Taken on tour by the South African Tourism Agency, I was enraptured by the first ever stop we made at the Modjadji royal kraal, one of Limpopo’s best known tourist attractions.
The kraal, located near the Royal Modjadji Nature Reserve, is home to a cycad forest that boasts some of the oldest and largest species of flora and fauna in the world.
Cone-bearing and evergreen plants dating back to the Stone Age are what we know as cycads. The Modjadji cycad or Encepherlatos is the highest in the world, reaching up to 13 metres.
The kraal name was inherited from the Balobedu Royal Queen, Queen Modjadji, who was also known as the Rain Queen.
She was the only traditional ruling queen in southern Africa. Historically, she was known as an extremely powerful magician, able to bring rain to her friends and drought to her enemies.
Her position as a paramount ruler is based on this power. Modjadji was feared and respected for centuries. The succession to the position of Rain Queen is matrilineal for her eldest daughter is the heir, and males are not entitled to inherit the throne at all.
Currently, there is no ruling Rain Queen as the previous heir, Queen Makobo Modjadji died on June 12, 2005 as the youngest queen to ever rule the tribe and for the shortest time at 27 years.
Stories relating to the creation and history of the rain queens of Balobedu are quite few. As explained by the secretary to the Balobedu Royal Council, Moshakge Nerwick Molokwane, unfolded one is to be that of an old chief in the 16th century called Monomotapa (south eastern Zimbabwe) who 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.
Held responsible, Dzugundini 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”.
Custom insists the queen must eschew public functions. She communicates to her people via male councillors and indunas. In November of every year she directs the annual rain-making ceremony at her royal compound in Khetlhakone village.
Till present, the Balobedu people are fully loyal to their culture hence still practicing their rituals and formalities as per their ancestral ages.
The queen never marries, but she bears children by her close relatives. She is cared for by her “wives”, which are from the many villages in Ga-Modjadji. When nears death, she appoints her eldest daughter as her successor and then she ingests poison.