Young Women in Contemporary Zulu Society

by Sandra Klopper
University of Cape Town

Young Zulu women wearing short cotton skirts decorated with beaded garments during the Reed Ceremony. Photo by Sandra Klopper.

When the Reed Ceremony was first introduced in 1984, King Zwelethini claimed incorrectly that it had been discontinued during the reign of King Mpande, the third Zulu king, who reigned from 1840 to 1872. The Reed Ceremony was, in fact borrowed from the neighboring Swazi, whose practices are very familiar to Zulu King Goodwill Zwelethini, one of whose five wives is a Swazi princess. (In contrast to the girls attending the Zulu Reed Ceremony, these Swazi girls wear sarong-like cotton garments with shields and other motifs printed on them in black, red, and white). It is relevant to an understanding of this recently appropriated/invented ceremony to point out that the Swazi Reed Ceremony has been described by one observer as celebrating nubility and, in doing so, emphasizing the traditional roles reserved for women: procreation and domesticity (A. Booth, 1983).