Swazi people

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Swazi Warriors.jpg
Swazi warriors at incwala
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 Swaziland 1,185,000
 South Africa 1,297,046
siSwati, English, Afrikaans
Christianity, African Traditional Religion
Related ethnic groups
Nguni, Sotho-Tswana, other Bantu peoples

The Swazi are a Bantu Nguni-speaking people in southeastern Africa, chiefly in Swaziland and South Africa. Besides their language, Siswati, they speak Afrikaans in South Africa, English in South Africa and Swaziland. More Swazi live in South Africa than in Swaziland since the late 1800s due to European settlement. [1] The Swazi people and the Kingdom of Swaziland are named for Mswati II, who became king in 1839. Their royal lineage can be traced to a chief named Dlamini I, this is still the royal clan name. About three-quarters of the clan groups are Nguni; the remainder are Sotho and Tsonga descendants. These groups have intermarried freely. There are slight differences among Swazi groups, but Swazi identity extends to all those with allegiance to the twin monarchs Ingwenyama "the Lion" (the king) and Indlovukati "the She-Elephant" (the queen mother).

Early Swazis[edit]

The Nguni clans, which originated in Southeast Africa in the fifteenth century, moved into southern Mozambique and then into present-day Swaziland; the term bakaNgwane ("Ngwane's people") is still used as an alternative to emaSwati. The Swazis are a Bantu-speaking people who are predominantly Nguni in language and culture. As part of the Nguni expansion southwards, the Swazis crossed the Limpopo River and settled in southern Tongaland (today called Mozambique) in the late fifteenth century. Their leader was Dlamini, a man of Nguni background. After 200 years the Swazi people, still under a series of chiefs of the Dlamini clan moved into the region on the Pongola River, where they lived in close proximity to the Ndwandwe people. Later on, economic pressures of land shortage finally brought these two groups to blows, after which battle the Swazis retreated to the central area of modern Swaziland. Here the Swazis continued the process of expansion by conquering numerous small Sotho and Nguni speaking tribes to build up a large composite state today called Swaziland. Sobhuza I ruled during the umfecane, resulting from the expansion of the Zulu state under Shaka. Under Sobhuza's leadership, the Nguni and Sotho peoples as well as remnant San groups were integrated into the Swazi nation. "Swazi" eventually was applied to all the peoples who gave allegiance to the Ingwenyama.[2]


The kings of Swaziland date back to some considerable time to when the Royal line of Dlamini lived in the vicinity of Delagoa Bay. The Swazi people as a nation were originally formed by 15 clans known as bemdzabuko ( "true Swazi" ) who accompanied the Dlamini kings. The 15 founding clans were Dlamini, Hlope, Kunene, Mabuza, Madonsela, Mamba, Matsebula, Mdluli, Motsa, Ngwenya, Shongwe, Sukati, Tsabedze, Twala and Zwane. Other Swazi clans are the Emakhandzambili clans ("those found ahead", e.g. the Gamedze), meaning that they were on the land prior to Dlamini immigration and conquest and the Emafikemuva ("those who came behind") who joined the kingdom later. The Nguni people are recorded as having entered the territory of Swaziland around the year 1600. Under the leadership fo Dlamini III, settlement took place in 1750, along the Pongola River where it cuts through the Lubombo mountains.[3] In the late 1830s, initial contact occurred among the Swazi, the Boers, and the British. A substantial portion of Swazi territory was ceded to the Transvaal Boers first under Mswati II and later under Mbandzeni, the first of many concessions to European interests. The Pretoria Convention for the Settlement of the Transvaal in 1881 recognized the independence of Swaziland and defined its boundaries. The Ngwenyama was not a signatory, and the Swazi claim that their territory extends in all directions from the present state. Britain claimed authority over Swaziland in 1903, and independence was regained in 1968.


Swazi people dancing in a cultural village show.

Dancing and singing, including praise-singing, are prominent in Swazi culture. Pottery and carving were minor arts. Swazi marriage is called "umtsimba", it is usually on a weekend in dry season (June - August). Bride and her relatives go to groom's homestead on Friday evening. Saturday morning - bridal party sit by nearby river, eat beast (goat/cow) offered by groom's family; afternoon - dance in the groom's homestead. Sunday morning - bride, with her female relatives, stabs ground with a spear in man's cattle kraal, later she is smeared with red ochre. The smearing is the high point of marriage - no woman can be smeared twice. Bride presents gifts to husband and his relatives.[4] Umhlanga is one of the well known cultural events in Swaziland held in August/September for young unmarried girls to pay homage to the Ndlovukati. Incwala is another Swazi cultural event held in December/January depending on the phases of the moon. This ceremony, also known as the "First Fruits" ceremony marks the King's tasting of the new harvest.[5]


A supreme God/creator is recognized, but more important are the spirits of ancestors. Swazi religion speaks of a creator known as Mvelincanti (he who was there from the beginning). However, Mvelincanti is too remote and so it is ancestral spirits emadloti is more relevant in day to day life.[6] Beasts are slaughtered and beer was brewed to please (propitiate) the spirits, and ask for help. The rituals are performed at the level of family associated with birth, death and marriage.[6] Some Swazis are also Christians.