Jenny's Blog

Swazi Etiquette7th March '13

Swaziland is a very laid-back kingdom and you would need to try very hard to offend anyone. However this doesn’t mean for you to be arrogant and not care about how you behave whilst staying in Swaziland. In fact the more you try to say and do the right things, even if you get it wrong, the more rewarding it will be. Following a few simple guidelines will enhance your stay in Swaziland and will make you feel part of the Kingdom that you are visiting.

When shaking hands with Swazis, shake with your right hand as we would normally do, and place your left hand, facing upwards, under your right forearm. In the olden days this showed that you were coming in peace and did not have a dagger hidden in your left hand. Quite often you may find that after shaking hands you will struggle getting your hand back as they may keep hold of you for a while. And for a while could well be minutes!

During your stay in Swaziland you will no doubt visit a local community and this can be a really memorable experience. On entering into a local homestead it is polite to take off your hat and remove your sunglasses. For women it is also a good idea to wrap a sarong around your waist, in particular to cover up your knees. Shorts are not the best thing for women to wear when walking around the community and in some places may get noted and a sarong will be offered. When I first visited Swaziland I was asked to speak at a local community meeting and when I stood up, wearing my shorts, three women practically rugby tackled me with their sarongs to prevent me disrespecting the chief who was present at the time. So be warned!

If you’re lucky to be part of a church service then the same things apply as to walking into the community. Married women were often wear headdresses such as sarongs and unmarried women often have their heads bare. Women often sit on the left-hand side of the church as you face the altar and men will sit on the right. However if you are going with members of the local community they may well put you all together on the right-hand side with the men as a sign of respect. Church services are often quite long affairs, maybe two hours, so taking a bottle of water is a very good idea and would certainly be accepted by the rest of the congregation.

You may also have the opportunity to visit a Sangoma, or traditional healer.  On entering the Sangoma’s hut place a small coin near the doorpost, take off your shoes and clap a couple of times whilst keeping your head low as a sign of respect. You can then sit down on one of the mats that they will provide for you. Before the bones are thrown for you a price will have already been negotiated. This will be anything from R200 – R400 depending on the number of people in your group. When asked for payment (which you may miss the first time) surreptitiously put the money underneath the mat that the Sangoma indicates, don’t give the money directly to him or her. The transaction will now have taken place and the bones will be thrown for you. On leaving keep low, again as a sign of respect, and leave with a head full of mind-boggling information!

All these little nuances are not that critical but if you remember even half of these then you will certainly benefit during your stay and probably have lifelong memories because of it.

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