Our culture remains one of any nation’s prized but sometimes unrecognized asset in the Southern tip of Africa. VUYISILE HLATSHWAYO gives insight into the benefits emaSwati stand to gain from environment protection.
Talk of an African culture that has intricate customs and elaborate rituals associated with flora and fauna. That’s none other than our own rich cultural heritage unspoilt by globalisation.
Animals are used both as sources of food and symbolism by emaSwati. The she elephant (Indlovukati), a leader of her unit, represents our own revered Queen Mother while the male lion (iNgwenyama), a symbol of strength, represents our respected King.
The colourful purple crested lourie (ligwalagwala) is a significant bird in our siSwati culture. Its red plumage is reserved for the Dlamini royal clan known as Children of the Sun (eMalangeni).
Fauna at Hlane Royal National Park supports butimba, the age-old hunting ceremony. The Butimba ceremony denotes a cultural ceremony and practice that ensures and utilises wildlife fauna in a sustainable way. The ceremony provides opportunity for reflections on the traditional way of life and attire. Of course, emaSwati satisfy their meat appetite during this ceremony.
Some animal species are a taboo according to the ritual rites of the local different clans. For instance, it’s taboo for the Magagulas to eat a pigeon; the Mabuzas do not eat the lark; the Gamas do not eat the eland, and the Dlaminis do not eat a black sheep.
Young and old with equal enthusiasm enjoy wild fruits picked in the summer season. While on the one hand our children enjoy fruits from trees such as water-berry, wild medlar, and the alien guava, adults enjoy buganu brew, best known for its aphrodisiac properties, made from the marula fruits.
Lutsango women regiment descend to Buhleni and Hlane Royal Residences to deliver their best brew fit for the king. At buganu royal ceremonies, they lavish iNgwenyama and iNdlovukati with the first fruits of their harvest.
Skins and hides are made into drums, loin skins and straps. Even with the loin skins, some species are reserved. One cannot wear loin skins made from a red duiker hide if the wearer’s father subsists. This restricts the number of people allowed to wear the loin skins and help reduce the demand.
The karosses are made from cow skins, softened and coloured with ash to attain the rich, black colour. Aprons are made from the goatskins. When karosses are won with the aprons, they complete the attire for the women regiment.
Herbs, roots and animal potions are used either as an infusion, or a concoction of several plant derivatives. These are used either by herbalists, home-users or traditional doctors to treat sick people.
Some of these are used to treat livestock ailments. Some are burnt for animals to inhale the smoke, especially during the onset of winter season. Certain plants also play vital roles in the traditional ceremonies. Umhlanga and Incwala ceremonies use reeds and Lusekwane shrubs respectively.
Other plants are used to drive away evil spirits, among other uses. Likewise, livestock play a central role in the cultural marriage rites. Goats, chickens and cattle are used to either signify certain rites and in festivities. Cattle are used to pay dowry. Not only that; they are a liSwati man’s prized possession.
Whilst marvelling at the enriching, symbolic and colourful roles of plants and animals in our national pride, the nation must also know the real threats posed to the populations and habitat by these very practices as it tries hard to feed and clothe itself.
The plants complement and enhance the appearance of both maidens and warriors. A warrior would be incomplete without his stick, and this is a slow-growing plant. Imagine the number of sticks that are carried to the ceremony. Moreover, a man would own several of these at a time.
Some of the flora is only found in this country and nowhere else. Careful use and protection will guarantee its existence for posterity. Not only that; it is also essential for the continuity of the very customs and traditions that emaSwati are so proud of. Proper traditional regalia demands an assortment of garments, attires especially at traditional weddings, just imagine a Swazi man without umncadvo made from uMtfongwane tree fruit – the traditional underwear piece. It is tantamount to prancing around naked.
Traditional buildings rely on flora; grass for thatching and ropes and other structures such as the windbreaks made of reeds. Tree trunks and stems are used to make wooden utensils.
So, there is no denying that flora and fauna are critical for our own human existence. The flora releases oxygen needed by the fauna for respiratory purposes. In turn, the fauna releases carbon dioxide required by the flora for photosynthesis. We, humans, benefit a lot from both flora and fauna through food, medicines and water.