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Why Swaziland Is Now the Kingdom of eSwatini

The king has declared it will use its pre-colonial Swazi name from now on

(Wikimedia Commons)
smithsonian.com

You might need to go shopping for a new globe. That’s because Mswati III of Swaziland, Africa’s last absolute monarch, has declared that his nation’s official name is now the Kingdom of eSwatini.

Though it sounds like an attempt to bring the small, landlocked nation into the digital age, it’s actually the country’s name in Swazi, the local tongue. AFP reports the change was made to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the country’s complete independence from British rule in 1968. The move also coincides with the king's own 50th birthday, which was on April 19, Sewell Chan at the New York Times reports.

“I would like to announce that Swaziland will now revert to its original name,” the king said during the independence day celebration, according to Reuters. “African countries on getting independence reverted to their ancient names before they were colonized. So from now on, the country will be officially known as the Kingdom of eSwatini.”

The change, according to the king, is also an attempt to distinguish the country's name from other nations. “Whenever we go abroad, people refer to us as Switzerland,” he added.

The switch is not out of the blue. Reuters points out the country had recently begun using its traditional name at the U.N. General Assembly and at the African Union. In recent years, during addresses to parliament, the king has used the name for the region used before British colonization in 1906.

Chan reports that similar name reversions occurred when other African nations gained independence from colonial rule. Over the latter half of the 20th century, Nyasaland became Malawi; Rhodesia became Zimbabwe; North Rhodesia became Zambia and Bechuanaland became Botswana.

Throughout the world, efforts of decolonization can be seen as the names of cities and features return to local languages or replace names introduced by colonial rule. For instance, the Indian city of “Bombay” reverted back to the local name “Mumbai” in 1995.

A 2015 paper in the African Journal of History and Culture details a vast catalog of names of geographic locations, many of which conveyed important information about the spot or some history of the place, that were changed during colonial rule. The paper acknowledges that some efforts have been made to decolonize place names, but suggests each nation should create a national policy and methodically work to replace colonial-era names under the guidance of a Geographical Names steering committee.

Once that happens, then it will really be necessary to buy a new globe.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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