women when it comes to things like land ownership and sexual assault.
We talked about the social demographics and the health issues which Swaziland is having to deal with as a developing nation trying to balance a strong cultural history and the realities of the modern world. 66% of the population of Swaziland is unable to meet basic food needs, while 43% of the population live in chronic poverty. Swaziland also has the highest percentage of population with HIV in the world largely accelerated by rape culture that is supported by traditional values. One of the only traditional values which has not managed to trump the law is the use of marijuana which is ingrained in traditional Swazi culture. The use and cultivation of marijuana has been outlawed as Swaziland has been subjected to international pressures, although there is still a wide spread culture of its use.
On our first morning in Swaziland we hit the tourist trail, beginning with the national history museum. In this small, but well presented museum we began to learn about the history and culture of Swaziland. Consistently fighting colonialism and the onslaught of hunting, mining and the pressures from the Afrikaners, Swaziland managed to maintain a proud and certain vision for an independent nation. After repeated calls for help from the British and then calls for independence in turn, Swaziland became an independent nation in 1968.
The current King Mswati III has 15 wives which is met with some controversy when coupled with his opulent lifestyle. One of the key cultural events of Swaziland is the Unhlanga, or reed dance ceremony which takes place every year. 10’s of thousands of unmarried girls or those without child from all over Swaziland gather reeds and take part in a dance ceremony for the king and the queen mother. The king may choose a bride from among the maidens. The mothers of all the princes and princess are always of the common people. The reeds are used for repairs on the Queen Mothers house and it is an amazing and joyful occasion. Part of the celebration originally included the playing of the makhoyane, a traditional harp that was historically played by young maidens who would insert their breast into the calabash hole which improved the sound quality.
After our informative museum visit we went to the Mantenga Cultural Village. In a small group with other tourist we were shown around a traditional homestead for a family. Comprised of many huts and walled areas for animals, the center of which was the grandmother hut where the mother of the head of the family slept. All discussions of importance were held in this hut and all decisions needed the grandmothers blessing. Each wife had her own hut and the head of the family would eat a meal in each hut at dinner. During the day women and girls would hang out together in the cooking area and the men and boys would go to a separate area. Children would move out of their mothers hut after turning 6 and sleep in either the boys or girls hut. Here they would stay until they were married. Often men would not get married until they were over 30 because they had to work and save up enough cows to buy a wife, a tradition still in practice today. Currently it costs about 12 cows to buy a wife, although it could be bargained down if she is not a virgin. One of the most amusing traditions was not allowing the women to eat the head or feet of a goat. Because if she ate the brains she may become smarter than a man, if she ate the tongue she may talk too much and become un-submissive and if she ate the feet she may run away.
The highlight of the village experience was the dancing and singing. We piled into a small amphitheater with a bunch of local school kids who whooped and whistled during the whole experience. The singing was amazing and the costumes were beautiful. Emmily even got to get up and learn a few dance steps.
Next on the travel itinerary was Malendala’s House On Fire, an architectural sculpture used as an event space. With sprawling gardens, art galleries, weaving workshops and a lovely place to eat, we loved it!
Day two of Swaziland and we were up early eating breakfast with a view of execution rock. Literally the place where people used to be executed by being forced to jump off with spears at their back. The next thing on our pamphlet tour was the candle craft market. Swaziland is famous for its wax candle carvings, there was also many other carving’s, weaving’s and beading’s for sale.
In order to see the natural wonders of Swaziland we went to the Mlilwane wildlife sanctuary. We decided on a long walk through the park on the hippo trail and quickly realised our dream of seeing a zebra.
As the park was well known for its hippo population we were on the hunt and used our well-honed tracker skills to find a lot of poop.
The walk was really beautiful with quite few different environments from jungled areas to open plains. We encountered grey vervet monkeys, herds of impala, kudu and waterbuck. One of the most beautiful moments was sitting quietly watching little green bee eater birds flitting in and out of their homes made up of small hollows in a cliff face. Interrupted by the crashing sounds of a waterbuck passing close by.
One of the animals which Dotahn really wanted to see in the wild, probably due to Disney was the warthog and on the way back to base his wish was granted. We saw a timid family having an afternoon meal in the grass and a big contingent of warthogs grazing with the impalas. Although sadly we saw no hippo, no hippo no cry.