There was a time not so long ago when, if a young Swazi woman of a marriageable age found a man attractive, she would make a child-figure and take it to his homestead. Her friends and those of her clan would accompany her for support – as she gave the figure to the young man she had chosen as a potential husband and father of her children.
The young man would accept the gift and attach it to his waist, allowing the tassel to hang down his side. This would give him status in society, by showing that he was a desirable man. But this did not deter other interested women: the man could wear lots of umntwfana until he decided on one particular woman.
Then, when he had chosen, the couple would choose a name for their first child and call the figure or umntwfana by this name. The man would continue to wear the umntwfana and it would represent the spirit of their future child. Once the first child was born, the umntwfana was looked after carefully – because if it was damaged, it was believed to bring misfortune to the child.
The long hair used to adorn the umntwfana was originally wildebeest hair, and later horsehair. Cattle tail hair was not favoured as it was considered not straight enough. Some more recent umntwfana are made with nylon hair extensions. However this tradition of making and using umntwfana has almost disappeared. Today most Swazis do not recognise the umntwfana as part of their culture.