Swaziland’s virgins dance in unity, defy criticism

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THOUSANDS of bare-breasted young Swazi women paraded in front of their king to celebrate chastity and unity, dismissing criticism of the lavish ceremony for Africa’s last absolute monarch.

Report by Reuters
Clad in beaded mini-skirts and clutching machetes and mobile phones, women and girls as young as five danced and sang tributes this week to the king and queen mother, also known as the Great She-Elephant, in a traditional Umhlanga Reed Dance meant to celebrate womanhood and virginity.

 
“I’m proud to be Swazi and to be a virgin. We are here to show unity with the king and with each other,” said 18-year-old Gcebine Dlamini, bracing the cold in her skimpy outfit as scores of tourists had photos taken next to the topless women.

 
In the past, the king has used the ceremony to choose a new wife, and some girls still hoped to catch the king’s eye.

 
“If chosen, I would be able to live a better life than what I have, have a lot of money, live a queen’s life and travel overseas,” said Fakazile Dlamini (14), who arrived on a lorry from her village 60 km away to attend the ceremony.

 
Women’s groups and political opponents also say Mswati’s penchant for multiple young brides ill befits a country with the world’s highest rate of HIV/Aids, but the monarch says polygamy is part of Swazi tradition and helps cement national unity.

 
Maidens flocked in from across the country –– some attend the ceremony every year until they marry –– cut reeds from river beds, which they then presented to the queen mother in a mile-long singing and foot-stamping procession.

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