Umkhosi WokweShwama

While uMkhosi woMhlanga is a celebration of young women, uMkhosi WokweShwama is a custom that recognises and reveres the strength of young men. The ceremony, which is customarily performed in December or early January was traditionally a celebration of the first fruits of the season, when the king blessed the crops after having tasted the new season’s crop. The royal tasting involved the use of special medicines created by the king’s herbalists, and was intended to impart the blessings of the ancestors on the harvest, and the farmers. It is said that anyone who eats the fruit before the king has had a chance to do so, will have shown disrespect to the monarch and the ancestors.

As part of the uMkhosi WokweShwama celebrations young men, who are referred to as amabutho (warriors), killed a bull with their bare hands. Traditionally the men would be sent out to search for a bull worthy of fighting. The inkunzemnyama would be a large fighting bull, pitch black in colour. Having herded the bull back to the royal enclosure, the men encircle it in the style of stick fighters, eventually overcoming it as a sign of their strength, and their ability to defend the nation. After the bull is slaughtered, the meat is cooked and handed out to the young warriors to eat.

The ceremony takes place annually at the Enyokeni Royal Palace, and in recent years has been the subject of controversy with Animal Rights Africa (ARA) seeking an interdict in 2009 to prevent the ceremony from going ahead. But Judge Nic van der Reyden dismissed the application, saying that he was satisfied with the evidence of cultural expert, Professor Jabulani Mapalala, that ARA’s objection to the ritual was based on untrue information and hearsay. Mapalala said that the animal’s death was quick, unpainful and that no blood was shed.

In addition to the display of skilful fighting, the occasion is also marked by the presence of praise singers, and much like with the Reed Dance, King Zwelethini uses the opportunity to talk speak about pressing social issues, such as HIV and poverty alleviation.

Note: uMkhosi WokweShwama is also now referred to as Umkhosi WoSelwa

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