Swazi’s are said to belong to the Nguni people who lived in central Africa and migrated to southern Africa. They speak the Siswati language , a language earlier spoken by the Nguni group of the Bantu family. They seem to have settle in Swaziland around five hundred years ago. They were then ruled by the British from the mid 19th century to mid 20th century. Swaziland is a monarchy and is ruled by King Mswati III.
The social organization in the Swazi’s is like any other African tribe. The homestead is the economic and domestic unit of the family. It is headed by the Umnumza or headman who is in charge of the family which includes his wives and children. Sons will bring there wives to the homestead and setup home within it while the daughters move to their in-laws. The occupants who reside in the homestead can also be distant relatives or non dependents. Therefore the number of people for whom the headman is responsible economically ,legally and by ritual may vary according his status and wealth. A wealthy headman may have many wives therefore he has a large number of people he is responsible for. The headman usually would subdivide the large homestead in order to gain access to larger tracts of cultivable land or divide quarrelsome wives .
The homestead is planned according to the relationships between its inhabitants . Usually in the center of the homestead is the cattle pen and grain storage units, which are underground flask shaped pits. Women are not allowed access to theses places. The living quarters are grouped in a semicircle with the indlunkuku ( great hut) which is home to the most important woman in the homestead , the mother of the headman. If she is dead then a substitute mother is appointed. On the sides are the quarters of the wives ,each with her own sleeping ,cooking and storage huts and enclosed with a reed fence for protection against `wind . The ranking of wives is not rigid but it depends on the headman and his preference of wives. the clear demarkation of the wives huts and the fact that each of them own their own garden land and cattle does not erase the fact that the headman’s mother’s house is supreme. The children sleep with their mother’s until they are old enough to stay with their paternal grandmother . Then they are separated by sex . Growing girls stay close to their mother while boys and unmarried men stay at the edge of the homestead.
Marriage is important to Swazi’s. Arranged marriages are common but are declining because of the growing independence of the women which is supported by western culture. After the bride has been selected the two families start formal negotiations concerning the bride price. The bride price is paid in order to get married.
The king is an exception to this, he has the right to take by force any girl he likes (quoma). The bride price is usually cattle .It differs with the status of the women, commoners ask for 100 while princesses ask for 200 cattle or more . The Swazi marriage is an elaborate affair. It consists of many religious ceremonies . This too is declining because most Swazi’s are Christian converts and prefer to get married in churches. The bride is sent from home with blessing from her ancestors and gifts fro her in-laws. Initially she has to appear reluctant and decline the welcome demonstrations held by her future in-laws. she enters the cow pen where she is pleading her brothers to rescue her. In the end she accepts her faith and her future mother in-law smears red clays symbolizing loss of virginity. She is given a baby which depicts her role as a mother and wife. As most African tribes polygamy is accepted and encouraged in the Swazi culture.
Polygamy is only practiced among Swazi’s who are wealthy and can support their wives. In the Swazi culture the woman primary role is to bear children. The grooms group can claim any children the woman bears irrespective of the biological father. In case the woman does not bear any children provision is made for her sister to bear children for her. The brides family is not allowed to ask for any bride wealth in this case . Although divorces are recognized by the Swazi traditional law they are uncommon. A woman may leave her husband only for brutal behavior . The families try to maintain union among the bride and groom because the groom’s family wants to keep the children and the brides family wants to keep the bride wealth (lobelia). The return of the lobola depends on the number of children by the woman. The less the children then a smaller amount of the bride wealth is returned . The children usually stay with the father .
Swazi’s classify kin broad categories. A boy may use the term father to various people, his own father, his father ‘s brothers and half brothers. Similarly a girl may use the term mother to her own mother co-wives and wives of the fathers brothers. These terms may vary according to seniority. On of the con’s of polygamy is that the friction created between the co-wives. Therefore the man prefers to keep his wives in different homes. There are also conflicts between half brothers for the position of the head of the family when the fathers die and co-wives for the favors of a single husband and privileges for their sons.
Swazi’s place an importance on the continuity of the clan. Power and prosperity is inherited from men but the woman play a major role in choosing the successor to the headman. The successor is chosen through a council which looks at the claims of the wives and their sons. The successor has to be a full son of the headman. If the main wife does not have a male child then her sister son’s is adopted. Once he is appointed then he can keep his position till his mother death after that a substitute mother is appointed. The first wife has many privileges during her husbands lifetime . Her son is entrusted with important duties by his father and advises the heir on various issues.
Children are precious to the Swazi. They are bought up in a disciplinarian environment, and are threatened of beating but seldom are beaten. As they grow older their punishment gets more physical. The girls are taught household work. In the Swazi society it is the males duty to look after the livestock as is in most African societies. The boys are taught to look after the cattle and their grazing. The women’s duties are limited to doing household work and working on the fields.
Puberty is said to be a private family matter. It was required that boys be circumcised before getting married. This practice was stopped decades ago . After puberty boys and girls are expected to find lovers and indulge in sex play stopping short of intercourse.