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The Kingdom of Eswatini

The Buganu Ceremony: A Taste of Tradition and Tourism Triumph

Held bianually at the Ebuhleni and Hlane Royal Residence in the Kingdom of Eswatini, the Marula (Buganu) Ceremony pulsates with cultural significance and carries great potential for the nation’s tourism industry. Spanning three days, it celebrates the marula fruit harvest, a bounty deeply woven into the Swazi people’s identity and their connection to the land. With vibrant cultural performances, traditional rituals, and a celebratory atmosphere, the event offers a unique window into Swazi tradition, attracting visitors and boosting the local economy. This year’s first Buganu Ceremony was held at Ebuhleni Royal Residence from 16 to 18 February.

The Essence of the Ceremony

The Buganu Ceremony is steeped in tradition. The main participants of Buganu Ceremony are women referred to as Lutsango. Lutsango serve as torchbearers of Swazi cultural traditions, particularly those associated with women and the marula harvest. Their participation ensures the transmission of cultural knowledge and practices to future generations. The Buganu Ceremony signifies the start of the marula season, marked by the fermentation of the fallen fruit into “buganu,” a potent and revered local brew. The Queen Mother receives the buganu, officially opening the season with a blessing. The King joins her, partaking in the brew and sharing it with dignitaries and guests. Traditional dances, vibrant attires and joyful music permeate the air, creating an unforgettable spectacle on the second day of the ceremony.

This year was no different as individual Lutsango women, women in separate four region regiments, corporates, organisations and Eswatini government institutions filled Ebuhleni Royal Residence to actively partake in the three-day event. Friday afternoon saw Lutsango in high numbers bearing food, buganu and other gifts before Her Majesty The Queen Mother. In celebration, Saturday morning saw Lutsango attending lessons on health, women economic empowerment and social issues. In the late Saturday afternoon, the Lutsango regiment, clad in uniform red lihiya gifted to them by Their Majesties, sang and danced, literally painting the Ebuhleni Royal Residence red. Sunday morning brought the ceremony to a close as Lutsango headed towards their respective homes.

Significance for the Tourism Industry

The Buganu Ceremony acts as a powerful magnet for tourists, offering a glimpse into Swazi culture and heritage. Here is how it impacts the tourism industry:

Cultural Authenticity: Unlike staged experiences, the Buganu Ceremony offers genuine cultural immersion. Witnessing the rituals, participating in festivities, and tasting the buganu provide an authentic understanding of Swazi traditions. This authenticity is a key driver for tourists seeking unique and meaningful experiences. The ceremony provides a platform for cultural exchange between visitors and locals. Tourists gain a deeper understanding of Swazi traditions, while locals have the opportunity to interact with diverse individuals and share their heritage. This fosters mutual respect and appreciation, enriching the experience for both parties.

Economic Boost: The ceremony attracts both domestic and international visitors, leading to increased hotel occupancy, transportation usage, and demand for local crafts and souvenirs. This surge in economic activity benefits various sectors, creating jobs and stimulating local businesses.

Community Engagement: The Buganu Ceremony involves the participation of local communities, who showcase their skills in singing, dancing and craftwork. This engagement empowers communities and fosters cultural pride, while also benefiting them economically through tourist interactions. The Buganu Ceremony actively involves local communities, not just as spectators but as participants. This empowers them to take ownership of their cultural heritage and actively contribute to the tourism industry. This sense of ownership fosters pride and cultural preservation.

Brand Differentiation: By promoting the Buganu Ceremony, Eswatini sets itself apart from other tourist destinations, offering a unique cultural experience that cannot be replicated elsewhere. This brand differentiation attracts niche tourism segments seeking authentic cultural immersion.

Challenges and Opportunities

Despite its potential, the Buganu Ceremony faces challenges that need to be addressed to maximize its tourism impact:

Limited Accommodation: The influx of tourists during the ceremony demands expansion of accommodation options near the Ebuhleni Royal Residence. The Buganu Ceremony saw nearby hotel, Piggs Peak accommodation filled to the brim, leaving visitors to seek accommodation at lodges far from the royal residence.  This undoubtedly requires investment in sustainable infrastructure development to tackle this issue.

Accessibility: Digitally promoting the ceremony effectively through international channels and ensuring smooth travel logistics are crucial for attracting more tourists.

Community Empowerment: Buganu ceremonies present an opportunity that ensures Buhleni and Hlane communities directly benefit from the tourism generated by the ceremony. This is vital for long-term sustainability and cultural preservation.

Looking Ahead

The Buganu Ceremony represents a potent blend of cultural heritage and tourism potential. By addressing challenges and capitalizing on its strengths, Eswatini can leverage this unique event to attract more tourists, generate economic benefits and empower local communities. The ceremony can become a cornerstone of a sustainable and responsible tourism industry, showcasing the Kingdom’s vibrant culture and preserving its traditions for generations to come.

The Buganu Ceremony presents a unique opportunity for Eswatini to leverage its cultural heritage for tourism development. By addressing challenges and capitalising on its strengths, the nation can harness the ceremony’s potential to attract more visitors, generate economic benefits, empower local communities and position itself as a leading destination for authentic cultural experiences. The ceremony serves as a powerful reminder that tourism, when done responsibly and inclusively, can be a force for positive change, celebrating tradition while fostering economic growth and community well-being.

Eswatini Tourism Authority continues to drive its mandate to encourage responsible travel in the Kingdom of Eswatini and promotes Eswatini as a preferred destination.