Hundreds of young women and girls wearing colourful skirts and necklaces danced before Eswatini’s King Mswati III on Saturday, during a centuries-old, coming-of-age ceremony in Africa’s last absolute monarchy.In the morning, the women — referred to as maidens — marched to the royal residence in Mbangweni, in the south of the country, as part of the traditional Umhlanga or Reed Dance. In a rite of passage to adulthood and celebration of virginity, they offered the newly cut reeds to the Queen Mother to be used as windbreaks to shield her residence, before moving to a nearby stadium. “I am happy, it means a lot to me to be a maiden,” said a young woman, who gave her name only as Jasmine, 27, from the city of Manzini. Inside the stadium, the girls chanted and danced as they paraded before the 55-year-old king, who arrived surrounded by “Amabutho”, traditional Swati warriors, and sat next to his mother on a throne set up on a stage. Some brandished tin swords, others waved Eswatini flags. Wearing traditional clothing, Mswati, who wields absolute power in the small country of 1.2 million people landlocked between South Africa and Mozambique, later walked down to the pitch and made a small bow before the women in a sign of respect.A larger, national version of the Umhlanga was held in September in the city of Lobamba, southeast of the capital Mbabane.Mbangweni’s Reed Dance holds particular significance, for Mswati, who has ruled since 1986, has the right to pick a new wife among the dancers in attendance.Known as Ngwenyama, “the lion” in SiSwati, the king has 15 wives, some of whom he married when they were minors, and at least 25 children. He has been widely criticised for his lavish lifestyle, while nearly 60 percent of the population live on less than $1.90 a day.