Masalanabo Modjadji, South Africa’s only female traditional ruler.

The Modjadji: South Africa’s Rain Queen

The Modjadji or Rain Queens are direct descendants of Queen Balobedu who hail from the Limpopo Province of South Africa. The title is strictly matrilineal and men aren’t given the opportunity to descend the throne. The crown is reserved for the eldest daughter.

History

According to legend, the rain queen of the Lovedu descends from the royal house of Monomotapa who reigned in the 1400s and 1500s over the territory now known as Zimbabwe. At the time it was inhabited by the Karanga tribe.

In the 1580s the royal house experienced a scandal when one of the princes had a relationship with his sister, Dzugundini. The relationship produced a son. To prevent a civil war, the king banned his daughter and her son from the kingdom of Monomotapa, but not before giving her a horn with magical rainmaking powers. She settled on the opposite side of the Limpopo River – where her descendents still live today. The magical powers were passed along the female line from mother to daughter.

In 1800 Maselekwane, who descended from Dzungundini, was for the first time officially crowned as rain queen and took the name Modjadji I. Fear of her powers has always restrained both internal opposition and any attack from outside. Her reputation as a rainmaker was so respected that even Shaka, the king of the Zulus, turned to her for help to relieve Zululand from a prolonged drought.

Rain Queen Khesetoane Modjadji III (left), Makobo Constance Modjadji V (right)

Balobedu

The Balobedu people, known as the Lobedu, are a unique people in that they have traditionally been ruled by a woman in the form of a Queenship for hundreds of years.

Their monarchy is a story of much hardship under the evil apartheid regime that stripped of their land and did not not recognise their Kingdom. The apartheid government even went as far as to denounce their ruling Queen in 1972. Sadly, the last Rain Queen died on 12 June 2005.

The Balobedu people have been reinstated by the ANC (African National Congress) Government. The former president, Jacob Zuma announced the recognition of their Queenship in 2016 and today a new Rain Queen will be officially recognised. South Africa’s current president, Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa, will be attending the inauguration.

The new Rain Queen, Masalanabo Modjadji comes from a lineage going back to the 16th century. The young queen is believed to have inherited rain making powers from her mother. 

Masalanabo Modjadji was three months old when her mother died. In that moment, she ascended to the throne of the Balobedu, a tribe in South Africa’s northern Limpopo province that is the country’s only queendom. Modjadji currently lives near Johannesburg as a (relatively) normal 13-year-old. When she turns 18, however, she will officially be crowned Queen Modjadji VII, the “Rain Queen,” the latest in a line that’s believed to bring rain to a parched country.

Masalanabo Modjadji, 12, South Africa’s only female traditional ruler, with claims of mystical rainmaking powers, is pictured at her home in Midrand on April 24, 2017 in South Africa. Queen Modjadji is the hereditary ruler of the Balobedu, an ethnic tribe in South Africa’s northern province of Limpopo. She will be formally crowned when she turns 18, having ascended to the throne as an infant when the previous queen, her mother, died in 2005. / AFP PHOTO / MUJAHID SAFODIEN

Modjadji’s reign will be different than those of her three immediate predecessors, who were queens in name only after the apartheid regime demoted them to chieftain status in 1972.

Rain Queen Lineage 

The first appointed Rain Queen was Rain Queen I Maselekwane Modjadji, the daughter of  Chief of the Kranga and Princess Dzungundini. She reigned from 1800 to 1854. 

Rain Queen I lived in isolation until she committed suicide by swallowing poison.

Rain Queen II Masalanabo Modjadji held the throne from 1854 until 1894.  She was forced to surrender by the South African military – which comprised of white men in the 1890s.  It is documented that a decoy queen was presented. Rain Queen II was unable to conceive children so her sister, Rain Queen III Khesetoane Modjadji ascended the throne and led her constituents until 1954.

Rain Queen III Khesetoane Modjadji  was  an exceptional woman who ruled for 63 years as rain queen. She was born in 1870 and died on 20 February 1985 – in the ripe old age of 89 years. Unlike her predecessor, she was known for her hospitable nature, wisdom and sense of justice.

During her reign the royal kraal of Modjadji was proclaimed a national monument (1936). This kraal is situated in the Modjadji Kloof in Limpopo, characterised by the largest concentration of bread trees – called Modjadji bread trees – in the world.

Rain Queen Makoma Modjadji IV ruled from 1905 to 1980.  Unlike other queens, Rain Queen IV married Andreas Maake.

Makobo Modjadji VI was the first queen to receive a formal education. Queen VI held her throne until her death in 2005.  Queen VI defied the rules of royalty by dating and procreating with a man considered a commoner, wore westernized clothing, went to discos and used a cell phone.

Makobo Modjadi was inaugurated as sixth Rain Queen in 2003, at age 25. When she died two years later, her infant daughter became next in line. MIKE HUTCHINGS/REUTERS

The circumstances surrounding Queen VI’s death have caused much controversy. Some believe she died of AIDS, others speculate she died of a broken heart when her partner, David Mogale, was expelled from the kingdom. There are those who have said that she was poisoned to remove her quickly from the throne, as she didn’t embody the characteristics of a traditional queen.  She died on June 10, 2005, and her official cause of death was ruled as chronic meningitis.

The sacred rain dance ceremony performed for the late Queen Mokope Modjadji V. The Rain Queen is believed to have special powers, including the ability to control the clouds and rainfall. The ceremony was filmed by Tekweni TV Productions in the 1990’s, a few years before her death at the age of 64 years in 2001.

Timeline of rain queens

1800 – 1854: Maselekwane Modjadji I
1854 – 1895: Masalanabo Modjadji II
1896 – 1959: Khetoane Modjadji III
1959 – 1980: Makoma Modjadji IV
1981 – 2001: Mokope Modjadji V
2003 – 2005: Makobo Mdjadji VI

Sources:
African Queen Series: Uncensored Opinion.
– The Restoration of South Africa’s Rain Queen. Jon Allsop. 2018. Atlasobsura
– Rain Queens: South Africa’s female traditional rulers who hold special powers and are given ‘wives’. Face2FaceAfrica
The Balobedu of Modjadji

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