Swaziland is one of the smallest countries in Africa. It is 200km from north to south and 130 km from east to west. It is 17 364 square kilometres and is almost entirely surrounded by South Africa, only sharing the eastern border with Mozambique.
The country became independent on 6 September 1968.
The Swazi have been around since the 1700s. The people of the present Swazi nation migrated south before the 16th century to what is now Mozambique. Following a series of conflicts with people living in the area of modern day Maputo, the Swazi settled in northern present day Zululand in the 1750s. Unable to match the growing Zulu strength, the Swazi moved gradually northward and established themselves in the area we now know as Swaziland. The Swazi consolidated their hold under several able leaders. Swaziland's King Mswati II (1840-1868) was considered the greatest fighting king, having fought competing Zulu tribes and some of his own brothers for the throne. "Swazi" is the anglicized version of his name.
The country is the last absolute monarchy in Africa, currently ruled by King Mswati III. The country embraces and upholds its own unique and ancient traditions. Unlike many monarchies that pass on the crown to the oldest son, any son of a Swaziland king can be crowned the next king as long as he is single. Swaziland rule consists of a King and a Queen Mother. The king is considered both the father of the nation and a child of the people, and once ascended to the throne is known as Ngwenyama, or "lion." The Queen Mother, in addition to being the king's mother, is considered mother of the country. She earns the title iNdlovukazi, or "she elephant."
What’s in a name?
Swaziland derived it’s name from King Mswati I. On 19 April 2018, to coincide with celebrations marking 50 years of independence from British and his own 50th birthday, Swaziland’s King Mswati III announced he is renaming the country to The Kingdom of eSwatini, meaning Land of the Swazi.
The official languages are siSwati and English.
The royal family wears crowns made of feathers from a strikingly beautiful bird – the purple crested lourie. The siSwati word for this bird is Ligwalagwala. Non-royals caught wearing these feathers are heavily fined.
In 2013, a Swazi civil aviation official announced that it was illegal for witches to fly broomsticks at a height above 150 meters.
Sugar, soft drink concentrates, citrus products and wood pulp are the major exports, mainly to South Africa from which the Kingdom of Swaziland receives most (almost 90 percent) of its imports.
Along the eastern border with Mozambique is the Lubombo, a mountain ridge, at an altitude of around 600 metres. The mountains are broken by the canyons of three rivers, the Ngwavuma, the Usutu and the Mbuluzi River. Even though it is a small nation, it is well off in terms of water resources as compared to other African nations.
The largest national park is Hlane Royal National Park, home to the big five and the largest population of nesting vultures in Africa.
Christianity is the predominant religion. Indigenous beliefs about the supernatural, particularly regarding ancestors, are still important. Many people consult tinyanga (traditional healers), who employ natural medicine and rituals in their cures. There is a widespread belief in witchcraft and sorcery. The Swazi believe that the spirit of a person has a distinct existence and one’s social place is demonstrated through the elaborateness of funeral rituals.
This is cattle ranching country. Cattle denote a Swazi's wealth and are traditionally raised as lobola, or bridewealth. Bridewealth is the amount paid by the groom's family to the bride's family at marriage. Former president of South Africa Nelson Mandela received lobola when his daughter married a Swazi prince.
The capital city is Mbabane, while Lobamba is the royal and legislative capital. Manzini is the economic capital, and where the international airport is located.
Swaziland uses the Emalangeni (Lilangeni singular). The currency’s name derives from emaLangeni, a term used to describe the ancestors of the Swazi people who migrated to Swaziland in the 18th century. The currency is held at the same fixed rate as the South African rand. The currencies are considered interchangeable and most businesses will accept either as payment.
Swaziland is home to one of the oldest mines in the world – The Lion Carven or Bomvu Ridge discovered in 1970. Today, this is a major tourist attraction.
This country is also home to the largest granite dome in Africa – Sibebe Rock. Sibebe is second only to Ayers Rock in Australia as the largest freestanding rock in the world.
A visit to Swaziland will give you a good idea of traditional African culture including colourful festivals not simply resuscitated for the tourist dollar. Both the monarch and the people of Swaziland actively maintain and preserve their rich and unique cultural heritage in festivals and ceremonies that occur throughout the year.
The most well-known of these is the Umhlanga, or Reed Dance. In this eight day ceremony, young girls cut reeds, present them to the Queen Mother (iNdlovukazi) - ostensibly to repair her royal residence, and then dance in celebration. Up to 40,000 girls take part, dressed up in brightly coloured attire.
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