Date with a Swazi Princess
Sikhanyiso shrouds her regal aura with the humility of a rural girl who loves her culture
WE ENTER Nkoyoyo Palace, home of the king of Swaziland, Mswati III with apprehension.
A ROYAL APPOINTMENT
It's obvious from the soldiers and ambience that this is not the kind of place where you just waltz in. You brush off any possible crumbs on yourself before you drive through the gate, straighten your back and put on a demeanor that screams respect.
When we finally reach the tastefully decorated lounge, in a shade that is a cross between chocolate brown and dark copper, we settle down to waiting for Princess Sikhanyiso.
We are here to talk about the annual reed dance and its significance. In essence we really wanted to look through her royal window to find out what it is like to grow up as a princess. After all, this is a country that cherishes and prides itself on its culture. It is the last absolute monarchy in Africa.
My colleague, photographer Bafana Mahlangu, celebrity promoter Simon Manana, whose passion for Swaziland is legendary, and I, had barely sat down when the princess, followed by her best friend and assistant, Xolile Zwane, and another friend from the US. who is half Filipino and Zambian, gracefully walk in, traditionally dressed.
The fresh and beautiful creatures sit on the floor the way good Swazi girls are taught. It is also a sign of respect that blows me away.
Sikhanyiso and Xolile address us as "boNkosi" throughout, and I am impressed.
Only 22, Sikhanyiso says she has been leading the Reed Dance since she was six years old. She has grown to appreciate its significance. She has become more passionate about it and loves that it draws so many visitors to the small kingdom. It gives them a chance to showcase their culture.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THE REED DANCE
"The reed dance started on Wednesday. Girls from various parts of the country come together to meet for seven days.
"We start by collecting the reeds under the watchful eyes of our leaders. The week kicks off with education on our culture - How to carry ourselves and respect our bodies and understand the guile men use to trick women.
"We teach each other songs that encourage us to hold on to our virtues. We respect the elders and each other and poke fun at those girls who come to watch us as we move past," she says.
The seventh day sees them dropping their reeds, singing and just enjoying themselves.
Sikhanyiso says what she also enjoys about umhlanga is the interaction with the other girls and the encouragement among themselves.
As an afterthought she says: "Oh, by the way, the king also takes a wife in the way our culture dictates".
On umqwasho, the practice in which girls are encouraged to wear tassels on their heads to show that they are still virgins, she says:
"I also had to wear umqwasho and I did so with pride. It becomes a status thing to declare your virginity".
She reveals that those who are found to have violated this law are fined a cow.
In her case, she would be expected to shell out two.
A PENCHANT FOR RAPPING
Now that we have established that the reed dance is not about lecherous men ogling maidens' tits or an excuse for the king to marry, we move on to the person that is Sikhanyiso.
"Like most people I love music, so much that I recorded a track with Zuluboy though it has never been released.
"I enjoy rapping and used to wax eloquent while my friend Kyle played the guitar. There is freedom in talking about something you are passionate about, telling it like it is," bubbles the communication graduate from a US university.
She also admits, rather reluctantly, to loving martial arts. "I would really love to act, annihilate the bad guys to save the good ones. Acting is a passion I must realise."
ON LIVING UP TO HER MOTHER AND GRANDMOTHER'S STANDARDS...
Unlike most people who are scared of the Queen Mother, she is close to her.
"She is not easily approachable and just exudes dignity, but she is the most amazing and gentle person," she says of her grandmother.
When she is not visiting the queen mother, she hangs out with her friends. Occasionally they go to the mall.
She also performs charitable works.
"I visit the sick, especially those afflicted with HIV, at hospitals. Being the king's daughter easily facilitates that," she says.
Thinking of her future goals, Sikhanyiso notes:
"I know that my mother has set the bar high for me, by being an advocate.
"I still need to study more so that I can make my parents proud. I also want to contribute meaningfully to our beautiful country."