The new year is celebrated in Swaziland by a grand festival called Incwala, one of the biggest and most fascinating African festivals, also known as ‘Festival of the First Fruits’. The Incwala is usually held around December or January upon a date chosen carefully by Swazi astronomers in conjunction with the position of the sun relating to the phases of the moon. This ritual brings the country together to gain blessings from ancestors, sanctify the kingship and begin the harvest season with high hopes. The two main celebrations are Little Incwala and Big Incwala.
The festival begins at "no moon," when people of the Bimanti clans or water people, trek to the Indian Ocean off Mozambique to collect the foam of the waves, which is believed to have mystical powers. At this time the King goes into seclusion. When the water gatherers return, and at the time of the full moon, the young men congregate at the Kings residence.
At dawn of the new moon, the king chews sacred foods prepared with the foam and spits them to the east and west, then Little Incwala begins. For two days, the people wear traditional outfits and chant sacred songs while the king remains in hiding.
Big Incwala begins at the full moon; this time reflects the maturity of the king and the more mature he gets, the wilder the party. The first day the king orders the young men to march over 40km to gather branches of the sacred Lusekwane bush by the light of the full moon. If any of the men ever made love to a married woman or made a young maiden pregnant, the branches will tell all. It is believed that leaves that touch unpure hands will wither, and the "pure" people will beat him. They then return by midnight with the branches and as the youths rest the elders use the branches to construct a sacred bower for the King alongside the Royal cattle Byre. The warriors then assemble, dressed in special Incwala constumes of ox hide and leopard skin to begin ritual songs as a black bull is driven into the King's bower and this animal is used for the mystic and sacred purposes of the ceremony.
On the third day of Big Incwala, young men slaughter an ox and warriors perform the "inczuala" dance around the enclosure where the king hides, begging him to emerge. Eventually the king returns to his people, elegantly dressed in full Incwala traditional dress. He performs a sacred dance, then eats the first pumpkin of the harvest. When he tosses the rind, the crowd performs a sacred song and dance, and then it's okay to eat the first fruits with the blessings of Swazi ancestors. No work is carried out on the fifth day, it is set aside for rest and meditation only. On the sixth day, firewood is collected for a massive bonfire on which articles are burned representing the year just past. The Incwala ends with singing, dancing and feasting. This is certainly not your average day festival, but an important tradition in the lives of the Swaziland people, something that no westener could completely comprehend but can appreciate for it’s astounding natural beauty.