The Kingdom of Eswatini is a small country in between South Africa and Mozambique. Once, its people, the Swati, were famous for being fearsome warriors, but today, the country is one of the friendliest in all of Africa. Eswatini draws visitors in with its beautiful game reserves and rich culture. Eswatini wasn’t always known by its current name; until 2018, it was known as Swaziland! Its casual renaming hints at the limitless power of its current ruler, Mswati III, the last absolute monarch in Africa. Here are 7 facts about Eswatini that will make you sit up with interest.
Things to know about Eswatini
1. Rule of one
Until the reign of King Sobhuza II, the previous king, Eswatini was a diarchy, with power divided equally between two heads of state. The first of these was the King, who bore the title Ngwenyama (‘lion’). The other was the Queen Mother, also referred to as Ndlovukati (‘elephant mother’). Technically, they were supposed to check each other’s authority – but, well, that didn’t work out. Over time, Sobhuza consolidated so much political authority that the role of the Ndlovukati today is merely symbolic. The country does also have a parliament, but this isn’t very powerful either – probably because all political parties were banned by the King in the 1978 constitution! This makes Eswatini one of the few absolute monarchies in the world and the last in all of Africa. Talk about one man calling all the shots.
2. In Taiwan’s good books
Following the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, the defeated Kuomintang government fled to Taiwan. Here, it set up an independent state called the Republic of China (as opposed to the People’s Republic of China). Initially, most of the world saw Taiwan as the ‘real’ China. But after the Americans signed a strategic treaty with the PRC in 1979, the latter took Taiwan’s place on the international table of diplomacy. Eswatini, however, maintains its relations with Taiwan to this day, making it the only African country to reject the legitimacy of Beijing’s rule. Of course, this doesn’t sit well with the Chinese, who have been attempting to rope in the whole of Africa for the Forum of Africa-China Cooperation.
3. Several massive windows into the past
There are plenty of spectacular mountain ranges across the world, from the Atlas to the Himalayas, but when it comes to age, nothing beats what you’ll find in Eswatini. The Makhonjwa mountain range, the oldest on the planet, is part of the Barberton Greenstone Belt, which also stretches across parts of South Africa. At 3.6 billion years old, it contains traces of lava from the Archaean Eon, the geological period when life first appeared on Earth. This is why it is also known as the Genesis of Life. The region also has the largest known terrestrial meteor site in the world. It’s a must-visit for anyone with a prehistory fascination.
4. Resplendent royals
Visitors to Eswatini are particularly intrigued by its royal family. You can identify members of the royal family by their red headdresses. Since polygamy is still an acceptable practice in the country, you may discover more royals than you expect! Oh, and if you think King Mswati III has a lot of wives – 15 – just read about his father, King Sobhuza II. The latter had at least 70 wives over the course of his life. His family legacy wasn’t all Sobhuza II was famous for, though… You should know that he was also the longest-reigning monarch in world history, having ruled over then-Swaziland for 82 years and 254 days! That was probably feasible due to the fact that he was also the youngest person to ever be a monarch.
5. Fighting AIDS
As we all know, HIV/AIDS is one of the most deadly diseases in mankind. Unfortunately, estimates in Eswatini show at least one in every four adults between the ages of 15 and 49 will test HIV positive. This spells out a dark future for the country’s population. The worst afflicted are pregnant women, although, of course, the effects of the disease can be felt across Swati society. This is one of the main reasons Eswatini struggles with a life expectancy of merely 58 years. Hopefully, recent efforts to spread awareness and increase testing will improve things for the country’s next generation.
6. A man must follow his faith
Between 85-90% of Eswatini’s people are Christian. But that doesn’t mean they all belong to the same denominations as you might find in Europe or the Americas. Eswatini is home to a number of indigenous African churches, the largest of which is the African Zionist church. Although they all accept the basic tenets of Christianity, they also make room for a number of local beliefs that contradict other parts of the religion. A great example of one such belief is the acceptance of polygamy.
Eswatini also has small minorities that follow Islam, the Baha’i faith, and Hinduism. Those Swati who wish to stick more closely to the ways of their ancestors follow the Swazi religion. This revolves around spirits, animistic rituals, and an all-powerful deity.
7. Dance it all away
Ceremonial dances form a major part of Eswatini’s culture, with the two most important events being the Umhlanga Reed Dance and the Incwala. The Umhlanga, sacred to both the Swati as well as the related Zulu nation, is performed by unmarried women and girls for the Queen Mother in the royal village of Ludzidzini. This dance, which takes place over eight days, is a tribute to feminine chastity. The closing ceremony takes place on the last day. Women parade bare-chested in front of the king, who may choose a new wife from among them. Due to widespread criticism from human rights activists, it seems likely that this tradition may evolve to satisfy Western sensibilities.
The Incwala, on the other hand, is performed primarily by men wielding spears and shields and wearing traditional attire. Essentially, it honors the king and acknowledges his position at the top of the Swati hierarchy. The final part of this ceremony involves not only the King and his family but also the country’s chiefs, governors, priests, and soldiers.