I must admit, I found it fascinating when I first discovered that Swaziland is a landlocked Kingdom, sort of within South Africa. Well actually, it’s bordered in the North, West and South by the Republic of South Africa and by Mozambique in the East. I think the one thing most people do know about Swaziland, is that it is a ‘monarchical democracy’. That’s right, Africa’s last absolute monarchy. Think about that for a minute. Rather powerful, statement especially given what history tells us about the hundreds of African monarchies that have faded away through time. I mean it’s no doubt that Africa has for long been home to hundreds of Kings.
Anyway, it’s a sweltering summers afternoon and in true procrastinator style, I arrive at the Ngwenya border post later than anticipated. Arriving from Johannesburg, I notice the framed pictures on the walls of the rather impressive border offices. They showcase a beaming King Mswati III depicted as the youthful monarch that he was when he first took to the throne in 1986. He has ruled ever since.
With our passports stamped, we’re on our way to Mbabane, which is Swaziland’s capital city. What struck me the most about Swaziland at this point was the landscape it embodies; beautiful mountains, surrounded by flora and fauna unique to this region of Southern Africa. The cities are set amidst high-rise buildings, which make apparent the mountainous landscape. I sense a feeling of peace that can only come from living a simple life.
The thing with me is whenever I travel, I like to absorb as many sights, smells and sounds as I can, before deciding on an appropriate comprehensive word to describe my overall experience. It’s not always easy, but in this case, my word was immediately authenticity. The friendliness of the locals, the Swazi culture, the integrative nature of landscape and lifestyle, are all brimming with authenticity.
You needn’t however, dwell on the Rondavel huts or the tradition embedded within festivals (such as the annual Reed Dance, where the King chooses a new bride) in order to see Swaziland’s allegiance to cultural preservation. When you appreciate Swazi people’s well acquaintance with a royal lifestyle, you can’t help but think that this is indeed one of the best preserved cultural artifacts. The royal, yet seemingly benevolent way of life, passed down from generation to the next.
Summer Palace Swaziland
However, despite seeing a multitude of really beautifully kept royal residences as we drove from city of city, I didn’t really get to learn as much as I wanted to about this opulent side of Swazi life. My own interest in what the royal lifestyle entails was later sparked by a quick Google search, which brought back a multitude of headlines painting the Royal Swazi life as a hoax – on the premise that – many of the women residing in royalty claim to have felt trapped and confined to a patriarchal system of injustice and control. But I suppose that’s open to subjective interpretation.
It’s now time for Lunch, albeit a late one, overlooking the Maguga Dam just over the Komati River. A chance to sample some local Swazi cuisine, because I’m sure most would agree that no trip is complete without good food and tantalized taste buds. I opted for local Bream fished right out of the dam across me, and as with most African staples, Swaziland is no different. I had a delicious Pap (Ugali in Kenya, Sadza in Zimbabwe, Akamu in Nigeria – a traditional Polenta made from Ground Maize) to accompany this dish. Despite its small size, there is something majestic about the way in which this country reveals itself. This is where I find the soul of this nation – in its panoramas. From grasslands to hot and dusty bush, just a few meters away. From waterfalls and remote trails, to swanky hotels.
Soon it’s time to chase a Swaziland sunset, and purchase a memento of my trip.
I’m very indecisive, but I finally choose a Swazi beaded necklace, something probably as authentic as Swaziland itself (from a cultural village in Mantenga, pictured around my neck below). I would have to agree though, with the spirit of magic and royalty in the Swazi landscape and air, authentic and culturally preserved Africa comes in no neater nutshell 🙂
Imagine the peace and tranquility!
Till next time then.