Swaziland, officially the Kingdom of Eswatini (Umbuso weSwatini; sometimes called kaNgwane or Eswatini),is a sovereign state in Southern Africa. It is neighbored by Mozambique to its northeast and by South Africa to its north, west and south; it is a landlocked country. The country and its people take their names from Mswati II, the 19th-century king under whose rule Swazi territory was expanded and unified.
At no more than 200 kilometres (120 mi) north to south and 130 kilometres (81 mi) east to west, Swaziland is one of the smallest countries in Africa; despite this, its climate and topography are diverse, ranging from a cool and mountainous highveld to a hot and dry lowveld. The population is primarily ethnic Swazis whose language is Swati. They established their kingdom in the mid-18th century under the leadership of Ngwane III; the present boundaries were drawn up in 1881 in the midst of the scramble for Africa. After the Anglo-Boer War, Swaziland was a British protectorate from 1903 until 1967. It regained its independence on 6 September 1968.
Swaziland is divided into four climatic regions, the Highveld, Middleveld, Lowveld and Lubombo plateau. The seasons are the reverse of those in the Northern Hemisphere with December being mid-summer and June mid-winter. Generally speaking, rain falls mostly during the summer months, often in the form of thunderstorms.
Winter is the dry season. Annual rainfall is highest on the Highveld in the West, between 1,000 and 2,000 mm (39.4 and 78.7 in) depending on the year. The further East, the less rain, with the Lowveld recording 500 to 900 mm (19.7 to 35.4 in) per annum.
Variations in temperature are also related to the altitude of the different regions.
There are known to be 507 bird species in Swaziland, including 11 globally threatened species and four introduced species, and 107 mammal species endemic to Swaziland, including the critically endangered South-central black rhinoceros and seven other endangered or vulnerable species.
Protected areas of Swaziland include seven nature reserves, four frontier conservation areas and three wildlife or game reserves. Hlane Royal National Park, the largest park in Swaziland, is rich in bird life, including white-backed vultures, white-headed, lappet-faced and Cape vultures, raptors such as martial eagles, bateleurs, and long-crested eagles, and the southernmost nesting site of the marabou stork.
The principal Swazi social unit is the homestead, a traditional beehive hut thatched with dry grass. In a polygamous homestead, each wife has her own hut and yard surrounded by reed fences. There are three structures for sleeping, cooking, and storage (brewing beer). In larger homesteads there are also structures used as bachelors’ quarters and guest accommodation.
The Reed Dance today is not an ancient ceremony but a development of the old “umchwasho” custom. In “umchwasho”, all young girls were placed in a female age-regiment. If any girl became pregnant outside of marriage, her family paid a fine of one cow to the local chief. After a number of years, when the girls had reached a marriageable age, they would perform labour service for the Queen Mother, ending with dancing and feasting. The country was under the chastity rite of “umchwasho” until 19 August 2005.
Swaziland is also known for a strong presence in the handcrafts industry. The formalised handcraft businesses of Swaziland employ over 2,500 people, many of whom are women (per TechnoServe Swaziland Handcrafts Impact Study, February 2011). The products are unique and reflect the culture of Swaziland, ranging from housewares, to artistic decorations, to complex glass, stone, or wood artwork.