hear to listen to Paola talk about this festival
is an excerpt from the book Celebrating Women.
attended college in Pretoria. Because she has been out of the country,
she has never participated in a Reed Dance. As an Anglican, it is hard
for her to imagine wearing such a skimpy skirt with neither top nor underwear,
but she is longing to dance in the festival at least once. Ultimately,
she decides she will feel comfortable if she bans her boyfriend from attending
Umhlanga. The two of us go shopping for her costume.
Old women doing beadwork on the second floor of the Manzini Market direct
us toward the stalls selling the requisite skirt, tassels, necklace,
ankle bracelets, shields and knives. To my astonishment, Ndileka strips
bare to try on the whole outfit. The women vendors jump up to help her
dress and conduct an animated conversation in siSwati that she reports
later: "They were talking about my body." "That's right,"
they said, "be proud of it."
The next day when Ndileka joins the throngs of maidens at Umhlanga,
I lose track of her in the crowd of identically-dressed young women.
Afterwards, she is still high on Swazi womanhood
when I locate her surrounded
by Reed Dancers who are pulling their cell phones from underneath their
shields, preparing to reconnect with the real world.
"It was wonderful." Ndileka bubbles. "I can't wait for
next year! You are not afraid of showing your bum because the other
girls have also got their bums out, your breasts because everybody's
got their breasts out. You don't have to worry about someone staring
at you because everyone is dressed the same. Some girls are really big
and I was proud of them for showing off their bodies like that; they
"I met many people I knew and they had their friends so now I
have even more friends. Plenty of boys were shouting at us, 'Hey sweetie,
come here, can I see you after the dance?' But since we were many, we
just ignored them or talked back, which was quite fun. Quite fun."