Umkhosi Womhlanga, a Poem by Tunde Dada

Earlier this week we wrote about the reed dance ceremony that took place over the weekend at the Enyokeni Royal Palace. The reed dance, or uMkhosi woMhlanga, is practiced by both the Zulus and the Swazis as an annual celebration of their young maidens.

Below is a poem about the ceremony that was penned by Nigerian author, educationalist and literary critic, Dada Dare Babatunde, who goes by the name Tunde Dada:

Ere your conception as a child, unborn
And your birth at once upon a dawn
Your mothers had long done the same
Neither were they shy nor put to shame
As the brassieres left their chests

To show the humans and gods their breasts
As a testimony to their being celibates
For such is how the Zululand celebrates
The virginity of the females
The singles and those betrothed to the males

Here comes your own time, maiden
Let not your soft heart be laden
With the fears of the rite of passage
But be brave like a lioness in courage

If you’ve got it, flaunt it
Be neither ashamed nor shy a bit
To show the eyes your hills and valley
From where shall flow, the milk and honey
Into an infant mouth, a suckling
When you shall turn a mother, nursing

Hear how the hands hit the drums
At the edge of paradise and the valley of slums
The beat and songs beckon to you

Pick up your izigege and izinculuba, the blue
Adorn your arms with your mother’s bracelets
And your ankles with the anklets
That are made of strings and beads

Bear the strongest and the longest of the reeds
Above your head like a tower

To show the menfolk your beauty and power

May your reed never break on the way
Lest the mouths shall shout and say
Look, this maiden is no virgin
A shame that one can’t imagine

Tread gently up the hill to Enyokeni Palace
To dance for the king as a miss
Wind your waist and shake your rump
Let your bare breasts dance and jump
Flapping like the wings of a flying sparrow

Sing some songs like a swallow
And leave the rest till next September
If at all, you shall still be a spinster

The poem Umkhosi Womhlanga forms part of the 2016 anthology, Echoes at the Crack of Dawn, by Tunde Dada

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