Friday Feature: The Modjadji: Rain Queen of the Balobedu

The Modjadji or Rain Queen is the hereditary queen of Balobedu, a people of the Limpopo Province of South Africa. The succession to the position of Rain Queen is matrilineal, meaning that the Queen's eldest daughter is the heir, and that males are not entitled to inherit the throne at all. The Rain Queen is believed to have special powers, including the ability to control the clouds and rainfall.

There are several different stories relating to the creation and history of the Rain Queens of Balobedu. One story states that an old chief in 16th century Monomotapa (South eastern Zimbabwe), was told by his ancestors that by impregnating his daughter, Dzugundini, she would gain rain-making skills. Another story involves a scandal in the same chief's house, where the chief's son impregnated Dzugundini. Dzugundini was held responsible and was forced to flee the village. Dzugundini ended up in Molototsi Valley, which is in the present day Balobedu Kingdom. The village she established with her loyal followers was ruled by a Mugudo, a male leader, but the peace and harmony of the village was disrupted by rivalries between different families, and therefore to pacify the land, the Mugudo impregnated his own daughter to restore the tribe's matrilineal tradition. She gave birth to the first Rain Queen known as Modjadji which means; "ruler of the day".

According to custom, the Rain Queen must shun public functions, and can only communicate with her people through her male councillors. Every November she presides over the annual Rainmaking ceremony at her royal compound in Khetlhakone Village.

She is not supposed to marry but has many "wives", as they are referred to in the Balobedu language (These are not spouses in the usual sense of the word; as a queen regnant she has the equivalent of royal court servants, or ladies-in-waiting), sent from many villages all over the Balobedu Kingdom. These wives were selected by The Queen's Royal Council and in general are from the households of the subject chiefs. This ritual of "bride giving" is strictly a form of diplomacy to ensure loyalty to the Queen.

The Rain Queen's mystical rain making powers are believed to be reflected in the lush garden which surrounds her royal compound. Surrounded by parched land, her garden contains the world's largest cycad trees which are in abundance under a spectacular rain belt. One species of cycad, the Modjadji cycad, is named after the Rain Queen.

The Rain Queen is a prominent figure in South Africa, many communities respecting her position and, historically, attempting to avoid conflict in deference thereto. Even Shaka Zulu of Zululand sent his top emissaries to ask her for her blessings. The fifth Rain Queen, Mokope Modjadji maintained cordial relations with Nelson Mandela.

The Rain Queen has become a figure of interest, she and the royal institution becoming a significant tourist attraction contributing to the South African economy. The Rain Queen was offered an annual government civil list. The stipend was also expected to help defray the costs of preserving the cycad trees found in the Rain Queen's gardens.

However there are worries that the 400-year old Rain Queen dynasty may be coming to an end since no new Rain Queen has been enthroned since the previous one, Makobo died (In 2005). A male branch of the extended royal clan has also petitioned the South African President to restore the male line of the Balobedu royal house which reigned before 1800. This entreaty is considered unlikely to be granted, inasmuch as the Rain Queen heritage is recognised as a national cultural legacy and interest in it has stimulated significant tourist trade.

Previous Rain Queens
Rain Queen I Maselekwane Modjadji (1800-1854)
Rain Queen II Masalanabo Modjadji (1854-1894)
Rain Queen III Khetoane Modjadji (1895-1959)
Rain Queen IV Makoma Modjadji (1959-1980)
Rain Queen V Mokope Modjadji (1981-2001)
Rain Queen VI Makobo Modjadji (2003-2005)

Currently there is no ruling Rain Queen as the previous Rain Queen died on 12 June 2005.

This information was accessed on on 4 July 2014,10:35.

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