Festival of the First Fruits – Durban, KZN
The traditional Zulu first fruit ritual is an annual harvest celebration known as the Umkhosi Wokweshwama ceremony.
During the ceremony, the Zulu monarch, King Goodwill Zwelithini, is the first person in the nation to sample the new season’s crop. A person who eats the new crop before the king is considered to have violated the dignity and respect owed to the monarch and the tribal ancestors.
The Zulu first fruit ceremony is held when the new season’s crops ripen in December or early January. The ceremony takes place at Enyokeni Royal Palace, Nongoma, Zululand, and the exact date is subject to the Zulu king’s discretion.
The royal tasting happens in a ritualised manner, involving the use of special medicines created by the King’s herbalists and is intended to impart the blessings of the ancestors to the harvest and the farmers.
During this event, young men participate in a series of rituals aimed at providing the Zulu nation with good fortune in the year ahead. Praise singers perform, and the Zulu monarch uses the occasion to talk to his people about pressing social issues such as HIV/Aids and poverty alleviation.
First Fruits Festival
In a desperate attempt to halt the tide of poverty, starvation and joblessness, King Zwelithini has repeatedly exhorted his subjects to develop new skills for tilling their lands and producing food. The king says that over he past thirty years he has been “deeply pained” to see vast numbers of his subjects languishing in a cesspool of indigence and squalor.
His Majesty sees the lands that his rural subjects inhabit as being their chief meal-ticket. Determined to jumpstart an agrarian revolution, the king has, over the last decade, revived the “Ukweshwama” or “First Fruits Festival” pioneered by his ancestors.
According to tradition, in a by-gone era, subjects were not permitted to partake of their first fruit yields without first offering them to their king. The festival also served as a thanksgiving to God for providing food for the nation. As the leader of his nation, the king had to firstly accept the early harvest from God on behalf of his kingdom.
There was also a heavy emphasis on the need for Zulu men to grow up to be big and strong so that they could help defend the might and power of the Zulu kingdom.
It was believed that if they helped themselves to the “first fruits” before the king could eat them, then those men would be weak – that they would not grow up to be real men.
Ina nutshell, the festival ordained that when the new harvest season arrived, the king had to eat first before the nation could eat. At a microscopic level, the same principle traditionally applies to individual households where the elders eat first.
The unbridled merriment and cultural song and dance routines that characterise the Ukweshwama festival are symptomatic of the Zulu nation celebrating the fact that they could look forward to bountiful supplies of food in the kingdom.
A major highlight of the festival is the ritual killing of a bull by members of the amabutho with their bare hands. This was a test of their courage and bravery and represented an opportunity for the warriors to prove themselves to be worthy of being in the regiment.
Legend has it that the warriors inherited the power of the bull when the animal was killed. Through their salutations to the king, this power is transferred to their leader who then uses it to protect and defend the kingdom.