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The Royal Reed Dance



Once a year, in the heart of South Africa's Kingdom of the Zulu, thousands of people make the long journey to one of His Majesty’s, the King of the Zulu nation's royal residence at KwaNyokeni Palace. Here, in Nongoma, early every September month, young Zulu maidens will take part in a colourful cultural festival, the Royal Reed Dance festival - or Umkhosi woMhlanga in the Zulu language.

For visitors to KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa's most Popular tourist destination, the Reed Dance festival offers the unique opportunity to experience the natural beauty and majesty of the Kingdom of the Zulu, combined with the vibrant spectacle of Zulu cultural life. The road to the Reed Dance festival runs north from the city of Durban, and winds through the green lushness of the North Coast sugar-belt, skirting through the Kingdom's world-renowed wildlife reserves of Zululand and Maputaland.

Finally, it leads into the gently rolling hills and valleys of Zululand, a landscape rich with the silent memories of the heroic clashes of the Anglo-Zulu War, which took place more than 100 years ago.

Steeped in the history of the rise of the Zulu kingdom under the great King Shaka, the Reed Dance festival has been tirelessly celebrated by countless generations, and attracts thousands of visitors from throughout the country and from across the world. A dignified traditional ceremony, the Reed Dance festival is at same time a vibrant, festive occasion, which depicts the rich cultural heritage of the Kingdom of the Zulu and celebrates the proud origin of the Zulu people.


The Reed Dance is also a celebration of the Zulu nation and performs the essential role of unifying nation and the king, who presides over the ceremony.

The festival takes its name from the riverbed reeds, which are the central focus of this four-day event. The reed-sticks are carried in a procession by thousands of young maidens who are invited to the King's palace each year. More than 10 000 maidens, from various communities throughout the province of KwaZulu- Natal, take part in the Reed Dance ceremony, with the rest of the Zulu nation helping them to celebrate their preparation for womanhood.

It is a great honour for the young women to be invited to take part in the Reed Dance ceremony, and its also a source of great dignity and pride for their families and communities.

According to Zulu traditon, only virgins are permitted to take part in the festival to ensure that they are ritually 'pure'.


The Reed Dance festival is a solemn occasion for the young women, but also an opportunity to show off their singing, dancing and beadwork, the fruits of many months of excitement and preparation.

The women of KwaZulu-Natal make some of the finest beadwork in Africa, and the Reed Dance is an especially vibrant and colourful occasion on account of the rich beadwork on display. For visitors to the Reed Dance, this exquisite handiwork can provide a unique souvenir or gift to take home.

From each region in the Kingdom comes a distinctive craft tradition, and the colours, patterns and styles of the beadwork luxuriantly displayed by the young women, as both ornaments and clothing attest to the region of origin of the craftwork.


As the Reed Dance ceremony begins, the young women prepare to form a procession led by the chief princess. One of the daughters of the Zulu King is also the leader of the group of maidens as they go through this important rite of passage.

Each maiden carries a reed which has been cut by the riverbed and it symbolizes the power that is vested in nature. The reeds reflect a deep mythical connection with origin of the Zulu people where, tradition tells us, the original ancestor emerged from a reed bed.

In everyday use, these reeds are the building material for the typical domed or beehive hut, iqhugwane, which is found particularly in rural homesteads throughout KwaZulu-Natal.

Zulu mythology has it that if a young woman who is not a virgin takes part in the Reed Dance ceremony, her reed will break and embarrass her in full public view!

And still, today an expectant hush falls on the crowd as the chief princess is the first to choose a reed. Shouts of joy and celebration greet her as the reed remains intact and, with bated breath, each of the young women takes it in turn to choose a reed.

Accompanied by jubilant singing and dancing, the stately procession winds its way up the hill to the palace entrance where the king awaits, flanked by his royal regiment.

As leader of the group of young women, the chief Princess kneels down before the king and presents him with a reed to mark the occasion, before joining the young women in a joyful dance of tribute to the king.


In recent times, however, the King has fittingly used the Reed Dance festival as an opportunity to educate the Zulu nation, and particularly the youth, focusing on vital social issues such as practicing sexual morals and behaviours which prevent teenage pregnancy and lower the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases.

The people of the Zulu nation are world famous for their impressive dancing and singing skills, and the dancing of the young women who perform for the King at the Reed Dance festival is both graceful and powerful.

By paying tribute to the king in this way, the Zulu nation, represented by the young women, bestows on the king the symbolic power to rule over the Zulu kingdom and its loyal subjects in the year to come.

To demonstrate his gratitude, the king responds with a sacrifice to the royal ancestors on behalf of all the young women and their communities throughout the Kingdom.

The chief princess, who wears the inyongo, the gall bladder of the principal sacrificial animal, which is a symbol of purity and an important symbol in any Zulu ritual, leads the procession from the palace.


Speeches and performers entertain the Zulu Royal family and their guests, the local Inkosi's and their subjects and other spectators. And , as the ceremony draws to a close, the King joins in the dancing and singing in celebration of the successful enactment of a traditional ceremony which has endured for centuries.

Each September, the Royal Reed Dance attracts guests From all over the world, and no visitor to KwaZulu- Natal should miss this unique opportunity to join in the festive celebration of the cultural roots and proud traditions of the Zulu nation.

However, a visit to the Kingdom of the Zulu any time of the year, will afford the visitor a glimpse of the rich cultural life of the Zulu people from exquisite craftwork to powerful dancing and singing, in traditional rural homesteads and in the vibrant urban township settlements.


Day 1: Assuming that your point of entry is through the city of Durban, depart from the city and travel along the scenic KZN North Coast into Zululand. Visit Dlinza Forest Aerial Boardwalk- it is built in the 250-hectare forest reserve – and it is the only indigenous forest completely surrounded by an urban setting.

The route takes one to the Zululand Historical Museum at Fort Nongqayi and the Vukani collection, the largest collection of Zulu Art and Craft in the world. Stop overs can be arranged for light lunch at Adams Outpost and proceed to the Martyr’s Cross, the site of the death of the first Zulu martyr with a spectacular view of approx. 80 kms of coastline. At the end of the first route dinner can be arranged aboard a 'float' at Lake St Lucia

Day 2: Depart for a Zulu Cultural Experience - traditional Zulu dancing and buffet lunch at Eshowe. Marvel at the display on the prowess of spear throwing and experience life in a Zulu homestead. Travel to St Lucia village for an overnight stay and enjoy a traditional Ostrich Potjie dinner at a local establishment.

Day 3: Depart for a launch cruise on Lake St Lucia. This area was identified by the World Wildlife Fund as a 'site of ecological importance'. Marvel at the sightings of hippos, crocodiles, mudskippers, mangrove crabs and listen to the magnificent cry of the fish eagle. Lake St. Lucia is home of the greatest number of hippos and the magnificent Nile crocodiles


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City Babanango
Originally part of a land grant to European farmers in 1885 by King Dinizulu, Babanango remains a centre of agriculture and is ideally situated for visitors wanting to explore the Zululand and the Battlefields Route.

The name Babanango translates as 'Father there it is' - indicating the high hill which is a landmark of the area.

City Empangeni
In 1851, the Norwegian Missionary Society established a station on the banks of the Mpangeni River. The river was named after the profusion of Mpange trees growing along its banks, and the settlement that formed around the station took the slightly Anglicised name of the river.

Empangeni is a thriving, friendly Zululand town in the beautiful surroundings of the Mpangeni Valley.

Empangeni Art & Cultural Museum
A fascinating museum boasting regular temporary exhibitions and a permanent display including Zulu heritage art and the Harrison collection of the pioneer sugar farmers.

A small village near Empangeni housing a sugar mill labour force. The sugar mill here is one of the largest in the country.

City Eshowe
Eshowe's cool, elevated position on a hilltop overlooking the hot and humid Zululand coastal plain gives the town its serenity, but the Dlinza Forest around which the town wraps itself, gives Eshowe it soul.
City Gingindlovu
Gingindlovu, in the Zululand area of KwaZulu-Natal owes its origins to the military headquarters established in the mid-1800s by the future Zulu king Cetshwayo, following his triumph against his brothers in a bloody battle for succession at Ndondakusuka. Cetshwayo named his headquarters Gingindlovu, or Swallower of the Elephant for it was said that by defeating his brothers - Prince Mbulazi in particular- he had eaten up the greatest opponent to his ambitions.

To the British soldiers who fought two major battles against King Cetshwayo's army at Gingindlovu 20 years later during the Anglo Zulu War, the village was known fondly as 'Gin, gin, I love you'.

City Magudu
Many private game farms, hunting lodges and safari guides operate from this magnet for international trophy collectors. Magudu is also the site of a historical village that was once home to Magudu, the Zulu rain queen.

City Melmoth
When the British government annexed Zululand in 1887 and established several magisterial districts, it was decided to administer that of Mthonjaneni from a town named after the resident commissioner - Sir Melmoth Osborn.

Melmoth is situated in a lush green mist belt 800m above sea-level. Melmoth is a long established trading and agricultural centre, with an emphasis on timber. The area embraces one of the largest conservancies in KwaZulu-Natal, plus a major bird sanctuary of the Zululand Birding Route.

City Mtunzini
The Zulu word "emthunzini" means "a place in the shade" but in the history of this beautiful small coastal town it refers specifically to the place under the milkwood trees near the Umlalazi River where the White Zulu chief John Dunn, would meet with the tribal elders of the area.

Visiting this Zululand town today gives exactly that feeling - a place in the shade.
Blessed with a sub-tropical climate (humid summers and mild winters) and a high annual rainfall, Mtunzini - or The Village, as the locals often refer to it - boasts a clean, safe, peaceful and abundant environment with a stunning outlook over the Umlalazi Nature Reserve and the sea.

City Nongoma
Nongoma KwaZulu-Natal, considered one of the busiest little towns in rural KwaZulu-Natal, lies north west of Hluhluwe and is fast becoming a major tourist attraction, thanks to King Goodwill Zwelithini who makes Nongoma his home.

Derived from the Zulu word, "ngome" - the mother of songs - Nongoma was originally established in 1888 as a buffer between two warring Zulu factions to try to establish peace in the area. Today, the hereditary leader of Zululand has his royal palaces here and has opened these to the public. Local businessman, Mlungisi Percy Nzuza who owns Nongoma Lodge, is a driving force behind local tourism in the town and arranges dinners at which members of the royal family appear to chat informally to visitors about the Royal House and the traditions of the Zulu people.

City Paulpietersburg
Paulpietersburg is a small, pretty town nestling in the foothills of the Dumbe Mountain - a big, flat-topped, triangular mountain in the middle of flatlands territory, popular with paragliders and hikers and named after the wild dumbe fruit which grows on its slopes.

Paulpietersburg is also on the Rainbow Route, an alternative means of reaching the coast that starts in Mpumalanga and passes through Paulpietersburg, Vryheid, Melmoth, and Piet Retief and ends in the town of Mtunzini. Paulpietersburg is only 3.5 hours' drive from Johannesburg and Durban and popular with visitors because of the nine hot and cold mineral water pools at the Natal Spa just 9 km outside of town. The spa is fed by a natural, hot spring that surfaces on the southern approaches to the 1 536m Dumbe Mountain.

City Pongola
Pongola is a small town situated in northern KwaZulu-Natal Province, only 10 kilometres from the Swaziland border. Pongola has 50 km? of sugarcane and subtropical fruit plantations surrounding it. During the Depression years of the 1930s, drastic irrigation systems were started in Pongola. The town of Pongola thrived as a result of the canal system and a sugar mill that was built.

Considered as the jewel of Kwa-Zulu Natal, uPhongolo or Pongola is now said to be "Right at the Heart of the Zulu Kingdom". Road access to the area is via the N2 from Gauteng and Natal and the Golela Border post from Swaziland - a major gateway to the area for foreign visitors traveling south from the Kruger Park. Distances from all major centers are: Johannesburg 420km, Durban 380km and 270km south of the southern gates of the Kruger National Park.

City Richards Bay
Richards Bay was named after British naval commander Rear Admiral Sir Frederick William Richards, who landed troops on the Zululand coast in 1879, this was a small fishing village until the port was opened in 1976. Richards Bay now boasts the largest export coal terminal in the world - loading 65 million tons every year - and the specialised ships that call are a must-see for maritime buffs. The enormous operations of Richards Bay Minerals top the list of industrial tourism opportunities for the curious-minded.
City Ulundi
Situated in the heart of the old Zulu kingdom and current KwaZulu-Natal Zululand region, which lost its independence to Colonial expansionism in the late 19th century, Ulundi is near the site of King Cetshwayo's royal settlement razed to the ground after the final battle of the Anglo-Zulu War.
City Vryheid
Vryheid was once the capital of the Nieuwe Republiek, and incorporated into the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek in 1884. Vryheid (Freedom) became a focal point for German immigration which continues to inform this modern progressive town. Many examples of Tudor and Edwardian architecture stand among the numerous historic landmarks of Vryheid.
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