My time in Swaziland has really educated me on Swazi customs. I am learning at an increasing rate now that my colleagues and friends are comfortable with me as one who is learning “to be Swazi” in a sincere way. Though many foreigners come to Swaziland, those who come with preconcieved notions of Swazi life and culture keep up stereotypes of the arrogant foreigner. The wet-behind-the-ears, idealistic young women who come here with feminist propaganda because of the way the media portrays treatment of Swazi women are my best example.
Though it is not even one of my top five concerns here, I am doing a steady job of attempting to learn SiSwati. Everyone is my teacher. My students, colleagues, taxi drivers, gardener, helper, grocery store clerks, and friends all teach me various aspects of my life in SiSwati. I have learned enough that some locals who know me now think twice before discussing some issues in front of me in SiSwati. I think that is a great accomplishment.
I was speaking to one of my usual taxi drivers on a recent drive from campus to Mbabane. We started discussing the local game reserves. I have been to two out of the three royal game parks, Hlane and Mlilwane and have plans to visit the third later in the month with my family. We discussed the differences in the parks and variety of activities in which I have participated in Swaziland since I’ve been here. Mlilwane was particularly fun for me because of the mostly local crowd and the traditional activities at night. This included the usual spectacular show of dancing by male and female groups in bright traditional attire with various handmade accessories. I told him the highlight of my night at Mlilwane was dancing around the fire with the dancers, locals, and other lodge guests to the music of native drummers til the wee hours…
Some of the with conversation with Wandile, the taxi driver, was accentuated with my growing SiSwati vocabulary (and his intermittent correction of my pronunciations). As he was getting ready to drop me off at the mall, I paid him and he paused thoughtfully. He warned me that I was becoming too Swazi. Then he said that I’d better “watch out” because some man would get me and marry me “in a Swazi way.” We all hear rumors of foreign women being kidnapped and married. I thought my age and status would certainly protect me from those activities, but I had to forgo getting out of the car for a minute to find out what he meant.
Wandile explained to me that when a man is ready to claim a woman, he invites her to his house. It gets late and he invites her to stay overnight (I can understand this due to the strict drinking and driving laws and the lack of public transport at night). While the woman is sleeping, the man either tips out or makes an excuse to leave briefly. Early in the morning before the chickens rise, the woman is awakened alone in the man’s bed by his female relatives.The woman is then informed by his family that she has been “tegawed.” Subsequently, a marriage ritual occurs which is the basis for Swazi marriage and is not revokable by the woman. I told Wandile not to worry about me because I am already married. He told me that I should be worried because my U.S. marriage means nothing in Swaziland, especially to any enamored Swazi man.
His last words, “Don’t mess around! You will be tekawed!!”
Kuteka (gu-ta-guh) is the traditional ceremony which is the beginning of Swazi traditional marriages. The translation of the word is similar to “ensared” or “convinced.” Please read this article for probably a better explanation that the taxi driver’s (http://www.observer.org.sz/news/62387-kuteka-the-beginning-of-a-real-swazi-marriage.html).