Umhlanga, or Reed Dance ceremony, is an annual Swazi (majority of the people of Swaziland) and Zulu tradition celebrated in August or September. Historically, one of the main objectives of the Reed Dance is to allow the king to choose another wife. Thousands of unmarried and childless Swazi/Zulu girls and women travel from their villages to take part in the eight-day event. In Swaziland they gather at the Queen Mother's royal village, which currently is Ludzidzini Royal Village, while Nongoma is the site of the royal reed dance in Zululand.
After arriving at the Queen Mother's royal residence, or Enyokeni Palace in Zululand, the women disperse to surrounding areas and cut tall reeds. The following night they bundle them together and bring them to the Queen Mother for use in repairing holes in the reed windscreen surrounding the royal village. After a day of rest the women prepare their traditional costumes consisting of a bead necklace, rattling anklets made from cocoons, a sash, and skirt. Many of them carry the bush knife they used to cut the reeds as a symbol of their virginity.
The Reed Dance ceremony was developed in the 1940's and 50's from the Umcwasho custom where young girls were placed in age regiments to ensure their virginity. Once they reached the age of marriage they would perform labor for the Queen Mother followed by dancing and a feast. The official purpose of the annual ceremony is to preserve the women's chastity, provide tribute labor for the Queen Mother, and produce solidarity among the women through working together.
The women sing and dance as they parade in front of the royal family as well as a crowd of spectators, tourists and foreign dignitaries. After the parade, groups from select villages take to the center of the field and put on a special performance for the crowd. The King's many daughters also participate in the Umhlanga ceremony and are distinguished by the crown of red feathers in their hair.
Recently, Swaziland's Home Affairs minister, Prince Gcokoma Dlamini, announced, that the upcoming non-working public holiday for the Umhlanga (aka. Reed Dance) would be on Monday, September 3, 2012.