Change is the only constant in the world, so evidenced by the country formerly called Swaziland in Southern Africa. The country is now called eSwatini, a decision that was put into action by the world’s last official monarchy without consulting its public. Swaziland was the name originally given to the colony, and the name was kept for the first 50 years following its independence.
Most notably, the country formerly known as Swaziland is known for its pristine wilderness reserves and stunning displays of traditional Swazi culture. There are two capitals in eSwatini, Mbabane and Lobamba. While Mbabane is the much larger of the two cities, with almost 100,000 people, Lobamba is the kingdom’s administrative capital. There are also 14 international embassies and consulates located in Mbabane. For all things traditional and spiritual, the Swazi people look to Lobamba as its capital city. With just a fraction of the population as Mbabane, Lobamba is home to the legislative and governmental buildings of the monarch and the royal family.
Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary
A hallmark of Swazi conservation, this wildlife sanctuary has been used to illustrate the ability of eSwatini’s monarch to think progressively. What was once a full-scale, multi-purpose farm has been a wildlife sanctuary for over 50 years. It supports an extensive species list and boasts almost 4,600 hectares of land. Visitors can stay in traditional Swazi huts or camp in the open air. There are plenty of activities to keep the most casual traveler or experienced safari-visitor excited, including large game drives, robust mountain biking, and plenty of nature trails.
eSwatini is the last official monarchy in all of Africa. Led by a king and his mother who are equal in power, one can keep the other one in check. However, as recent name changing events have shown, it doesn’t take two to agree on a major decision. Because the king is polygamous, eSwatini has a large royal population. Mswati II has 15 wives, and his father, Sobhuza II, had 70. Princes and princesses are allowed to wear red feathers in their hair, marking them as royals.
Though it has been independent of British rule for over 50 years, the kingdom of eSwatini still holds close ties with its former ruling country. English is still one of the kingdom’s official languages, and many affluent Swazi send their children abroad to study in the U.K. Some of the leftover British cultural norms, like having afternoon tea, are still going strong, along with some food preferences. Most residents of U.K. Commonwealth countries don’t need a visa to enter eSwatini, but it’s best to check current standards to be sure no rules have changed.
Dancing is Key
The Swazi cultural identity is wrapped in dance. Every single member of the kingdom is expected to bust a move when there are community events. Cultural celebrations hold significance for this small kingdom, and annually, 10,000 women perform for the Queen Mother during the Reed Dance Festival. Similarly, men perform for the king during the Summer Solstice celebration, Incwala.
No Direct Flights
Do not let the challenges of arriving in eSwatini deter a visit. The only way to get to eSwatini is through a connection in Johannesburg, South Africa, which is less than an hour away. New flight routes are expected to open soon. Generally, it’s easier to enter the country through the land, via either South Africa or Mozambique.
Though the name change came as a shock to many of its inhabitants, the landlocked African nation is coming to terms with its new identity. Infrastructure, banking, and policing operations are making the change from Swaziland to eSwatini, with the expectation to be complete before the decade ends.
Cover image credit: MarkRubens / iStock