The paved highway provided a stark contrast to what I anticipated when I entered the small country of Swaziland, on the southeastern corner of the African continent. While I had expected some modern amenities and hotels, I had read intriguing stories about visits to traditional villages. This was part of my first trip to Africa, so I arrived with an open mind.
When I entered the country, it was clear to me that their tourism industry had just started to develop. In and among the local towns were hotels, which ranged from modest to spa resort. Also, given the country’s lush, mountainous terrain, adventure sports such as ziplining had become popular, hopefully attracting a wealthier clientele and bringing much needed money to the region.
I enjoy cultural immersion, so I opted for a day in the Mantenga Cultural Village. Here, we were able to tour a traditional Swazi village built of huts. The tour was guided by one of the friendly village leaders, showing us individual huts designated for tasks such as food preparation. The highlight of the village tour was the traditional dance performance. Dressed in bright traditional clothing, the dance troupe performed village songs with native choreography. It was an engaging performance, even involving a few audience members who were taught some dance moves.
The following day, I joined a local guide for a walk through the township of Lobamba. Our guide had grown up in town, but he had been fortunate enough to attend university elsewhere. Music and laughter filled the air on our stroll through Lobamba, yet this township had limited resources and was very basic. At one point on the tour, I visited the local “bar”, where a local was making sorghum beer and passing it around. As we took our taste, the other residents sitting on the nearby logs were in awe that we were visiting from America, where we had “everything”. In light of all of the joyful community interactions I’d been observing on wandering through Lobamba township, I informed the others that they were wealthier than they realized.
Later on the trip, I visited the Ezulwini Craft Market. Though I had been wanting to visit, it was difficult to find, as it was set back from the main road, and signage was poor. We eventually found our way to the rows of stalls containing local crafts, jewelry, and carvings. As we wandered from booth to booth, we were faced with the difficult decision of choosing only a few items to bring home, since our luggage space was limited. According to the craftspeople, they had not had many visitors to the market for a while, which explained everyone’s eagerness. We eventually settled on a purse, a few carvings, and a wall hanging. These local treasures didn’t cost us very much, but seeing one of the craftspeople dance in delight after our sale was poignant. It made me wish I could give each booth a donation.
My eSwatini Takeaways
If you are planning a trip through southern Africa and enjoy learning about new cultures, please consider visiting Swaziland (now eSwatini as of 2018, to celebrate 50 years of Swazi independence). The people are warm and welcoming, and the country has so much to offer!
Written by: Brooke Yool
Brooke is a Seattle-based college instructor and auto repair shop owner. She is obsessed with any opportunity to interact with locals while traveling, since that’s where the magic happens. Her journeys often take her to Eastern Europe or the Middle East.