The Umhlanga attracts young maidens from every area of the Kingdom and provides the occasion for them to honour and pay homage to the Queen Mother (iNdlovukazi). Some say this is also the opportunity the king uses to pick his wife and some say it is not.
Most of the maidens who participate are in their teens, although there are some younger girls who take part. During the first week the young maidens gather reeds from designated areas, some of the older maidens travel a long distance, leaving the younger ones to collect reeds closer to their homes.
The girls wear short beaded skirts decorated with fringes and buttons; together with anklets, bracelets and necklaces, and colourful sashes. Each sash has appendages of different coloured wool streamers; these denote whether or not the maiden is bethrothhed (promised to marry). The Royal Family Princesses wear red feathers in their hair and lead the maidens to perform for their Majesties. Each group has its own particular dance steps and song which marks their respect for the Monarch and his mother. Many of the girls carry torches to indicate that they had cut the reeds at night.
The age-old ceremony is aimed at encouraging young women to abstain from sex before marriage.