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How The African Cultures Have Developed History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Introduction:

There is no doubt that African cultures have in one way or the other influenced the cultures in other parts of the world. Africa is known to be a culturally rich society and an analysis of any African society confirms these assertions. Swaziland presents one of the African cultures which has been carried on for decades and impacted greatly to the world community. Swaziland occupies an approximated geographical area of about 6,700 square miles, which is almost similar to the size of the United States state of Connecticut. Swaziland is a landlocked country with four well-categorized geographical regions, parallel to one another and extending the length of the nation from north to south (ProQuest LLC & Brigham Young University, 1). Swaziland is known to practice cattle grazing and other agricultural activities which yield crops such as sugarcane, citrus, cotton and corn. The country is also known to practice commercial forestry for economic purposes. Apart from the agricultural and economic activities, Swaziland is also known for its rich cultural practices that still hold in this modern era (Fitzpatrick & Armstrong, 571). This paper shall look at how Swaziland has developed its cultural heritage and its effects on the people within the Swazi society. It will also analyze the concept on how the Swaziland culture has affected other cultural aspects of the world community.

Historical Background:

Available archeological evidence suggests that Swaziland’s antediluvian history is closely related to that of the wider African context. Collected archaic materials such as early tools in effect point to the first inhabitants of Africa as having first settled in the continent two million or so years ago. For the reason that its history is symmetrical with the wider African ancestry, the stone tools unearthed across East Africa implicitly indicate that Swaziland’s pioneer inhabitants existed at the beginning of Stone Age period, this period is referred to as the Oldowan epoch; the term Oldowan derived from an archaeological site in East Africa called Oldovai Gorge (Matsebula 1). The confirmation of the initial inhabitants of Swaziland as having existed in the Oldowan period is provided by the discovery of chopping tools, similar to those of Oldovai Gorge, in the major rivers of Swaziland.

Documented archaeological material highlight a series of primeval cultures that would subsequently occupy the Southern Africa region, presently called Swaziland. These cultures vary from Acheulian period hunters and gatherers of a million years ago, through the Middle Stone Age people in Ngwenya Mountains 100,000 years ago, the Late Stone Age people of Lubombo Mountains 12,000 years ago, to the Iron Age agriculturalists of 450 A.D. It is the Iron Age agriculturalists of the 1,500 years ago that gave rise to the 19th Century African Kingdoms, the Kingdom of Swaziland being one of them. The Swazi tribe descended from the embo-Nguni group of people who were part of the Nguni Bantus, who migrated from Central Africa The Nguni Bantus were themselves descendants of the Karangas, also called baMbo or beMbo or just eMbo (Matsebula 4 and 6). However, different history writers give varying accounts of the movements of the Swazis. But they all converge on the consensus that the Swazis origin is as a result of successive tribal breakaways from the Karangas, Nguni, eMbo-Nguni and to finally the Swazis or bakaMswati (Matsebula 7).

During the mid-18th century, various groups of the Nguni people came to the southern part of Swaziland from Central Africa through Mozambique. Some of these people were able to guard the area from the Zulu invasions and encroachment from the white farmers. In the early 19th century, Sobhuza I from the Dlamini clan was made King, and he took upon himself to bring unity among the Swazi clans. King Mswati II later on succeeded Sobhuza I and in the 1840s, Swaziland became a nation and during that time, the first white traders came to settle down near present-day Manzini. Upon the death of King Mswati II, a provisional administration was put in place involving the Swazis, South Africans, and the British. This saw the development of the British settlements and influence among the Swazis towards the end of the 19th century. The Kingdom hence became part of the larger British Empire. In early the 1920s, King Sobhuza II was crowned as the ‘lion’ of the nation. This king is better known for having bought back the land from the white settlers, returning it to the traditional chiefdoms (ProQuest LLC & Brigham Young University, 3).

The British granted independence to the Swazi people in 1968 under a constitution which subscribed to the Westminster-style system. This system did not appeal to the Swazi people and Sobhuza II nullified the constitution and called for the dissolution of parliament assuming all powers for the throne in early 1970s. Sobhuza II was then to govern for the rest of his life until he died in 1982 under a technical state of emergency. Following the death of Sobhuza II, the Queen Mother took over the throne as a regent as Sobhuza II’s son Mswati III was yet to turn eighteen. During this time, a council of elders known as the liqoqo was to govern by decree. King Mswati III was handed the crown in 1986 and held the country under a state of emergency up to 1983 when there were parliamentary elections held. There have been demands for increased democratic reform, but with Parliament only acting as an advisory body, King Mswati III has had a tight grip on his tremendous authority (Fitzpatrick & Armstrong, 572).

Development and influence of the Swazi Culture:

Traditionally, Africa is known to have experienced social, political, economic and cultural upheavals in the development of its history. The impacts of colonialism and increased interaction among the various African communities have been far reaching and this has had significant impacts on the cultural cohesion of the constituent nations. After most of the African countries attained independence and the effects of globalization, they have continued to struggle with retaining their original cultural identities. Nevertheless, most analysts have identified the unique experience of Swaziland particularly in regard to resilience with which its cultural identities have been maintained over the years co-existing with the foreign cultural influence. Swaziland has relatively retained and cherished most of its pre-colonial traditions as acknowledged by many scholars (Lonely Planet Publications, 124).

Swaziland is regarded as one of the few African states which have enjoyed a peaceful period and stability with steady development over the years. Though there have been few strikes in Swaziland throughout history, the country can boast of national unity which has characterized the country for many years. The country is also associated with a unique culture, customs and traditional practices which are regarded as salient to the development of Swaziland as a nation. The Swazi revere the monarchy and it is considered as a symbol of national unity. The spectacular yearly Reed Dance, which is performed by Swazi maidens wearing traditional attire, is an event which is regarded as part of the unique cultural heritage of the Swazi people. During the event, the maidens are provided with the opportunity to honor the Queen Mother while at the same time engaged in the promotion of solidarity and the spirit of togetherness amongst the girls through working together.

The sacred Incwala Ceremony is also regarded as part of the unique cultural heritage of the Swazi people. This ceremony is also revered to as the celebration of the first fruits in which case the king has to play a very vital role. The warriors better known as emabutfo also participate in the ceremony which like the Reed Dance, is believed to instill solidarity and the spirit of bravery amongst the Swazi men (Lonely Planet Publications, 126).

Apart from contributing to the concept of national unity, the Swazi cultural practices and customs are said to play a significant role in the general life of the ordinary Swazi. It is through the customs that Swazi people impart discipline and family responsibility to the children. The boys are taught by male members of the society on how to assume male roles and skills when they meet in esangweni. Esangweni is a special space by the cattle byre or kraal in which only men and boys are permitted and not women and girls. As for the girls, they learn from their mothers in egumeni, Egumeni is the space outside the huts within the windbreakers or enclosures, where women mentor one another and girls.

According to the Swazi customs, marriage forms a long-lasting bond between the two families. The bridegroom’s family has to pay lobola or bride price to the family of the bride, and that lobola is often in form of cattle. In order to strengthen the relationship which has been established, the bride buys umhlambiso or gifts for her in-laws which are presented to them on the wedding day. The rights to being a husband and fatherhood are granted through lobola payment. In the event that no cattle were offered, then the children who are born out of that relationship still remain of the mother’s family. Such custom has led into numerous family unions thereby contributing to the general national unity (Lonely Planet Publications, 127).

The Swazi people are said to be warm, welcoming and trustworthy individuals who hold high respects to the elders. It has to be noted that there is, however, some distrust of foreigners and resentments against some elders within the political hierarchy. The Swazi culture calls for a small personal space in which case individuals usually stand very close to one another when they are engaged in a conversation. Personal privacy is not held in high regards, and that the Swazi are individuals who like doing things in groups and are also known to be companionable. In this culture, keeping to oneself is considered to be anti-social. Nevertheless, the Swazi are known to take a lot of pride in their rich cultural heritage (ProQuest LLC & Brigham Young University, 12).

Religion and Magic

Clearly painting the identity of the Swazi religion is a complex task. The religious beliefs held by the cross-section of Swazi population are not only diverse, but are rapidly under metamorphosis. As a result of the farcical nature of these people’s beliefs, a great confusion accompanies an apparent attempt to categorically delineate the Swazis are belonging to a definite religious grouping. Swazis who profess the Christian faith and the conservative traditionalists use different terms when referring to the divine. Traditionalists hold Mkhulumnqande, also known as Mvelinchanti, as the Supreme Being who is responsible for death of humans through his messenger Mlentengamunye. Christians on the other hand refer to God as Nkulunkulu, a term that was coined by missionaries to refer to the Supreme Being as the Great One; one who is approachable by prayer. Nkulunkulu is painted diametrically to Mlentengamunye. Nevertheless, traditionalist Swazi people hold that Mlentengamunye is the bona fide messenger of Nkulunkulu (Malan 63).

The Emadloti or the spirit world is according to the Swazi traditionalists a continuation of the earth’s life where humans preserve and carry on their earthly stature in the afterlife. The dead are viewed with significant trepidation, with descendants of the dead (particularly men) wearing beads or armbands in deference of the dead ancestors. Umhlatshelo and ubuhlalo, which are Swazi names for armband and beads respectively, are designed to keep the dead fathers satisfied with their sons. In instances where a dead father is not satisfied with the son, he will appear in the son’s dreams to ask for an appeasement gift called umnikelo from the son. Even with the sizeable percentage of the population still clinging to traditional beliefs, Christianity continues to make significant inroads in the Kingdom of Swaziland with more than half of the population being Christians (Malan 66). Religious grouping that sought to incorporate elements of Christian worship in traditional beliefs were the fastest growing segment in a 1975 survey, but the study also intimated that when Swazis were faced with a choice of either pure Christian doctrines or absolute traditional inclinations, they almost certainly chose the latter (Malan 67).

The prominent subsistence of traditional life implicitly dictates that traditional practices will abound in the society. Such is the reality in the Swazi setting that the existence of diviners known as tangoma (singular sangoma) and medicine men known as inyanga yemitsi (singular tinyanga temitsi) was a commonality traditional healing rituals. However, Zionist groups that incorporate the traditional and Christian aspects commonly had “red clothes” or ngubo zimbovu, won by priests called abathandazi. Pure Christian factions considered these groups to be practitioners of magic and likened them to the sorcerers and witches called batsakasi.

The AIDS problem and the Swazi culture and society

The prevalence rates for HIV and AIDS for the age group of 15-49 years in Swaziland was highlighted as the highest in the world by the 2007 National Human Development Report (Ndlangamandla Foreword). The overwhelming consequences of HIV and AIDS at both the family and national levels in Swaziland are disheartening, present an austere picture and therefore require urgent intervention. The report indeed points to a future Swaziland consisting of many orphaned children under the care of the old generation mainly consisting of grandparents. Traditional cultural practices in the Swazi society has been considered a sacrosanct topic since time immemorial but the statistics indicate that the people of Swaziland need to reconsider their cultural practices as it is the driver of rampant HIV infections.

Cultural practices in Swaziland encourage having multiple partners as polygamy in the broader African realm is viewed as a sign of wealth and virility by a man. Swazi culture encourages sex with a sister-in-law (kulamuta), supports wife inheritance (kungena) and pre-arranged marriages (kwendzisa) (Ndlangamandla 5). The fervent adherence to these negatively influential cultural practices has clearly fuelled directly or indirectly the rate of new HIV infections in this Southern Africa kingdom. To compound matters still, the traditional moral values that limited sexual encounters of Swazis are seen to be gradually on the decline with the advent of modernity and influx of foreign cultures. King Mswati III was among the first African leaders to proclaim the HIV and AIDS disease as a national disaster in 1999 (Ndlangamandla 13). He initiated a cultural rite called umcwasho that sought to promote abstinence among girls for a five year period. Another cultural project dubbed Khulisa Umntfwana that sought to encourage good virtues and morals was launched by the Queen Mother. Statistical information on the structures of Swazi families indicates that polygamy is slowly declining as a result of sensitization campaigns on the role it is playing in the spread of HIV and AIDS.

In regard to family, the Swazi family, like most African families, is extended and headed by the eldest male who in most instances is the grandfather. The family is close-knit. The homestead in general is comprised of the unmarried adult children, and in some instances, the married sons and their families. On average, Swazi families comprise of about six children. Crucial family decisions are arrived at through consultations with other members and relatives of the extended family. In the contemporary context where the young members of the family live in far places from home, consultations become complex, but nevertheless, the family continues to serve as the basis of decision making among the Swazi. Women are sidelined in decision making process unless they have reached old age. The females are generally expected to be obedient and have respect for the males at all times. They enjoy limited control in regard to family resources, they are eligible to make limited decisions, and have to request for male permission when leaving the homestead or when they wish to pursue personal interests (Fitzpatrick & Armstrong, 574).

Lately, the concept of a nuclear family has begun to penetrate the Swazi society. The mothers are expected to take care of the children as their primary responsibility, though the older girls in the family may assist in taking care of the younger siblings and also in executing the house chores. Given the reality of the modern society requiring individuals to seek employment outside the homestead, the children are often left with their grandmother who essentially may be unable to provide them with the much needed care. The Swazi maintains a patriarchal society, and the males are the owners of all the family assets. The fathers owning these assets who pass the ownership to the sons upon death once the transfer is approved by the family council. The children in Swaziland are known to take up responsibilities at a relatively tender age with the young boys herding the family’s livestock, whereas the girls assist the mothers with house chores. The children are taught to have respect for the older members of the society (Fitzpatrick & Armstrong, 575).

It used to be a trend among the traditional African societies to practice polygamy. However, when Christianity became widely acceptable among the African societies, monogamy began taking root among the once polygamous societies. With continuing modernization, polygamy has been left to the periphery and it appears to be an exception as opposed to being a rule in most African societies. Nevertheless, polygamy is still entrenched in some parts of the African continent and this can be envisioned by the fact that king Mswati of Swaziland has over ten wives whereas his father, King Sobhuza II is said to have had over seventy wives. Among the Swazi culture, polygamy is approved of and there is a Swazi customary law which governs the practice. It is important to note that not every man is polygamous due to the fact that not all men are able to raise the established dowry of 15 heads of cattle for each wife as stipulated by the Swaziland National Trust Commission. As for the King, he is allowed to marry at least from all the various clans in a bid to foster national unity (Fitzpatrick & Armstrong, 576).

The King’s first two wives are known to be ritual wives and are selected for him by the National Councilors and that any sons born of them cannot become heirs. The first wife must come from the Matsebula clan, whereas the second should be from the Motsa clan. After the first two wives, the King is then at liberty to choose his other wives as he pleases. The annual Reed Dance also known as umlanga (reeds) is the most famous cultural practice among the Swazi than any other. The Reed Dance is held annually where topless Swazi maidens conduct dances in paying tribute to the Queen Mother and also serves as to promote chastity amongst the girls. During the ceremony, the girls cut reeds and present them to Queen Mother as they dance. The King only attends the last day of the eight-day event and occasionally takes this opportunity to select a potential bride even though he is not supposed to do so (Fitzpatrick & Armstrong, 577).

Swaziland and how it interacted with the outside world

The native name for Swaziland is KaNgwane and that of the people AmaNgwane, meaning the people of Ngwane. The name Swaziland was first used in the late 19th century when the European hunters and traders first set foot on the country (Watts, 14). In the year 1870, Scots and the Dutch began pitching camp in Swaziland in the area that is now known as Lake Chrissie district. These foreigners found that the whole of Swaziland was teeming with elands, wildebeests, buffaloes, antelopes and other wild animals. The European invasion of Swaziland however can be argued to have taken place in the late 19th century during the time of Mbandine. During this period, Boer farmers in the Transvaal and Natal provinces in South Africa came to Swaziland seeking to graze their cattle in the fertile valleys in Swaziland. These farmers made it a habit whereby they would come to Swaziland during the winter, and would then leave to their place of origin as soon as the rains and heat begun. During this period, Mbandzeni greatly valued this relationship between the Boers and the Swazi, and went to the extent of executing those who stole from the Boers. The Swazi even sold to ten Boers some native children whom they had captured from their neighbors during an onslaught to be used as serfs and slaves to the Boer farmers (Watts, 21).

This relationship with the Boer farmers continued until some of the farmers from the borders of Swaziland towards Piet Retief wished to purchase farms from the Swazi and establish permanent settlements. Mbandzeni, who was known to have great respect for the whites, offered them significant piece of land and encouraged them in their mission. He is said to have dreaded an invasion from the Zulus and thought that by giving up part of his land to the whites on the most exposed border, it would provide him with protection from any intended invasion from the Zulus. The Boers at first regarded Mbandzeni as their chief whereby they could take their land as well as other disputes for settlement. Mbandzeni on his part said that there was no need for him to settle matters affecting the white people, and therefore, proposed that they should elect one of their own as their president to whom they shall be addressing their problems to. This was done and was referred to as ‘The Little Free State’ or rather ‘a tiny Boer republic’ which was formed in the Piet Retief district. Mbandzeni also offered land to the Scottish, Macorkindale, who wanted to establish a Scotch settlement. This marked the beginning of the European invasion as they became established in Swaziland conducting business with the locals. Around the year 1885, there was what became to be referred to as ‘Concession boom’ in Swaziland where the stock which belonged to the Europeans was increasing rapidly with Mbandzeni being forced to deal with more and more applications for winter grazing (Watts, 24).

Swaziland became a British colony in the late 19th century after the Boer War and a Resident Commissioner was sent by the Crown to administer it. These are said to have been shaky moments for the Swazis who had been used to enjoying a sympathetic administration, justice for all, freedom from fear of enemies, low taxation and no more interference in their customs than was necessary in the interest of humanity. The concessionaries were now coming up in shoals to demand ‘their rights’. With the whole country having been ceded; monopolies making legitimate trade difficult; and that many documents were seen as obscure or doubtful in meaning and in authenticity; the situation became even more difficult for the Swazi people. Mbandine had given up the land initially believing that the land could be taken back after the death of the petitioner and this turned out not to be the case (Watts, 29). The Swazis looked determined to wrestle their land back from the European concessions claiming that land belonged to the nation and not to the king, who could sell it for his own private gain and without their consent. The Swazi people managed to get back a third of their land back were they established full control (Watts, 30).

The Old Queen is one notable figure in the history of Swaziland that cannot go unmentioned. She still remains an outstanding figure among the natives even in the present day. It has been noted that both the natives and the Europeans were proud of the abilities of the Old Queen. They speak of her abilities while conducting discussions with both the English and the Dutch agents during the Boer War. The Old Queen is also said to have had a marvelous memory, great ability in unraveling most intricate native disputes, and also had wisdom in her judgments. The natives also respected her for her powers as a rain maker, a fact that is still held by the most conservative. In the time of the Great War, the Mayor of Johannesburg is said to have visited the Old Queen with the aim of seeking her support for recruiting more people for the war. She continued to be an influential figure in Swaziland and lands beyond particularly due to her rain-making capabilities. However, in the year 1920, the British administration sought for her retirement in favor of her grandson, Burza. The native custom required that she should at the same time hand over the rain making medicine to her daughter-in-law, Burza’s mother. For over three decades, the Old Queen exercised great powers over the Swazi nation (Watts, 37).

The Swazi people are believed to be pleasant, hospitable and well-mannered, and their ways of thinking need to be clearly understood. For a European traveler arriving tired from a journey in Swaziland, it will be expectant of him that his host will serve him with refreshments promptly, but this is not the case in Swazi culture. Here, though a Swazi traveler will expect to be served with refreshments and beers from the host as a right, this is not expected to happen at once. Nevertheless, the visitors coming to Swaziland are usually struck by the generous hospitality of the Swazi. In ancient days, the visitors were very few and they were welcomed warmly. Lack of hospitality or generosity was regarded as unforgivable crime in the Swazi culture and loyalty to the white men was regarded as virtue (watts, 53).

Conclusion:

The chronological documentation of the history of the people of Swaziland and their cultural practices offers an interesting reading. It is the only country south of the Saharan desert to maintain a unique monarch identity while simultaneously embracing the foreign ideals in issues of culture. Its resilience in the face of sweeping changes across sub-Saharan Africa is the envy of many nationalists abroad. It is amazing that for a sub-Saharan country, it has managed to enjoy commendable peace and stability, even as the rest of the continent has descended into civil conflicts and political upheavals. It is easy to identify with its rich cultural identity while also admiring its openness to outsiders. Such is the appreciation of the country’s cultural heritage by foreigners that it attracts tourist aplenty. Nevertheless, the country possesses some dubious honors in the world stage that Swazi people might consider redeeming themselves from. The phenomenal rate of HIV and AIDS prevalence in the nation is acutely a matter of national concern. King Mswati III and the Queen Mother have a daunting task to redeem the country from the edges of possible generational extermination by the scourge.

While it is arguable how a nation’s optimism can be measured, there is no denying that the hospitable nature of the Swazi people subliminally sets them apart from a host of African countries as a nation of people who are pleasantly welcoming to their visitors. Indeed, Swazi people are iconic hosts. For the reason that most African countries were colonized by European invaders, most of them have developed combative attitudes in their welcoming of Caucasians in their territories. Most of them still view Caucasians as their antagonists; this outlook is hardly shared by the influential, culturally rich people of the Kingdom of Swaziland.

Work Cited:

Fitzpatrick, Mary & Armstrong, Kate. South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland. Lonely Planet; ISBN 1740599705, 9781740599702, 2006.

Lonely Planet Publications. South Africa, Lesotho & Swaziland. Hawthorn, Vic.: Lonely Planet, 1993.

Malan, Johan S. Swazi culture. Pretoria: Africa Institute of South Africa, 1985

Matsebula, J.S.M. A History of Swaziland. (Third Edition). Cape Town: Longman, 1988

Ndlangamandla, Emmanuel. “SWAZILAND HUMAN DEVELOPMENT REPORT: HIV AND AIDS AND CULTURE”. 2007. PDF file.

O’Neil, O. Rowe. Adventures in Swaziland: The Story of a South African Boer. New York. The Century Co. 1921.

ProQuest LLC & Brigham Young University. Kingdom of Swaziland. 2006. http://www.aasd.k12.wi.us/Staff/hendrickjohn/Africa/Swaziland.pdf (accessed on 1st March 2011).

Watts, C. C. Dawn in Swaziland. Tufton Street, Westminster, S.W. 1922.


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