Durban: The 22nd Annual Reed Dance (Umkhosi woMhlanga) is expected to draw 40 000 maidens from across KwaZulu-Natal, Swaziland and Pondoland, spokesperson for the KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Arts, Culture, Sport and Recreation, Mluleki Mntungwa told SAnews today.
The Annual Reed Dance was reintroduced by King Goodwill Zwelithini in 1991, as a means to encourage young Zulu girls to delay sexual activity until marriage, and thus limiting the possibility of them contracting HIV.
Since the advent of democracy in 1994, the event has attracted maidens from across the country and beyond the borders.
King Zwelithini was also instrumental in reviving the culture of male circumcision five years ago.
The project has since been adopted by the provincial Department of Health and has seen 300 000 men undergoing medical male circumcision in KwaZulu-Natal, thereby decreasing their risk of HIV infection, according to the UNAIDS 2011 figures.
The King has received accolades for his leadership in the areas of youth health, HIV/Aids and rural development.
The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies honoured Zwelithini as its first patron on July 8, 2011.
Africa Centre Director, Professor Marie-Louise Newell, said the King was being honoured for his unwavering support for the Annual Reed Dance, a ceremony for young maidens which celebrates their virginity and abstinence. He was also being honoured for his revival of the male circumcision project three years ago, whereby he has been a driving force in ensuring its success.
Since 1994, the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government has adopted the Reed Dance as part of its flagship project of preserving and promoting cultural practices. The Annual Reed Dance is wholly funded from the provincial public purse.
All girls are required to undergo a virginity test before they are allowed to participate in the royal dance. The girls wear traditional attire, including beadwork. They also wear anklets, bracelets, necklaces and colourful sashes. Each sash has appendages of a different colour, which denote whether or not the girl is betrothed.
As part of the ceremony, the young women dance for King Zwelithini, and each carries a long reed, which is then deposited as they approach the king.
The girls take care to choose only the longest and strongest reeds, and then carry them towering above their heads in a slow procession, up the hill to the palace.
The procession is led by the chief Zulu princess, who takes a prominent role throughout the festival. If the reed should break before the girl reaches that point, it is considered to signal that the girl has already been sexually active, historians say.
“It is all system go for tomorrow,” Mntungwa said.
He said top government officials, MECs and traditional leaders are expected to attend.
He said about 300 buses have been organised to ferry maidens from various parts of the country.
“In the light of the warning that has been issued by the weather services of adverse weather conditions that might affect the province over the weekend, the department appeals to all the maidens who will be attending the Royal Reed Ceremony in Nongoma to bring along warm clothes,” he said.
The Annual Reed Dance takes place tomorrow in Nongoma, eNyokeni Royal Palace.