70 Wives, 210 Children, and 80,000 Bare-breasted Virgins – RV Meets a King of Swaziland

King Sobhuza II ruled Swaziland for 82 years, racking up an astonishing 70 wives and well over 200 children. Incumbent King Mswati III is firmly following his father’s footsteps and already has a harem of wedded options. It’s not that surprising given that a local tribal festival invites bare breasted virgins to dance for the king. Random Vacay sent polygamy enthusiast Jefferson Taylor to Swaziland to meet the king and find out how he does it.

An Invite Into King Sobhuza II’s Village

Not really somewhere that looks like a King's palace...

Not really somewhere that looks like a King’s palace…

Barefoot young girls plead with their smiles, desperate to hold hands with me, the mulungu. “Stop it you schoolgirl minxes” I bellow, “you’re too young for my shot at polygamy.” Under shaded trees in the village square we stop to drink traditional maize beer, a shore way of lowering my standards. It tastes like rotting sour milk mixed with lumpy flour, and that’s after two liters. It was much worse at first. Almost the whole village is made from reed and mud huts, just a couple of dwellings upgraded to simple concrete blocks. King Sobhuza II ruled Swaziland for 82years from these meagre surroundings. That makes him the longest ruling monarch in world history. And he lived here? Where’s the palace and his harem of fine maidens! How he fitted 70 wives and 210 children into this village I’ll never know. There was evidently a lot of ménage à trois sleeping arrangements going on. I keep looking for evidence of some kind of Playboy mansion but there’s nothing but mud and drunkards. My guide eventually points out the homes of various Princes and Princesses. I wonder if that floppy haired British idiot William and his smoking hot wife Kate have ever used a squat toilet? Or washed their clothes by hand?

Topless Women on the Swazi Banknotes

censored Sandwiched between the Southern African giants of South Africa and Mozambique, Swaziland rarely gets on many traveler’s itineraries. It was on my bucket list from the moment I discovered that topless dancing women feature on some of the banknotes. They’re pretty hot as well, big bouncy jugs and tiny palm skirts feeling good in my pocket. They certainly have their own take on public affairs here, with the King exercising some serious power. The majority of the population live on land “held in trust for the nation by King Mswati III.” The country is divided into chiefdoms, and locals can request land from the local chief, the majority of whom are royal descendants from Sobhuza II. The land is free. So no rent and no mortgage. However, you have to take a chicken or cow to appease the chief. And if you want a wife the main prerequisite is being able to afford labolla, the “bride price,” and be able to support her. Around 10 cows is average, although educated women fetch more and non-virgins are less.

80,000 Bare Breasted Virgins Dancing for the King

censored2 I’ve planned my arrival for a dramatic spectacle, some 80,000 virgins coming from across Swaziland to dance at the annual Reed Dance Ceremony. I’m imagining the European equivalent – greased up fireman stripping for a ravenous Queen Elizabeth II (please don’t linger on this thought…) On the opposite side of a field is the king, sat on his thrown and admiring the action. He could pick any one (or two, or three) to be his wife. In such an impoverished nation, becoming the king’s new piece means security for your whole family. My guide reckons there’s no sexual motive to this seven day festival. There’s certainly a few pangs of excitement coming from my trousers. 80,000! They’re everywhere; big chubby girls with breasts that bounce up and hit faces, cute skinny ones that demurely hide behind others, boisterous leaders that create new definitions of pertness. For purely scientific reasons I check them all out, and decide that insanely largely boobs is the most popular body type. Then my guide wants to take us to another part of the stand but I can’t move because of my erection. Control yourself Jefferson! These are teenagers!

Meeting the King of Swaziland

Much thinking of the Queen and firefighters follows, until the hard-on subsides and I’m ready to try and meet the king. The women are still coming and dancing around, but any lingering stares are sure to derail this mission. We walk to the King’s side of the festivities, a huge gaggle of funkily dressed hanger’s on between me and Mr Mswati. There’s much excitement and the big man (I say big but he’s more short and flabby to be honest), comes down with his aids and takes the floor. After seemingly three hours of speeches through a dodgy PA system, Mswati takes to the huge dance floor and starts strutting his stuff.

King Mswati is hardly a looker but...neither was Prince William and look at his wife.

King Mswati is hardly a looker but…neither was Prince William and look at his wife.

I’m expecting some moves. Perhaps some twerking, but definitely a bit of grinding. But it’s all very decorous, no impromptu frolics or grabbing the hottest chick for a boogie. Perhaps he’s gay. The man is now 40 and only has 15 wives. By Swaziland standards that makes him decidedly infertile. We hang around for two days trying to meet the king, giving away hundreds of 5 emalangeni notes to bump our way up the queue for a public greeting. I’m so anxious that I can’t decide which question to ask. “How do you satisfy them all?” is an obvious choice, but I’m tempted with “Have you ever tried them all at once?” or “Which castaway wife can I take to the stadium toilets?” In the end I get embarrassingly nervous, shake his hand, and blurt out “YOU”RE A LEGEND!” Before getting a reply I’ve been ushered on and he’s shaking hands with someone a little more sophisticated.

Jefferson gets dressed to meet the king

Jefferson gets dressed to meet the king

Why you need to visit Swaziland

My guide says that this festival is celebrating chastity and purity. Which is quite ridiculous. Yet it leads me onto why Swaziland needs to be on your bucket list. All this is normal. Normal. The Kingdom has prevented the greedy claws of Westernization ripping through a unique centuries old culture. There are no human rights activists ruining this parade of dancing chicks. Swaziland has retained an aspect of the old tribal Africa that has been slowly eroded almost everywhere else on the continent. Its beauty lies in a determination and ability to be itself. It’s an almost a mythical nation, where else could meeting the King requires just a few bribes. And let’s not forget the annual Reed Dance ceremony. 80,000 bare-breasted virgins has to be one of the world’s most unforgettable sights.

Another Reed Dance photo...because, well, because it's a wonderful sight.

Another Reed Dance photo…because, well, because it’s a wonderful sight.