Mantenga Cultural Village- Dancing the Swaziland Way
Having only a few days to spend in Swaziland, the last stop on our southern Africa trip, Adam and I chose to stay in the south and pay a visit to Mantenga Cultural Village.
We bumped our way along a dirt track towards the village entrance, arriving just in time for the morning song and dance performance. We hurriedly paid our entrance fee and joined a handful of other tourists just as the performers entered the outdoor arena.
First up were the women, draped in red and black material and carrying sticks and shields. They sang traditional Swazi songs, while beating their sticks and stomping their bare feet to rattle the shells around their ankles. Each singer wore a massive smile, and every now and then would burst into giggling. I couldn’t tell if something funny but unseen was happening, or if these were people who just truly enjoy their job.
Next it was the men’s turn. Scantily clad in skirts and furry leg warmers, they too wore wide grins and sang their hearts out. They then grabbed some large drums, which they beat rhythmically as the women rejoined them for another song.
Then came a traditional side of Swazi dancing- kicking your leg over your head in time to the drum beats. I’d read that this was a way for women to show of their, ahem, virginity to prospective suitors. The men joined in too, chanting and kicking their legs high in the air. I was impressed- any kick further than knee-high would cause me to reach for an ice pack.
Next up was the bit many spectators were clearly dreading- audience participation. A few viewers were pulled from their seats and shown a few basic steps, which they then danced with the performers, their faces reddening as they were put on display.
And finally, the performers joined together to belt out some goosebump-inducing gospel tunes. Watching the crowd clad in their traditional dress and singing to the rafters against a mountain backdrop, was a wonderful sight.
When the performers had dispersed, we joined a guide, who introduced himself as Paul, to see the village. This living museum consists of traditional beehive huts, where the performers live full time. The village represents life in Swaziland in the 1850s, and as we wandered through the huts, Paul explained how life in the country was in that time.
Men and women had clearly defined roles within the village. Women would marry at 18, but men would marry later, at around 35, having first had to work to earn the cows necessary for the dowry. Therefore the head of the village would usually be the elderly grandmother, who would outlive her husband, and whose word was gospel.
We also learned that women were forbidden from eating goat head or feet, for fear that the brain would make them intelligent, the tongue would make them talk back to the men, and the feet would encourage them to walk off (cue someone in the crowd exclaiming his wish that this was still the case, and the feminist in me quietly seething).
After our tour of the village, we were free to wander around the nearby waterfalls, take in a view of the mountain where villagers were once executed for witchcraft, and searching for monkeys and bushbabies (no luck, sadly).
Mantenga cultural village is open from 08:00 to 17:00, and the performances take place daily at 11:15 and 15:30.
Looking for more cultural dance experiences? How about a traditional dance party in Nepal…