Small Package, Good Things – Swaziland
Wealth of wives
The shower was short lived, a dense downpour that had disappeared by the time I scooped up my last spoonful of tasty jugo bean soup. December was waiting to show me around.
This village walk was the real deal – nothing had been laid on. There was not a handicraft or cultural dance in sight; just local people going about their business, drinking homemade sorghum beer under manila trees and shouting at their grandchildren.
An old man in plastic shoes and a frayed leopard-print jacket was busy cutting down a tree to clear space for crops. With a machete in one hand and an axe in the other, he hacked away in the heat. His name was Sigwazane, an old siSwazi word meaning ‘to stab.’ His destiny in place from birth, he grew up as a nomadic warrior, helping the elders fight rival clans. “It was very scary. We fought with spears and aimed to kill,” he said, swinging his machete.
Fields of sugarcane led to woodland that stretched for miles to the west. “Only chiefs can enter the Sacred Forest. That’s where they are buried and perform the rain rituals,” explained December, clapping his hands loudly and slowly, an act that forms an important part of the ancient ritual.
Tradition is everything in Swaziland. Men here are still permitted to marry multiple wives – as many as they can afford. It’s thought that King Mswati III has 13 wives, one fiancé and more than 20 children. That’s chickenfeed, though, compared to the late King Sobhuza II, who fathered 210 children. His Christmas shopping must’ve been a nightmare.