What Do Swazi People Wear?

The traditional attire of the Swazi people includes multiple combinations of tied cloths, skirts, loincloths and accessories that vary depending on the individual’s gender, age, marital status and wealth. The Swazi people have also adopted many European trends in recent decades, but traditional dress remains prominent in Swazi culture.

The traditional clothing and accessories worn by the Swazi people change with age and as they experience different ceremonial rites of passage and marriage. For example, Swazi children do not wear most parts of the traditional ensemble until puberty. Boys often sport just a loincloth until their teens, while girls wear only strings of beads and grass or cloth skirts until they are at least 8 years old.

The primary components of adult Swazi attire are the two-piece outfit known as the emahiya, the men’s loincloth or emajobo, the married women’s cowhide or wool skirt called a sidvwaba, and the initiated men’s two skirts or sidvwashi. The Swazi people use additional shawls, skins, furs, belts and jewelry, as well as feathers and hairstyles to denote an individual’s marital status, socioeconomic status and any connections to Swazi royalty.

Both men and women wear the toga-like emahiya, which consists of two pieces and traditionally features bold prints in red, white and black. The top, called the umhelwane, is a large piece of cloth artfully tied at the shoulder. The bottom piece of the emahiya is the lihiya, which wraps around the waist. Men and married women wear the sidvwashi and sidvwaba underneath the lihiya, and men wear the emajobo on top of the lihiya.