Marula Festival at Hlane

March 4, 2012

This past weekend was the much anticipated Marula Festival at one of the Royal Residences about 20km down the road from our school.  For weeks we have been hearing about this event from everyone in our community and urged to attend ourselves.  This, combined with the offer for transport to and from the festival by our principal made it an event we simply could not miss.

Marula Fruit

For those not living in Swaziland—Marula is a fruit that is currently in season and is widely (VERY Widely) used throughout the Kingdom to make ‘home brew’.  This alcoholic concoction seems to take over many people’s social (and some entire) lives during this time of year.  As would be expected, this can lead to some disastrous consequences as crime rates tick up slightly during these few months.

{ Before anyone back home panics…we are just fine and are taking all of the necessary precautions to avoid dangerous situations. }

Anyway, back to this weekend.  There are two celebrations of this fruit which involve the King and Queen Mother during the season—one takes place in the northern region of Hhohho, while the other takes place at Hlane. Not knowing what to expect and with Cyclone Irina approaching rapidly towards Swaziland, we did not bring along our camera along, but I was able to capture a few blurry photos from my phone.  Hopefully they can help give you at least some idea of what the event was like.

Hlane - Just outside the Royal Residence

As with all of the cultural events we have attended, we had absolutely no idea what time things would get under-way.  Our principal suggested we leave at about 11am to make sure we didn’t miss anything and were able to secure a good view when the action did start.  When we arrived there were plenty of Swazis in traditional attire—some dancing, some drinking, some just hanging out.  However, there was no indication that anything was even close to starting.  While we waited around for some indication of what was about to happen we were entertained by stories and anecdotes from locals.

Apparently, Hlane is the parental home of the current Queen Mother.  In addition, the name Hlane is actually tied to one of the previous King’s wives.  Sometime in the 1930s (dates are always a bit fuzzy here), then King Sobuza II was pursuing a particular woman to become one of his wives.  As the story goes, his pursuit even took him as far as following her to a boarding school in South Africa where he finally convinced her to marry him.  He built her a home in what is now Hlane and named it after one of her family’s praise names.  Their first child together was a girl named Dlalsile (which is now the name of an area adjacent to Hlane).  During his visits to this new homestead, the late-King met and took as his wife another girl who, at his death in the 1980s, was selected as the next Queen Mother with her only son to become King Mswati III.

Today, Hlane is really nothing more than a small village center in the middle of no-where, Swaziland.  However, rising out of this dusty and remote community is an enormous palace currently under construction.  The current palace under construction has 10 bedrooms and a wing for each the Queen Mother and the King.  When asked why such a large palace is being constructed in the middle of nowhere, locals seem to think that the King plans on using this home to host visiting dignitaries once the airport in our community is completed.

Palace under construction at Hlane

After about 4 hours of waiting, the attention of those other waiting seemed to be concentrating towards the royal kraal (where they keep the cows), so we wandered that way and found a seat underneath a large tent which had been erected with plastic chairs scattered throughout.  With the winds from Cyclone Irina picking up there was dust flying everywhere and several times when the tent poles ripped right out of the ground.  Adjacent to this tent was the now familiar yellow tent that the Royals and special guests sit in during these ceremonies (of course this tent did not move at all with the wind).

Parade of bo-make pass by our slightly obscured view

The tents began to fill up and the traditionally dressed women began parading onto the dusty field in regiments—whistling, dancing, and singing.  A BMW approached and out walked the Queen Mother onto the red carpet laid out leading to her seat.  Shortly after, a mass of traditionally dressed Swazi warriors made their way through the aisle with the King in the center of their ranks to join his mother in the VIP tent.

Among the dancers are 5 of the King's wives

The MC for the event (a woman seated near us with a microphone hooked up to a couple speakers placed annoyingly right in front of our prime seats) began announcing the special guests in attendance including the Prince and delegation from KuZulu Natal in South Africa as well as the King of another tribe in South Africa.  Then she called forward groups of women representing the four regions of Swaziland and then the Zulu delegation.  Each led the group in a song/dance before passing to the next.  After all had sung, everyone in attendance stood and sang a song of unity—then the event ended.  Just as the rains began falling from Cyclone Irina.

A very blurry King Mswati III is under the umbrella


One thought on “Marula Festival at Hlane

  1. Hi

    I am currently writing a new travel guide to Swaziland, to be published later this year by Bradt Travel Guides. I stumbled across your blog and much enjoyed your account of the Hlane marula festival. With your permission, I would be interested in using a short extract in the book, if space allows. (The book will also feature other snippets by various contributors, set as boxed text, in order to convey the flavour of life in SWD from various perspectives.) I would, of course, run the edited text past you first and credit you in whatever way you wanted.

    About me: I am a UK-based freelance travel writer. I lived and worked in Swaziland from 1993–1999, have many friends there and return whenever I can (most recently, this time last year). This will be the first travel guide to Swaziland by a UK publisher that is dedicated exclusively to the country.

    Please let me know directly by email at the address below. I will be travelling from 3–16 April, so apologies if I cannot get back to you until after I return.

    Many thanks

    Mike Unwin

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