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Social Customs & Etiquettes in Swaziland


Traditional ways of life are still strong and Swazi culture in the form of music, dance, poetry and craftsmanship plays an important part in daily life. Visitors wishing to camp near villages should first inform the headman. Swazis are very loyal to the king and the royalty; hence be wise about what is said openly.

Swaziland is also predominantly Christian, and modesty in dress is encouraged. Married women typically cover their hair. Casual wear is normal although more formal wear is customary at the casino and sophisticated hotels.

Swazis adhere strongly to their historical traditions, which are widely practised today. Many who are suffering from an illness will consult a sangoma to determine its cause and an inyanga to prescribe a treatment. It is the height of disrespect to be disparaging towards these individuals or to refer to them as witch doctors.

Punctuality is not highly valued and very often people will be late to meetings and in some cases not show up at all. People do not necessarily covet or value their own time, but neither do they give it freely. In social settings, people also tend to run late for dinner dates or meeting for drinks. If you are running very late (more than 45 minutes), it is best to call or send a text message to notify the person you are meeting.

Permission to photograph individuals should always be sought. In some cases, a gratuity may be asked for (especially if the subject has gone to some effort to make a show e.g. by wearing traditional regalia). It is prohibited to photograph the Royal Palace, the Royal Family, uniformed police, army personnel, army vehicles or aircraft and bank buildings.

Meeting & Greeting

Respect is due to one's elders. Traditionally, greeting all persons, including strangers, was a normal event; this is no longer the case in towns.

A handshake with the right hand is the most common form of greeting. Extending the right hand to shake while touching either your own right forearm or right wrist with your left hand is more polite. Likewise, when you give or accept something, do so with your right hand while touching the right wrist or forearm with your left hand.

If you are greeting an elder or someone of higher rank, a little bow of shoulders and head while shaking hands may be expected.

In passing, Swazis raise both hands in front of their chests palms towards the person to greet. They say "sawubona" if greeting one person, and "sanibonani" if greeting more than one person. Those receiving the greeting respond with "yebo".

When meeting someone, Swazis use the same verbal greetings as described above. They always shake with the right hand. It is unacceptable to shake hands with someone with the left hand.

When younger persons greet their elders, they slightly bow or squat down to a position lower than the elder. This is more common with children in rural areas.

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