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World Celebrations: Reed Dancing In Swaziland

The Umhlanga Ceremony in Swaziland, South Africa dates back to the 1940s, and was devised as a method to encourage chastity among young women. It has a vague connection to summer camp, when young people share collective experiences away from home.

Attended by thousands of young, unmarried and childless women, they gather at the Queen Mother’s royal residence. Off they go, overnight, into the surrounding areas to cut and gather long reeds. The next night, the reeds are bundled together and brought to the Queen Mother. The women work together to repair the reed windscreen that surrounds her compound. The following day is dedicated to preparing traditional costumes for the upcoming performances. The costumes are relatively simple and sparse, a necklace, some rattling ankle bracelets, a sash and a skirt, maybe the bush knife used to cut the reeds.

There’s a big parade, lots of singing and dancing, the Royal daughters also participate, and are easily identified by the red feather crowns that they wear. In all the footage I’ve seen of this ceremony, I must say I was most amused by the sight of one young woman during the parade, stopping to check her cell phone, and then making a call!

Learn more about this and other celebrations happening around the world this week on World Music with Deirdre Saravia, Saturday nights at 8:00 on KSTX 89.1 FM.

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Deirdre as born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and her first paid work was at the age of 10 with the BBC as an actress on "Children's Hour." She continued to perform regularly on radio and stage for the next eight years, at which point she was informed by her parents that theater was not an option and she needed "real" work.