Surprising eSwatini (Swaziland): culture, safari and vast, unspoilt landscapes

825

Swaziland is one of those countries which few people can actually place on the map. And just as few people can tell you that it’s actually no longer called Swaziland at all: King Mswati III changed the name of the country to eSwatini in April this year.

History of Swaziland

The best guess is that Swaziland has been inhabited for the past 200,000 years. The earliest people to live here were hunter-gatherers, and archeological excavations at the Ngwenya Mine – the oldest mine site in the world – show that it was already in use 43,000 years ago.

I passed through the Malolotje Wildlife Reserve, then continued on foot to the mouth of a cave. Early man would have sat here and chipped away at the red ochre, using it not only for rock paintings but for cosmetic purposes as well.

Culture

The Swazis have unparalleled pride in their national culture, and have preserved it remarkably well in spite of globalisation. The annual Incwala Festival and Umhlanga Reed Dance still draw participants from across the country, who perform before Swaziland’s revered king and queen mother.

Wherever I went, there was dancing, in city stadiums and in traditional villages. Men and women typically dance, sing, and drum in single sex groups, demonstrating to all those who watch their energy and strength.

It’s an incredibly creative culture. You only have to look at the age old designs of thatched huts, national costumes, and the handicrafts which people produce. Swaziland is famed for its glass blowing and its candle making. The textiles and jewellery are exquisite, too.

Wildlife

The one thing I really didn’t expect to see was a high concentration of wildlife: there’s a reason that people go on safari in South Africa, Kenya, or Tanzania. But remarkably, Swaziland’s national parks are rich in big game, including a wonderfully high population of black rhino.