Swazi - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Adherents of traditional religion believe(d) in an aloof Supreme Being known as Mkhulumnqande, who fashioned the earth but who demands no sacrifices and is neither worshiped nor associated with the ancestral spirits. Swazi men play important roles in Swazi traditional religious life, offering sacrifices for the ancestral spirits, who are ranked, as are humans. Despite the important role of men in religious matters, female diviners also communicate with spirits, and the queen mother acts as custodian of rain medicines. Swazi ancestral spirits take many forms, sometimes possessing people and influencing their welfare, primarily their health (see "Religious Practitioners" and "Medicine").

Methodists established the first mission in Swaziland. Currently, many Christian sects exist in Swaziland, ranging from the more eclectic Catholics to the more rigid Afrikaner Calvinists. A majority of Swazis are registered as "Christian." Many converts belong to nationalistic Separatist "Zionist" churches, which practice a flexible dogma and great tolerance of custom. Christianity as practiced by Swazis has been influenced by existing traditions, including beliefs in ancestral spirits, and traditional religion has been influenced by Christianity.

Religious Practitioners. Swazi practitioners of traditional religious beliefs articulate belief systems and link the spirit and human worlds. Their primary role, as healers, is to identify and correct the imbalances between these worlds, imbalances that lead to human misfortunes and illnesses. Swazi healers are of three types: herbalist (about 50 percent), diviner-medium (about 40 percent), and Christian faith healers (about 10 percent). Diviners are usually accorded more prestige than herbalists because ancestral spirits are believed to work through them directly. They are called to their profession through spirit possession and may become novices-intraining in a ritual school run by a master diviner. Although the healer categories overlap, in general, herbalists work primarily with natural materia medica (e.g., roots, bark, leaves), whereas diviner-mediums diagnose the "mystical" causes of illness, rely on spirit possession, and perform the femba ceremony, through which agents of illness are removed. Since the late colonial period (1960s), most healers (more than 80 percent) have been officially registered and are thus subject to taxation. Many belong to healers' organizations.

Ceremonies. The annual ritual of kingship, the Incwala, a ceremony rich in Swazi symbolism and only understandable in terms of the social organization and major values of Swazi life, has been described in numerous writings by Hilda Kuper. According to her, the central figure is the king, who alone can authorize its performance. The Incwala reflects the growth of the king, and his subjects play parts determined by their status, primarily rank and sex. Before this ceremony (which is sometimes described as a first-fruits ceremony or a ritual of rebellion) can be performed during a three-week period each year, considerable organizational and preparatory activities must be undertaken. For example, water and sacred plants are collected at distant points to strengthen and purify the king. Thereafter, the oldest warrior regiment opens the Incwala. Sacred songs that are concerned with the important events of kingship (a king's marriage to his main ritual wife, the return of ancestral cattle from the royal grave, and the burial of kings) as well as dances are performed. Themes of fertility and potency predominate. Celebrants are adorned in striking clothing, including feathers of special birds and skins of wild animals. Kuper maintains that the Incwala symbolizes the unity of the state and attempts to reinforce it; therefore, it dramatizes power struggles between the king and the princes, or between the aristocrats and commoners, with the Swazi king ultimately triumphing. Kuper, Beidelman, and other scholars have discussed other Swazi royal rituals, including the reed dance and rainmaking rites, as well as ceremonies that involve Swazis as individuals or groups, including funerals, marriages, and initiations.

Arts. Swazi implements and utensils, such as clay pots and baskets, are unornamented, serving mainly a utilitarian purpose. Wood carvers did not traditionally produce masks or sculptured figures, although in the late twentieth century schools have encouraged woodcraft for the tourist trade. Musical instruments are crafted to accompany popular singing and dancing activities; among those instruments used either in the past or present are the luvene (hunting horn), impalampala (kudu bull horn), ligubu (calabash attached to a wooden bow), and livenge (wind instrument made from a plant). Drums and European instruments have been introduced.

Medicine. Swazis resort to various medical practitioners, primarily biomedical or traditional practitioners. Traditional practitioners retain their high standing among the Swazi, as indicated by their relatively high ratio within the general population: currently, about one person in 110. About half of traditional healers are female, and the vast majority are diviner-mediums (see "Religious Practitioners"). Swazis believe that most serious diseases do not simply happen: they are created and sent by a person of ill will. Furthermore, Swazis differentiate between diseases or conditions regarded as "African" or "Swazi" and those that are foreign, emphasizing that the former, such as madness caused by sorcery, is a Swazi disease best treated by traditional medicine and practitioners, and that the latter, such as cholera, is a foreign disease best treated by Western orthodox medicine and biomedical practitioners. According to Green (1987), Swazi healers claim to be most effective in healing sexually transmitted diseases, sorcery and bewitchment types of ailments, children's illnesses, and migraines. By tradition, a recognized Swazi healer-diviner would commonly receive an initial gift of a goat, spear, or other articles, an intermediary gift of meat from a beast that was slaughtered during treatment, and a cow given in thanks for effecting a successful cure. The diviner's fee did not constitute a regular stipulated payment but did depend on her or his technique and the seriousness of the situation. Nowadays a healer may demand set fees for particular medicines and services.

Death and Afterlife. Swazi mortuary ritual varies with both the status of the deceased and his or her relationship with different categories of mourners. The more important the deceased, the more elaborate the rites given the corpse (particularly so for the king). The closer the relationship through blood or marriage of the deceased and a mourner, the greater the stereotyped performance demanded by the spirit from the mourner. A headman is traditionally buried at the entrance of the cattle enclosure, and his widows, children, siblings, and other relatives are expected to grieve dissimilarly and for different lengths of time. Widows grieve longer than do widowers. A widow may be expected to continue her husband's lineage through the levirate ( ngena ), in which she is taken over by a brother of her deceased husband. The spirit of the deceased may manifest itself in illness and in various omens; sometimes it materializes in the form of a snake. Ancestral spirits, acting as custodians of correct behavior and moral standards, inflict suffering on their descendants only as just punishment, not out of malice. The head of the family appeals to the ancestors and directs offerings to them at specific domestic events such as births, marriages, and deaths and during hut-building activities.

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i think if you can talk more about the work of mediums and deviners in the society at large.

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