Next in our series of ’50 Reasons to Visit Eswatini in 50/50 Year’ are numbers 37-40 that delve into Eswatini’s thriving culture that dates back centuries, and there is plenty to learn about the country from a number of museums and historic places of interest.
37. Eswatini’s National Museum (Umsamo Wesive)
Eswatini’s (Swaziland’s) national museum, known in siSwati as Umsamo Wesive was built in 1972 and sits just behind parliament in Lobamba. It serves as the HQ of the Swaziland National Trust Commission (SNTC), custodians of the nation’s heritage and cultural archives, and contains exhibits on Eswatini’s culture, history and natural history.
Eswatini’s spiritual, cultural and political heart lies at Lobamba, just east of the Ezulwini Valley. The area of Lobamba has been playing host to Eswatini’s royalty for over 200 years and it is on the surrounding plains that the nation still gathers for the annual Incwala and Umhlanga ceremonies, against the stunning backdrop of the sacred Mdzimba mountains. The museum takes you through a chronological sequence of displays from the earliest hunter-gatherers right through to independence, with exhibits on everything from beadwork to missionaries. Artefacts include a 75–80,000-year-old stone spear. There is also a wonderful frieze of archive photographs depicting the colonial era and an interesting exhibition of contemporary Swazi art.
38. Bulembo Town & Museum
Built during the 1930s to serve the Havelock asbestos mine – once the mainstay of Eswatini’s economy – this mining community was left a ghost town after the asbestos market collapsed and the mine closed. It has since received a new lease of life, however, courtesy of a pioneering charity project that has restored the community through a combination of social welfare – notably the rehousing of vulnerable children in old miners’ accommodation – and cottage industries including timber, honey production, spring water bottling, a dairy and a bakery. One achievement of Bulembu’s rebirth has been the preservation of its original 1930s structures. Today tourists can visit the fascinating and well-kept Bulembu Museum which charts the history of the town as well the history of the country and includes lots of fascinating artefacts and relics from the old mine works and town. Visitors can also wander the old colonial buildings, see the local enterprises in action, stay at the resurrected and charming Bulembu Country Lodge and hike high into the hills.
39. Ngwenya Mine & Visitor Centre
Ngwenya, which means crocodile, describes the shape of Eswatini’s second-highest mountain, looming above the Ngwenya border post. On its southern flank is the oldest mine in the world – an iron ore mine dated by archaeologists to at least 43,000 years ago. The mineral mined here was specularite, an ore with a glittering sheen that was traditionally worn by chiefs as body paint for ceremonial occasions. All that remains today of the ancient mine is a modest hole in the hillside, known as Lion Cavern. The excellent Ngwenya visitor centre displays some fascinating exhibits, including samples of the various mineral deposits, archive photographs of early mining days, a life-size diorama of an iron-age smelter at work, and a British-built steam engine that was shipped to Eswatini in 1913.
40. Sugar Cane Museum
The newly opened Eswatini Sugarcane Museum was established by funding from the European Union in the heart of the sugar-belt at Tambankulu Sugar Estate near Simunye. The museum shows how Eswatini’s sugarcane is produced, milled and sold. Visitors can see how geology and climate combine, creating ideal conditions for growing sugarcane in Eswatini. They can understand the history of the sugarcane industry in the country through inspiring exhibits and displays showing the transformation of the smallholder rural farmers though innovative farmer companies. There are exhibits that show the formation of Lubombo Mountains and how and why sugar became Eswatini’s most important industry. There is also a century-old steam engine and other vintage agricultural machinery to see.