What you need to know about the Festival
There are many festivals around the world that celebrate seasonal fruit and others that focus on beer, but in the scenic kingdom of Swaziland the two come together in a special celebration known as the Marula Festival.
What happens in Swaziland in February?
The Marula Festival is one of Swaziland’s most exciting traditional ceremonies. The harvest festivities coincide with marula season, which begins in mid-February and runs through to May. The fruit is distilled into a beer, known as Buganu or Marula beer, and the entire nation joins in on this celebration.
Every year, His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Indlovukazi visit different parts of the Kingdom to celebrate the start of the marula season. The biggest of these festivals is held in the Hhohho region at Ebuhleni, where their Majesties join the nation in song and dance. Although the marula fruit can be found almost anywhere in Africa, its popularity is highest in Swaziland. Their Majesties are presented with Marula gifts from each household (a fruit fit for a king) and only after this can Swazis drink this beer.
Ruled over by King Mswati 111, this peaceful Kingdom is rapidly becoming a traveller’s favourite on the trail through Southern Africa. Swaziland is the smallest country in the southern hemisphere, yet there is a surprisingly diverse landscape with dramatic mountains, spectacular valleys and prolific game reserves that offer the visitor a wide range of adventure activities.
The beauty of the Swazi culture can be best seen at this festival as it is a combination of all the Swazi traditions. People from far and wide beyond Swaziland’s borders come to this festival to witness the Marula Festival, as it gets more popular every year!
Once the green fruits fall to the ground, women and children gather and store them until they ripen to a creamy yellow colour. The fruits are then placed into water, sugar is added and it is fermented, and distilled into a beer. This potent alcoholic mixture is called buganu, or marula beer. Some say that unlike most alcoholic beverages, buganu stimulates sexual urges to the degree that it is considered dangerous for men and women to drink it together if they wish to avoid adultery breaking out. In men it also said to bring an uncontrollable urge to eat meat, and livestock thefts increase significantly during marula season. The kingdon of Swaziland celebrates the start of the Marula season with the annual Marula festival. The festival is increasing in popularity, and swiftly becoming one of the country’s most exciting traditional ceremonies.
Although the Marula Fruit is found widely throughout Africa, it is most popular in Swaziland. Seen by the Swazi nation as much more than a food source, the Marula is rather regarded as a magical healing ingredient, with huge fertility properties.
Buganu Ceremony at Buhleni
Buhleni is a small town situated in the northern Hhohho region of Swaziland. There is a supermarket, a petrol station and not much else. But outside the town there is the royal residence, with kraal and parade ground, where the festival is always held. Women will begin to deliver the brew on Friday afternoon. The main celebration kicks off after lunch and carries on well into the night. After the celebrations there, the entire entourage moves to Hlane Royal Residence in the eastern Lubombo region for more celebration and general merriment and the next weekend.
If you miss the Buganu Festival at Buhleni, there is a second similar celebration that takes place at Hlane Royal Residence, normally a fortnight (two weeks) after the initial event. Again this is subject to confirmation by the traditional authorities.
Buganu Ceremony at Hlane
Hlane Royal Residence is situated in the lowveld Lubombo region of Swaziland. Following the initial celebration of the Marula Wine or Buganu season at Buhleni Royal Residence, which happens a week or two weeks earlier, this second Swazi Baganu festival takes place at Hlane Royal Residence.
The Ngwenyama, His Majesty King Mswati III, will join jovial regiments of emabutfo (warriors) and lutsango (woman’s regiments) in a celebration of song and dance, throughout the weekend.
The focal point is the fermented home-brewed marula wine which is a favourite in in Swaziland. This event at Hlane Royal Residence often falls on the 1st or 2nd weekend in March.
Booking for the Festival
How to go about finding this venue and enjoying the ceremony? My recommendation is to make use of a local step-on guide to travel with you in your own vehicle, bookable on this site, or to book a full day Taste of Swaziland tour with Swazi Trails, where transport, lunch, refreshments and guiding are included. Accommodation can be booked in the Ezulwini Valley as a good starting point for a day excursion to these ceremonies, or alternatively in the lowveld at a venue like Hlane Royal National Park.
Other Sites to Consider
Find more information on what happens during the Marula Festival and also find places to stay in when coming for the event.