Thousands of young Zulu maidens from all over South Africa make their way to Nongoma, in Northern KwaZulu-Natal to participate in Umkhosi womhlanga every year to help young girls to prepare for womanhood.
Image credit: archief.wereldomroep.nl
Umkhosi womhlanga is the annual Reed dance ceremony celebrating virginity. This traditional gathering usually takes place in September, which in South Africa is heritage month. The aim is to encourage young maidens to abstain from sexual intercourse in order to become respected women in the society.
Image credit: twitter.com
Africans have been performing their rituals as they danced while they are half-nude.
To the Zulu tribe in South Africa, the Swati in Swaziland,and the Karimajong in North-Eastern Uganda, to them, it was and is normal.
Zulu maidens as they prepare to take part in the mini reed dance (uMkhosi woMhlanga) in the rural district of Emalangeni, Swaziland. Source: tvcnews.tv
Health24: The last 20 years has seen the revival of virginity testing in rural KwaZulu-Natal.
The test on girls, designed to affirm virginal status, is based on whether the hymen is intact.
The test is therefore far from 100% reliable; some women are born without a hymen, the hymen can be broken by tampons or sporting activities, and conversely, the hymen does not always rupture after one act of coitus.
However, the results can have profound effects for the girl. Test results are only divulged with personal permission, but refusal to tell is tantamount to guilt, so in reality, privacy is not an option.
A ‘non-virgin’ verdict can result in awful consequences, ranging from honour killing, abuse, isolation, financial penalty, family shame, and poor marriage prospects.
Surely, such an inaccurate test should not have the power to affect the course of a young girl’s life?
A confirmation of virginal status can have equally damaging outcomes; rape by HIV infected men who believe sex with a virgin will cure them, or by people jealous of her pristine status.
With such terrible consequences, this test needs careful reconsideration about its ethical status.
Nairaland Forum:Virginity tests in Africa vary in the different regions, girls of the Kenuzi tribe from Sudan are married before their age of puberty by adult males who would inspect them manually for their virginity.
allafrica.com: King Mswati, a symbol of unity of the Swati people, officiate the ceremony of Reed Dance, one of the world’s most sought after annual tourist event.
Swaziland’s King Mswati lll picks 14th wife weeks after annual Reed Dance ceremony. The King is traditionally mandated to pick a new wife every year from the virgins who partake in the traditional chastity rite held at the Ludzidzini Royal palace near Swaziland’s capital Mbabane. Source: africanews.com Image: Euronews
africanews.com: King Mswati III has divorced three wives and has over 30 children. He became the Crown Prince in 1983 and then in 1986 he was crowned King at the age of 18.
He succeeded his father King Sobhuza II who ruled Swaziland from 1921 to his death in 1982.
The annual Reed Dance ceremony created in the 1940s in Swaziland is to preserve the women’s traditional chastity rite before marriage, serve the Queen Mother, and strengthen solidarity among the women as they work together.
Reed Dance Ceremony is participated by thousands of maidens who camp at the Ludzidzini royal residence, where the Queen Mother lives.
They march to Engabezweni royal residence where they are commissioned by King Mswati III before going out to surrounding communities to cut tall reeds.
Maidens with cut reeds. Image: twitter.com
Placed according to age groups and led by male guards, the maidens put the reeds together and send them back to the royal residence the following day. The reeds are used to mend holes in the reed fences and buildings.
The maidens rest for a day and take baths mostly in the river. They then prepare their traditional costumes including bead necklaces, anklets, skirts and a sash.
They then dress up in their skirts and sash with their bosom exposed, as their customs stipulate. Holding the knives they used to cut the reeds as a symbol of their virginity, they march to the forecourt of the King’s palace where the royal family, guests, tourists and the public are seated.
The maidens display culture and tradition as they sing and dance for the King who chooses a new wife at the end of the ceremony.
Virginity test Image credit: starconnectmedia.com
Journalismiziko – Durban University of Technology: According to 19 year old Nobuhle Mbhele from Mandawe, a small community outside Scottsburgh, virginity testing helps them as young girls to maintain their dignity in the community. It is not only for the society to recognize them as virgins, but it also helps them to abstain from sex. She believes that it is a way of respecting yourself as a young woman.
She believes that virginity testing if introduced and encouraged to young girls at an early age can help reduce the spread of HIV and Aids including teenage pregnancy which are the main challenges faced by the youth today.
Mbhele is proud of being a virgin and her mother is the one who encouraged her to sustain her virginity and not to engage in any kind of relationship until she is old enough to be married.
Reed Dance Ludzidzini Virgin Dancer Perform At Swaziland Source: World News
Nairaland Forum: It can be described as crude, controversial and unethical because of the methods some which include putting two fingers in the vagina to test for its flexibility, a process which is called the ‘two finger test’.
Journalismiziko – Durban University of Technology: According to an article on Irinnews.org, Dr Fiona Scorgie, senior research fellow at the Centre for HIV/AIDS Networking at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, spent time between 2000 and 2001 with some of the first virginity testers where a debate about human rights versus culture heated up. She is now of the opinion that virginity testing is not necessary.
“We can sit arguing till the cows come home, but the more urgent and pragmatic issue is HIV/AIDS. If we look at it just from that perspective, then virginity testing is not effective – it has failed on so many levels to reduce HIV/AIDS prevention.”
Nairaland Forum: In Africa, it has been hotly debated by two schools of thought. Those who are support of it and those who say that the practice is a relic of a lost age in these modern times. The former state their point a female’s pride is having her hymen intact, a proof of her maturity for marriage. A proof of blood on a white handkerchief is displayed to all present including the new bride, her husband to be and their parents.
The argument of the antagonists is that such crude laws should have long been done away with as it belongs to the forgotten Stone Age and not these modern days of civilization. They also argue that the virginity test is more of a sexist bomb which okays sexual intercourse outside the home for men but frowns heavily on women, a case of what is good for the goose is not good for the gander.
Journalismiziko – Durban University of Technology: Ndala Mngadi, former school teacher at Siphapheme High School at uMzinto thinks virginity testing is not a bad thing because it encourages parents to talk about sex and virginity in a country that is struggling with HIV and Aids.
Abstinence is not something that should be encouraged for girls only and not for boys; not in such a patriarchal society with such skewed power relations. Boys must be given more responsibility to abstain; there’s no point in only encouraging girls. Virginity testing must be well explained to girls and not be used to further impede their dignity.
King Goodwill Zwelintini officiates the Zulu rituals; one of the many reasons for staging up these events ‘Reed dance’ is to examine, ‘ukuhlolwa’ girls who are still virgin. It is an honor in African culture for a girl to get married while she is a virgin.
King Zwelithini is reported to have condemned those opposing virginity testing and was quoted as saying that “… he would “rather be thrown in jail than allow the tradition he revived 21 years ago to be abolished”. Source: Health24 Image:BusinessLIVE
Health24: Finding a grown up girl in Zulu or in any other African culture without her virginity, is an abominationto her family. Therefore decent girls ensure that, they protect themselves until they get officially married.
allafrica.com: World cultures differ. In the west for example, if a girl turns sixteen, she is free to do what she wants with her life, and she is free to lose her virginity to some one of her choice.
In African culture it is totally different story, you must get married first before playing sex, it is the same beliefof many of Afro Arab states of North Africa.
Health24: The Children’s Act (Act No. 38 of 2005) and its associated regulations allow for virginity tests to be performed on male and female children over the age of 16, but in practice is only performed on girls.
The markers for establishing a boy’s virginity are incredibly tenuous and there is no evidence of widespread testing on boys. The inclusion of boys is seemingly to establish an illusion of equality.
The widespread testing of girls indicates a belief that girls bear disproportionate responsibility for sexual activity and are ‘seducers of men’.
The author notes: “re-institution of virginity testing is intended to encourage young women to embrace a role for themselves as subservient, respectful and obedient.
This can only serve to perpetuate patriarchy and the dominance of women by men”. Such disempowerment can leave women and girls vulnerable to violence, abuse, and rape.
In theory girls are free to choose to participate in a test, but in practice coercion is often the order of the day.
Proponents of the practice refute the notion that it’s an infringement of dignity and privacy. In the face of past oppression and attacks on customs, traditionalists emphasise its importance in African cultural values with the prized title of “virgin” overriding any fears of bodily invasion.
However, the author argues that no practice should be sanctioned solely on the basis of culture.
He joins the heavyweight detractors; the ANC, International Human Rights Commission, and Gender Commission, in condemning virginity testing as an unjust, discriminatory practice, and urges a complete ban on all virginity testing.*
The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) says that African cultures have placed a high premium on the virginity of girls, especially for marriage purposes. In some cultures, the lack of such status could affect a marriage or the bride-price (bohali or lobola).
Amongst the Zulu people, girls were examined by their mothers once a month to ensure that they were virgins.
During the past 21 years there has been the re-emergence of mass based virginity testing particularly amongst the Zulu people. Virginity testing involves young girls being physically examined by traditional examiners to determine if they are virgins.
Thereafter they are provided with certificates in a public ceremony and others attend the annual Royal Reed Dance sanctioned by King Zwelithini.
Africa has some really cool traditions, festivals and customs some of which have stood the test of time because of the people and their almost religious disposition to keeping them alive and ensuring that they are passed on from one generation to the next.