Top 7 Eswatini Culture, Customs and Etiquette

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A tiny country with a big heart and warm, friendly people aptly describes Eswatini (Swaziland) – a country that is one of the few remaining monarchies in ... read more...

  1. Festivals are an interesting aspect of Eswatini culture, customs, and etiquette to learn about. The traditional culture of Eswatini is most spectacularly expressed in a series of large-scale ritual ceremonies. These are living cultural events that, with the exception of a pair of sunglasses and a mobile phone, have changed little in two centuries. Visitors are welcome (though some parts are restricted), but the ceremonies make few concessions to tourism. During festival season, the nation is in a celebratory mood, and bands of warriors or maidens decked out in full regalia are frequently seen on their way to or from the festivities. Not to be outdone, the current generation has created a modern, vibrant music and arts festival with a rapidly expanding international reputation.

    is well-known throughout the world for its magnificent traditional festivals. The Umhlanga (Reed Dance) takes place in August/September, the Incwala in December/January, and the Marula Festival in February/March. These are living cultural events that, with the exception of the occasional wristwatch and mobile phone, have changed little in the last two centuries. Visitors are permitted to observe, but the ceremonies make no concessions to tourism; even the exact dates are not published in advance, relying on the whims of ancestral astrology.

    The main events take place at the royal parade grounds at Ludzidzini or other royal residences, but the mood of celebration pervades the country, and visitors will almost certainly see wandering bands of warriors or maidens decked out in full regalia as they head to or from the festivities.

  2. One of the Eswatini cultures, customs, and etiquette that you should be aware of is arts and crafts. Swaziland has an impressive range of traditional arts and crafts, with many of its products now available in top homeware stores and trendy ethnic boutiques worldwide. Men and women all over the country are hard at work creating the finest handicrafts that are so popular with visitors. Brightly colored baskets, wood and stone carvings, glassware, exquisite candles, batik items, and jewelry are all distinctively Swazi.

    In addition to shopping for these wonderful items, many places where they are sold offer visitors the chance to see the craftspeople at work and marvel at their intricate skills, and an increasing number are offering visitors the chance to try their hand at the creative experience for themselves. Most are socially responsible businesses that provide both income and empowerment to their artisans from impoverished rural communities.

    Swaziland's art is colorful and vibrant, with a recent surge in the contemporary art scene. The Yebo Gallery in Mantenga promises art enthusiasts an extraordinary discovery of Swazi art, with local fine artists, photographers, and sculptors proudly displaying their masterpieces. Yebo Gallery has made significant contributions to the development of the art scene, providing a platform for artists to be discovered by international art buyers and private art collectors. The gallery also helps new artists establish their names in the art world. Support local artists by purchasing some beautiful and truly one-of-a-kind artwork to hang on your walls at home.
  3. Greetings are one of Eswatini's cultures, customs, and etiquette. The most common form of greeting is a handshake with the right hand. It is more polite to extend your right hand to shake while touching your own right forearm or right wrist with your left hand. Similarly, when you give or accept something, use your right hand while your left-hand touches your right wrist or forearm. If you are introducing yourself to an elderly person or someone of higher rank, you may be expected to bow your shoulders and head while shaking hands.

    Swazis raise both hands in front of their chests, palms facing the person they want to greet. When greeting one person, they say "Sawubona" (saw-oo-bo-na) and when greeting multiple people, they say "Sanibonani" (sonn-ee-bo-na-nee). Those who receive the greeting reply with "Yebo" (yay-bo). Swazis use the same verbal greetings as described above when meeting new people. They always shake hands with the right. Shaking hands with someone with the left hand is unacceptable.

    When younger people greet their elderly, they bow slightly or squat down to a lower position than the elderly. This is more common among rural children.
  4. The "homestead" is the primary social unit in a patriarchal culture. The "headman" (male head of household) is the homestead's financial and social authority. The headman's hut and the huts of his extended family make up the homestead. The cattle byre, a circular area with a log perimeter, is located in the center of the homestead. The byre is the location of sealed grain pits, and its size is often used to indicate the wealth of the homestead.

    Marriage is viewed less as a union of two individuals and more as a union of two families in many cultures around the world, where the community is more important than the individual. While polygamy was historically practiced in the region, the rise of Christianity as the majority faith has been associated with a decline in polygamous unions. The king, on the other hand, is still permitted to be in a polygamous union. Marriage between clans is forbidden. The inheritance pattern is patrilineal, and having children is considered an essential function of marriage.

    Traditionally infants were not recognized as having personhood until they reached the 3-month milestone. Names were not bestowed on the infant and they were recognized as being “things” that were not associated with the males of the household. Following the successful completion of the 3-month milestone, infants were conferred personhood, but child-rearing remained an essentially female role. Women wore the children in slings and breastfed until the child weaned, typically around 3 or 4 years of age. At around that age was when children were no longer always by the female caregiver’s side and were introduced to their peer group. By age 6, children were separated into social groups by gender and their training for gender-conforming roles began. Much of this traditional way of living is changing but certain cultural rituals remain.
  5. Food is an important part of Eswatini culture, customs, and etiquette. Tinhlavu (grains) and tibhidvo are staples of the Eswatini diet (vegetables). Inyama (meat) dishes, such as goat stew, roasted leg of goat, or stuffed or roasted free-range chicken, are reserved for special occasions. The staple is "mealies," a maize or sorghum porridge. The porridge, which is frequently bland, is served alongside spiced stews made with vegetables and leafy greens. Ingredients such as pumpkin, green beans, corn, spinach, beets, rice, and sweet potatoes are frequently used. Mango, guava, paw-paw, banana, pineapple, sugar cane, and avocado are all readily available fruits.

    Some popular dishes include emasi (sour milk), a fermented milk delicacy made from raw milk from cows, corn on the cob (roasted or boiled), Umncweba, and umkhunsu (dried spiced meat, akin to jerky). Sishwala, a thick porridge served with meat or vegetable stew; incwancwa, a sour porridge made with fermented mealie meal; umbidvo wetintsanga, pumpkin leaves cooked with groundnuts; sidvudvu, a porridge made of pumpkin mixed with mealie meal; and tjwala, traditional beer, are all traditional dishes.
  6. So, why aren't women permitted to consume cow meat? Cows are revered in parts of Eswatini, and it is believed that women are not physically or spiritually strong enough to consume cow meat. Many people believe that eating cow flesh makes a woman smarter, wiser, and more aware of the realities of life. It is forbidden for women to consume cow meat, particularly the intestine and brain, in order to prevent them from becoming smarter than men.

    It is widely assumed that if women are allowed to eat cow meat, they will become equal to men, begin to speak rudely to them and lose respect for them. If a woman eats a cow's tongue, she develops a sharp tongue and begins to talk to her husband, brother, and father.

    Women are also forbidden from eating cow's feet in order to avoid developing masculine strength or the courage to leave men or flee their marital homes.
  7. People of the same sex will stand in close proximity to one another, and they may also hold hands while talking. This is more common in rural areas, but it has a long history. There is little respect or awareness of personal space. In most cases, less than arm's length is appropriate.

    Interactions in the business environment are more "westernized," but visitors should not be surprised or concerned if they encounter more touching or personal closeness than they might in their home countries. In rural areas, physical interactions between males and females are not tolerated. Men sit in one section of community meetings and women in another.

    Men and women may shake hands and converse as usual in the business arena, but it should be noted that these types of interactions are relatively new to Swazi culture, and caution should always be exercised when interacting with members of the opposite sex to avoid misunderstandings and misinterpretations. Even in business, men and women typically work in separate groups, though the mixing is becoming more common.

    When speaking with someone, Swazis may stand very close. Swazis tend to sit together with little to no space between them on public transportation and in situations where individuals are seated (even if other seats are available). Hugging is uncommon in traditional Swazi families and is reserved for children. Elderly females are more likely to grasp their children's hands.

    In urban areas, hugs are more common among women. When hugging someone, you must keep space between yourself and the other and move towards the right, meeting his or her cheek and using just the right arm to embrace.

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