The Incwala

By Valentine Martin

Valentine Martin

Valentine Martin

Undoubtedly the most important of Swazi customary celebrations, this cultural event is held in December or January it signifies the end of the old year and the beginning of a new.

This Swazisacred Ceremony as it is celebrated today can be traced back to the times of LaZwide  (Queen Tsandzile) who was a Ndwandwe.The Ndwandwe at the time were under the leadership of that famous Chief Zwide. The Ndwandwe link is evident from some of the sacred songs still being sung in Ndwandwe dialect. Historians believe that elements of the ceremony are very old rituals that were practiced even before the Swazi made it their own and firmly embraced as a value system during the period of LaZwide.

Anthropologist HilderKuper sees it as a “… dramatic ritualization of Swazi Kingship in all its complexity-economic, military, ritual…” The Swazi hold the belief that Incwala is an affirmation of the King’s rule and its endorsement by the Supreme Being(Mvelinchantiand emadloti),if the King is of good standing he will passes all the tests and come out of this sacred and ritualistic encounter successfully to lead the nation into yet another year. If for any reason anything does not go according to the expectations and dictates of this ritual rite, he will not survive the sacred ceremony (ayibuyiinkhosieNcwaleni).

The Ceremony startsincawala

Once the time has come as dictated by traditional astronomers, the King goes into seclusion and the Incwala sacred Ceremony commences. At this time the country’s activities slow down, as most of the activities are grounded as the nation fast. The King cannot this time and does not listen or entertain any matter where his blessings or intervention are sought, even the Chiefs from all chiefdoms are not allowed to call meetings during this time. It is a time for reflection and soul searching, hence the commonly held view that it is a time for national prayer. Every Swazi is aware of the sacredness of the event; it is a centralpart of the cultural heritage of the nation.

Bemanti – The Water Party People go out

The Water party is sentout to fetch water for ritualistic cleansing purposes from the IndianOcean. They go out in two groups, both sent to fetch water from the sea. Responsible for this task are the TheMkhatshwa( BenguniwaseLwandle) and the Mngomezulu and Myeni. Historically the Swazi (more especially the Dlamini) came from the “east” where the sun is rising, into present day Swaziland. The trip to fetch the water is thus also symbolicto Swazis. Going to the “east”’ is a sign ofseeking for good life and health of the King that ischaracterized by wisdom and prosperity.

The Sending of the Bemanti is a ceremony that the King and Queen Mother conduct at the Indlunkhulu or shrine hut. They sitoutside with the leaders of the groups and somesenior councillors, between the doorway and thewindbreak. Fromhere the ceremony moves to the sibaya where theKing instructs and warns Bemanti to behave themselveswell along the route and not to molest orembarrass the public.”Both the Bemanti Groups carry with them a calabash (called Sigujanaor Inkhosatane).

A Sacred Journey

Going to and from the east is a sacred journeyfilled with its own quite mysterious episodes. Traditionally it is believed thatwhen the group finally arrives at the seashore of the Indian Oceanat the Island of ka-Tembe (the northern group), the calabashwill be thrown into the sea to be accepted by the beast (Silo)who will then take it away into the deepest part of the sea. Hence inthe praises you will often here “OkandabauyiSilo” (theKing is equated to the mighty beast of the sea). After a coupleof days the calabash will then almost miraculously re-emerge from the sea floatingtowards the Water party full of water, this water is believed to be endowed with majesty and power thatwill eventually be conferred to the reigning King at the heightof the ritualistic performances of Incwala.

The second group of the Bemanticonsists of anotherimportant group of people that plays a pivotal role during theIncwala ceremony; the Mngomezulu andthe Myeni of Ngwavuma(BeNguniBeningizimu), whopresently are residing at eNdzevane and eLubulwinirespectively but were originally from theNgwavuma valley north east of present day KwaZulu-Nataljust below the Mozambique southern boundary. An uprising erupted in the lateseventies and early eighties where Inkatha followersdeclared war on them disputing their claims that theNgwavuma area historically belongs to the Swazi nation. At the height of these uprisings, theyleft Ngwavuma and sought asylum and settled atLubulwini area, where they have been ever since.

BenguniBeningizimu are despatched to take thesouthern trip to the Delagoa Bay to do as theeLwandle people are sent to do with an importantaddition;theymust bring back‘Luselwa’  a wild fruitshaped like a calabash which is collected in the Ngwavuma area and is to be eaten by the King as partof tasting the “first fruits”, the praises “Indlaluselwa” given to the King stem from this ritual

The Incwala sacred Ceremony and this is an exercise which involves everyone(ayibukelwa). The trip lasts for a week or so as the groupswalk in a pilgrimage a distance of over 200km to the IndianOcean and back on foot. Along the way they sing war songs, their pilgrimage is a symbolic battle onbehalf of the Kingdom. The Bemanti also collect personal items and money from persons and homesteads around the country as they pass, it is expected that they will be assisted by chiefs with provision and anything that they might need for their journey. It is expected that at the time that the Bemanti are traveling on royal duty certain things are not done, if found doing such you will be fined. The fine is anything from a button, a piece of cloth or coins you may have. All the items collected from the different homesteads will be used in the Incwala ritual to strengthen the bond between the nation and the King to enhance the wisdom and power of the king over all his subjects.

The return of Bemanti

As the Bemantimake their way back to the traditional capital (Indlunkhulu), which is a ceremonial and spiritual capital, their arrival will be welcomed in song andcelebration. Their successful expedition will be reported to the  emadloti(babikeindlelaneluhambolwabo). This marks the commencement of the little Incwala Ceremony (Incwala lencane). The little Incwala is celebrate in the Royal Kraals around the kingdom. The return of the calabash (sgujanaor inkhosatane) is so important that every person has reason to celebrate as it carries the very important significant water for the cleansing part of the Incwala itself.The fetching of the water isa symbolic of battleandthe successful return is likened to aconquest of their foes.

Now that the Bemantireturned, theIncwala Ceremony commences in full swing. On that day the moon is said todie before the new one appears and the followingevening theBemanti carrying the two emakhosatana full of sacred sea water together with some traditional ritual medicines, enter the royal sibaya by the main entrance through which they left; which is facing the east. The leaders sing the praises of the Kings. The King as the maker of enemies (Mbangazitha) considers this a blessing because it would affirm that he has conquered even his enemies as the water party people returns.

Lusekwanne Ceremony (Part of a pre-Incwala event)incawala

This is a very important ceremony and is an integral part of the Incwala rite. Young boys who have not engaged in any sexual relations with women are summoned by the Indvuna(traditional Prime Minister) to the Queen mother’s residence. Their duties are to gather the thorny Lusekwane shrub that is used in building the ‘Inhlambelo’ (a sacred enclosure). Tradition has it that the shrub cut by young men who are not sexually active will retain its freshness even though the branches have been cut from its mother tree. This Inhlambelois built inside the big royal sibaya(kraal) and it is where most sacred and secret cleansing rituals are to be undertaken during the height of the Incwala. By partaking in the cutting of the Lusekwane, the young regiments will show their respect and allegiance to the Monarchy. During the times of King Sobhuza II, the Gcinaand iNkhanyetiregiments were active, in Mswati III’s reign the Inyatsiregiments are accorded that honour. As is the norm in Swazi customs during the march to the main region where the shrubs grows (esikhaleniselusekwane) the boys are instructed in cultural heritage and adherence to the traditions of thenation that is cemented on the ideals and principles of accordingrespect to the elders. The king’s influence is affirmed duringsuch opportunities as the young men will then join the traditionalregiments (baganeinkhosi – babutseke), once they take such an oath, by so doing they have fulfilled a national duty of paying allegiance to the monarchy. All the Nguni tribes believe very strongly in grooming boys. During the Lusekwanecutting ceremony and subsequent weeding of Infabantfu (King’s fields) elderly men resume their advisory role of passing down the values and norms to younger regiments as part of groomingthem to entering into manhood.

Key role players of the Incwala Ceremony

Incwala sacred ceremony has its own songs that are only to be sung during this sacred ceremony. They cannot be repeated or sung in any other event once this sacred festival is over, the moment the King throws luselwalwe-Embo on the main day.There are also special traditional regalia (imvunulo) that is to be used during this time. Inyoni, sigejaumdadaand ingweare some of the regalia that the warriors put on (it is not every commoner who can wear such regalia), it depends on the status and seniority of the person concerned.

Setting the Stage

The stage will now be set for the rituals of the Incwala. This is not done publicly and not by the ruling Dlamini Clan, it is reserved for those clans and entrusted people, who carry such a heavy responsibility of ensuring the continued reign of the ruling monarchy to his ultimate end. The king’s life is now handed over to the kingship’s makers to perform and carry out the rituals.

The Kingship makers

Ideally during the height of this festival the King is to undergoa ritual cleansing as stated earlier. As part of that intricate process,this is a highly secret affair and not open to public scrutiny.

Masilela and Mavuso – (Some of the Mutipeople)

As already indicated the role of mutipeople is reserved for trusted servants of the King and they are viewed as trustworthy custodians of the crown and loyal servants. The Masilela and Mavuso clans are some of the well-known clans who are entrusted with such tasks, especially during the Incwala Sacred ceremony. While the King is at liberty to consult other muti people during the year, at this time of the year his life is in the hands of the Masilela and Mavuso clans. Of course as to how they are chosen remains a mystery, but other traditional authorities claim that it is a hereditary procedure, whereby a man was administering the same muti, then one of his sons or even closer relative would then be earmarked to take over this role if he had passed away.

Killing the Black Bull– Kubulal’inkhunzi

After cutting the Lusekwane shrub to prove their strength and powers the boys have to kill a black bull with their hands. This Black bull will first form part of the process of cleansing; the King is inside the enclosure, painted all black with a special prepared lotion whose ingredients are only known to the most trusted muti men; he is naked on a lions skin and performs secret and sacred rituals which will wash away all bad omens, evil intentions of all forms, and plans against him by his enemies. All this happens over this ceremonial black bull inside the inhlambelo. The bull that was tied up while the rituals were taking place in the sacred enclosure will then be set loose regiment boys will have to kill it with their bare fists. As it believed to carry the bad intentions and curses that were directed to the King. As it comes out of the enclosure it is as if intoxicated and passed by all evilSpirits. Once it is killed it is skinned and roasted will be eaten there and then. The King is now set free from any bad luck or omen and is now ready to facethe challenges of the coming year and can lead thenation to prosperity, peace and stability.

KujikwaKweluselwa – Throwing of the Gourd–A dramatic enactment of Rebellion:

There is an important occasion when the King who is seenas the head of the Dlamini, the warriorsrebel and surge after the blood royals. Eventually the Ngwenyama disappears into the sacred enclosure where he dresses in a more historic and ritual costume… Then a shout is heard: “Awaphumeematfonga” (Let the Tfongas i.e. Dlamini leave the byre).It is significant to note that the rebellion enacted stems from the Royal Dlamini, at this time songs andchants are heard that are not complimentary of the King ..Soon thereafter the Ngwenyama throws the ritual gourd known as luselwalwe-Embobut. The chasing away of the Dlaminifrom near the King concludes this activity.

Burning of the Log

This is the last of the rituals and will involve two aspects of national importance, firstly the making of rain which will put out the burning log and the burning of all cleansed dirt and muticoncoctions together with the trinkets and personal items that have been collected by the Bemanti people on their way to and from fetching the water.

The real Incwala is not as many believe a major dance enactment and the main day of the Incwala is by no means the most important part of the ceremony.It all happens as a process and a lot of events are done at night in the privacy of Inhlambeloand Indlunkhulu it is a process with many factors at play for its success, the departed Kings are forever believed to be present.

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