The Story of the Queen that commanded the Skies

We were still in nappies when most of our parents introduced us to a story about an orphan who was left in the care of her stepmother and twin stepsisters. As you would expect, the family mistreated her and she could not wait to find her independence. Once she was old enough, she got an opportunity to go to a party and coincidentally, a fairy god mother was there to ensure that she was the best looking girl at the event on the condition that she is home by midnight. She arrived at the party and met a prince and lost track of the time. When she realized that it was late, she ran home and forgot one of her shoes at the party. The prince searched the town for her until he eventually found her and they lived happily ever.

As we grew up, we were exposed to more realistic royal stories. From the wedding of princess Diana here and prince Charles which was watched by over a billion people because the UK went and colonized the entire universe. That story ended tragically as princess Diana passed away in a car accident and Prince Charles got the chance to marry the love of his life. Alas, Princess Diana left two children that would continue the royal bloodline.

It is now 2020 and both of Princess Diana’s sons have grew up to become handsome young men. The older brother married and has three children and the younger brother decided to go against tradition and marry a black divorced girl which led to the British media brutalizing until they both decided not partake in royal duties anymore.

As a South African, I am often exposed to western stories of royalty. Little did I know that there is a queenship that exists in this country a few hours away from Venda. This queenship has birthed a unique culture and language that seems glance at first to be a mixture of Tshivenda and Sesotho and strangely, we don’t know much about the queenship as well as the Balobedu people. As such, I am going to take you on a journey below to discover how a mere scandal in a family led to a respected queenship and culture within South Africa

The History

There are two different versions of how the story of the Rain Queen that we know today came to life and they both have two things in common; that is a girl named Dzugundini as well as something that is considered taboo in the 21st century which is incest. Please find below the different versions of the stories

  • In the 16th century in the Karanga kingdom of Monomotapa, an old chief was told by his ancestors in a dream that if he were to impregnate his daughter, Dzugundini, she would have rain making skills which would enhance the wealth of the kingdom
  • The same old chief’s son impregnated Dzugundini and she was held responsible and had to flee from Zimbabwe.

To cut a long story short, Dzugundini was pregnant and I guess that we will never know whether the baby daddy was her brother or her father but we do know that she was held responsible as she was the person that had to flee from the place she called home.

Once banished, she took her rainmaking powers and some of her loyal follower’s with her and fled to the modern day region of Venda. They further moved and settled in Molototsi valley which is the present day gaModjadji.  This tribe was ruled by a Mugudo, a male leader who was a descendant of the original Queen. Threatened by family rivalries and concerned for the tribe’s future, he decided to impregnate his daughter, the new Queen Modjadji, and restore the tribe’s matrilineal tradition

The Lines of succession

Maselekwane Modjadji I 

Maselekwane Modjadji was the first Rain Queen of the South African Balobedu tribe. Maselekwane reigned from 1800 to 1854.

Maselekwane was the daughter of Mugodo, Chief of the Karanga and Princess Dzungundini.

The child who became the first Modjadji was known as Maselekwane Modjadji. She lived in complete seclusion, deep in the forest where she practiced secretive rituals to make rain. Maselekwane committed ritual suicide by ingesting poison in 1854.

Masalanabo Modjadji II 

Masalanabo Modjadji II was the second Rain Queen of the South African Balobedu tribe. Masalanabo reigned from 1854 to 1894.

Because Masalanabo Modjadji was barren, the royal council designated the daughter of her sister Leakhali as heir to the throne. Masalanabo committed ritual suicide in 1894.

Khesetoane Modjadji III 

Khesetoane Modjadji became the third Rain Queen from the South African Balobedu tribe. Khesetoane reigned from 1895 to 1959.

In 1894 the previous Rain Queen, Masalanabo Modjadji, committed ritual suicide. Khesetoane was the daughter of Masalanabo’s “sister”, Princess Leakhali, and became the heir because Masalanabo’s council had already designated it before Masalanabo’s death

Makoma Modjadji IV 

Makoma Modjadji was the fourth Rain Queen of the Balobedu tribe. She succeeded her mother in 1959 and reigned until her death in 1936. She did not follow all the rules of being a rain queen as she married Andreas Maake, with whom she had several children. She was succeeded by her daughter, Mokope Modjadji

Mokope Modjadji V 

Mokope Modjadji was the fifth Rain Queen of the Balobedu tribe. She reigned from 1981 until her death on 28 June 2001.

Mokope Modjadji was more traditional than her predecessor; she followed all the rules and customs that were expected of a Rain Queen. She lived in seclusion in the Royal Compound in Khetlhakone Mokope Modjadji met the former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela in 1994. Mandela could speak to Mokope only through a traditional reprehensive and she did not answer any questions.

On other political fronts, Queen Mokope did not support the idea of an ANC government as she believed that its anti-traditional ideas would dilute her authority. However once the ANC came to power, they treated the Rain Queen with respect. She was even offered an annual salary

Mokope Modjadji had three children, including the woman who was chosen to be her successor, Princess Makheala. However, Princess Makheala died in 2001, two days before the death of her mother. Queen Mokope died at the age of 65. Makheala’s daughter, Makobo instead became the rain queen

Makobo Constance Modjadji VI

Makobo Modjadji was the sixth rain queen of the Balobedu tribe. She was the youngest Rain Queen to reign the kingdom of gaModjadji and also shortest reigning Rain queen; she only ruled for a period of 2 years – from 2003 until her death which was in 2005.

Makobo was the daughter of Princess Makheala and the granddaughter of the preceding Rain Queen Mokope Modjadji. She was believed to have the power to control their rivers and clouds. She and her mother were more formally educated as compared to the previous Rain Queens. She was crowned as the Rain Queen two years after her mothers death on 16 April 2003. Her mother was actually next in line for the throne but she died two days before her grandmother, Queen Mokope Modjadji died. Hence, she was selected as the next Rain Queen. She was crowned two years after her mother’s death. On the day of the coronation, there was a slight drizzle which was interpreted as a good omen.

Makobo was well respected for her powers, abilities and lineage but the elders viewed her as being too modern as she loved wearing jeans, visiting clubs, watching soap operas and chatting on her cellphone – I have to mention that all these things are a norm for generation Z. It is believed that her modernized manner of conducting her life led to her coronation being two years after the previous queen had passed on.

Makobo had a boyfriend who was a commoner, David Mogale, who was believed to have fathered her second child. He is also rumoured to have moved into the Royal Compound to live with her. This caused great controversy with the Royal Council, as the Rain Queen is only ever supposed to mate with nobles who the Royal Council themselves chose. Therefore, Mogale was banned from the village, and the Rain Queen’s two children have never been recognised by the Council.

On 10 June 2005 Makobo was admitted to the Polokwane Medi-Clinic with a then-undisclosed illness; she died two days later at the age of 27 of chronic menengitis. There are a lot of conspiracies relating the late Rain Queen’s death. Some villagers believe she died from a broken heart when her lover David Mogale was banned from the Royal Village by the Royal Council. Mogale himself claims that the Royal Council poisoned Makobo, as they saw her unfit to hold the much-revered position of Rain Queen, and this was the easiest way to have her removed. Hospital staff believed she died of AIDS while others are concerned with the disappearance of Makobo’s brother, Mpapatla, last seen on the day of Makobo’s death.A fire broke out in the local chief’s house, where Makobo’s coffin was being kept, before her funeral. The fire was extinguished before Makobo’s coffin suffered any damage, but the event seemed to arouse more suspicions of foul play surrounding Makobo’s death.

Masalanabo Modjadji VII

The Lobedu have not had a rain queen since Makobo Modjadji. Masalanabo Modjadji was only three months old when her mother passed away of chronic meningitis. She is currently only 15 years old and will ascend to her throne to become the next Rain Queen of the BaLobedu Kingdome of the Limpopo province once she is 18 years old. 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. Two years ago, former President Jacob Zuma changed things back, and made the Balobedu one of the handful of tribal monarchies officially recognized by the South African state. When she comes of age, Modjadji will rule at the same level as the powerful Zulu and Xhosa kings. Though they oversee much larger kingdoms, she will still hold influence over more than 100 villages, and receive a healthy government paycheck.

Observations and customs

  1. Three out of the six Rain Queens died from a committing a ritual suicide. I often wonder if it is their destiny that at a certain age, they know that it is time to make way for the next rain queen.
  1. For centuries, the Rain Queens practiced what would be considered taboo in our day and age. I mean, they are not supposed to marry a man but have many wives. She has many royal court servants sent from many villages and even has a bride giving ceremony. We have thought that homosexuality was a thing that arose in the 21st century and yet it has been practiced by the Lobedu people for years.
  1. 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 cycadtrees which are in abundance under a spectacular rain belt. One species of cycad, the Modjadji cycad, is named after the Rain Queen.
  1. 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 Zuluof Zululand sent his top men to ask her for her blessings.
  1. The character of Storm in the X-men series is a fictional descendant of the dynasty that produces the Rain Queens through the line of the sorceress supreme Ayesha
3 replies
  1. Yeah
    Yeah says:

    Very strange how dem ancestors could prescribe incest as a solution. According to Shona orals incest leads to one birthing a deformed child. Although it was practiced, people considered the deed a taboo

    • Tshifhiwa Ramaleba
      Tshifhiwa Ramaleba says:

      I also thought that incest would result in deformed kids per the Life Science lessons in School. However, if you read the story of the strongest man in the Bible, Samson,you would come to learn that his family discouraged him from marrying an outsider. Ever wonder why? Or let me give a more recent example, the UK made an issue about Prince Harry marring an American that happens to be divorced and black. As hard as it may be to believe, there is interbreeding in many dynasties in Europe. So I guess that interbreeding was a serious thing in Europe to maintain the bloodline, but I wonder why when it happens in our continent, it’s taboo?

      • yeah
        yeah says:

        There’s a book by David Icke called The Biggest Secret, it details how European dynasties encouraged and practiced incest as to retain purity. Ancient Egyptians were also took part in it, they went as far as uniting a brother and a sister. Tutankhamun was a product of incest.
        My opinion is that cultural differences btwn Africans and Europeans play an important role on how incest is viewed. Apparently some African societies put up with such relationships but only rebuked once such a bond becomes public knowledge. This is due to the fact that Africans are very conservative. A lot of those who indulge in incest claim to have received prophetic msgs from ancestors thus they are active. And i also think individuals interpret the situation differently, i for one would not advocate for things like that to happen and i also know people who would smash their cousins, infect some have already been there


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