The Incwala also known as the Festival of the First Fruits or the Kingship Ceremony is the most sacred tradition in the Swazi culture. It is a ceremony lasting 3 weeks during which the Swazi people sanctify their king, pray for their ancestor’s blessings and enjoy the first fruits of the harvest. The ancient unique ritual is full of symbols and the Swazi King plays the dominant role; when the King is absent, no festival will be held. The Incwala is an annual celebration with a date chosen by the Swazi astronomers, who will announce the perfect time taking into consideration the position of the sun and the phases of the moon.
The Kingdom of Swaziland where the sacred tradition of Incwala is held is located in Southern Africa, bordering South Africa to the West and Mozambique to the East. The Incwala is one of the country’s main events and it divides itself into two main celebrations: Little Incwala and Big Incwala. The festival begins with the Bimanti clans, also known as the water people, collecting foam from the waves of the Indian Ocean and from the rivers. The foam is believed to have mystical powers and the Bimanti collect it for their King, who goes into seclusion as the festival starts. At dawn of the new moon the King will chew sacred foods prepared with the foam and spit them to the East and the West. This is the moment when Little Incwala begins and the Swazi people will celebrate, singing praising songs and wearing traditional outfits.
Changing from Little Incwala to Big Incwala occurs with the full moon and it is a symbol for the maturity of the King, who is still secluded. On the first day of Big Incwala, the King orders the young men to fetch him branches of the sacred Lusekwane bush by the light of the full moon. It is believed that the leafs will wither unpure hands of the ones who made love to a married woman or the ones who have made a young maiden pregnant. The young men have to return with the branches and the elders will construct with those a sacred bower for their King on the second day. The third day is the “day of the bull”, a black bull is slaughtered providing ritual ingredients for the doctoring of the King. The bull is the symbol of solidarity, a spirit of loyalty and discipline. The 4th day is the climax of Big Incwala, the King returns performs a sacred dance and he will eat the first pumpkin of the harvest. As soon as he tosses the rind, it is allowed to eat the first fruits and the Swazi people will dance and sing in his honor. The 5th day is a day of abstinence, resting and meditation. Big Incwala ends with a massive bonfire on the 6th day, where the Swazis burn the King’s bedding and other household items, a symbol that they are future oriented and they are leaving behind the year that passed.
Praise, dance and sing in the Incwala Festival, a tradition where mystical symbols and ancient beliefs combine.