Gender and Religion

Ritual permeated indigenous Swazi society. The iNcwala ceremony is viewed as a major ritual of kingship only performed during the reign of kings and not during periods of regency. Unlike other areas of Africa, where there has been some syncretism between indigenous and colonial religions, this has not been the case in Swaziland. Early missionaries represented the Wesleyan, Zionist, African Methodist Episcopal, Anglican, and Catholic churches. Most were established in the late 19 th century. However, there are those who participate in both traditional and Western religious spheres. About two fifths of Swazis are traditionalists.

During the colonial period, many churches threatened to excommunicate their parishioners if they participated in the iNcwala (Kuper, 1972, p. 608). Elijah Nxumalo, the grandfather of King Sobhuza II, was the first Swazi Methodist minister. His eldest son, Benjamin, an adviser to King Sobhuza, was a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Women were among the early converts to Christianity. Queen Mother Gwamile did some networking for land reclamation through the Wesleyan Church (Booth, 2000, pp. 184-185) and her sister, Johanna Nxumalo, was a member of the Zionist Church (Kuper, 1972, p. 609). Queen Mother Nukase had been a member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

King Sobhuza only flirted with Christianity and viewed it as a threat to Swazi patriarchy as manifested in polygyny, witchcraft, and drinking of beer (Booth, 2000, p. 291). Christian doctrine was considered very attractive to women, in part because of their concerns about polygyny and extramarital affairs by their husbands. In an effort to control its development in Swaziland, in 1939 King Sobhuza proposed the formation of the National Swazi Church representing a number of independent churches. It was composed of independent churches and its name was changed to the United Church of Africa in 1944.

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