You might call this Horsetail reed, in isiZulu we call it umhlanga. In some villages, it is the pinnacle of a young maiden’s virtue.
Legend has it that if a non-virgin attends the reed dance their reed will break during the parade. If you have never heard of this reed dance tradition, please hurry up and Google it. Please keep an open mind!
Well, I was raised differently. You see for over ten years my dad was a father of only girl children and at some point it looked as though I was gonna be a last born forever but then the special 3 burst that bubble for me.
So my dad didn’t treat us like typical girls in the village. We could wear shorts and track pants, he involved us in fixing things around the house. I particularly enjoyed climbing up the ladder, the view from the roof was quite nice.
So when a local school teacher one Saturday morning came to ask Daddy if she could take us for virginity testing, my dad turned red and asked her in agitation ‘where exactly do you conduct this virginity school? How many classes have my daughters attended and with whose permission?’ She tried to explain that there was no school, and that they were simply collecting girls to be tested so that the qualifying maiden’s would be bused to the reed dance. My dad refused. My dad envisioned a life of dignity and academic excellence for his daughters.
Parents released their girls and many scandals were uncovered. There was plenty of gossip and unfortunately not enough accountability, no procecutions followed. The testing only uncovered the rampant abuse of girls and reinforced the notion that these girls were responsible for their incestuous molestations, rapes & other abuses. They were the talk of the village.
Can you imagine how damaging this whole thing was to these girls! Their faces were painted red. #scarlet| They were yelled at by these women who had fetched them from their homes. Ostracized by their peers & the general public.
Fast forward to 2006 when during a workshop of Education For Life workshop, the first ever EFL I attended. The facilitators made us sit in 2 groups (virgins vs non-virgins). Oh the harsh, judgmental exchanges were so unchristian! I wondered if EFL was really something I wanted to implement. Turns out that they had made up the awful exercise. It is unheard of in E4L.
In my chuch, we have a sodality called ‘the children of Mary’, virgins who wear white dresses, blue capes and white veils to church because black people are obsessed with uniforms. A few years back, a group of these children of Mary coming from church were given a lift by a group of men in a minibus taxi. They ended up raping these kids. I know they lost their membership in the sodality, but I am yet to hear anything regarding the arrest of the perpetrators or counseling for these girls.
Christians are very quick to judge women and girls, not so effective and efficient in supporting them. So before you bash the reed dance, please understand that it’s not the only oppressive structure that girls are subjected to ezilalini.
In recent years it has become fashionable for men in their thirties and above to drive their fancy German cars to the Reed Dance Festivals (either the Zulu or Swazi one) simply to gawk at semi-nude girls or in search of young naive girls to use and abuse.
Let’s be real for a second, if we are to address gender based violence in an effective way we need to start at the root of the problem.
The way women are perceived shows in how they are treated in society. The fact that rapists are going after women of all ages, even little babies speaks volumes. Just last year, we were on the receiving end of their sickness or perhaps a demonstration of their power over the weaker gender.
When these crimes are reported, they’re not even investigated. Even if you go out of your way to investigate and track down perpetrators, the police (especially at Sawoti Police Station) will just let the suspects go without so much as an interrogation. The frustrations of being a woman in rural South Africa.
We go to bed engulfed in fear because we live in a society where a woman being raped is the norm and police inaction certainly reinforces it.