Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Dancing for a Rain Queen

In Limpopo, in a district called Modjadjiskoof there remains the only Royal House in Africa where a woman reigns supreme as a queen, with supernatural powers capable of making rain. This is Modjadji, the Rain Queen.

And it is HER we're waiting for.

There is a feeling of expectancy. The Bolopedi tribe of Modjadjiskloof, Limpopo though welcoming and friendly …are filled with it. The air is laden with it, ears are cocked and voices hushed waiting for it - the announcement of the reign of the new rain queen.


The late Queen Makobo Modjadji VI who died in June 2005 at the age of 28 was crowned Rain Queen in 2003. The youngest in a line of matriarchs dating back almost 400 years and the first to be educated in the history of the Balobedu royalty, she reigned over more than a million people. 

James Ndhlovu, a local cultural expert when speaking about the successive queen says, "She has a small daughter but we don't know if she will be the next queen. The Council has not decided yet. It is a tough one. You see, the child’s father is not royalty, he is a commoner." And therein it appears lies the problem. The rain queen may only bear children fathered by indunas chosen by the royal council. It is a complex web and has been so from the very start.


Modjadji’s history is captured in a small museum at the entrance to the Modjadji Cycad nature reserve. 

The late queen was a direct descendant of 16th century princess, Dzugundini. Her father, King Monomotapa, ruler of the Karanga people in Zimbabwe, gave Dzugundini a magic horn with the necessary 'medicines’ to make rain and to defend her against any enemies. Then he banished her and her illegitimate child to the south where she began a new kingdom in Limpopo.

For the next 200 years the tribe of Dzugundini built a substantial territory and increased their power amongst the lesser tribes.  And it was to this tribe in the 1800s that a daughter born to queen Mugodo signaled the start of the female dynasty.

She was the first Modjadji and ever since then the queen has lived in complete seclusion deep in the forest where she practices the age-old rituals. Her rain-making rituals take place every October when she pours water onto a shrine in her palace and implore the tribes ancestors to send rain to the region. Beer is brewed and poured on the ground. All the people drink the beer off the ground after which she plays the traditional drums to initiate the rain dance.

Believed to have been bestowed with the power to control the rains and rivers, the Rain Queen's mystic powers kept her small tribe safe from regional wars of conquest for two centuries.


To reinforce the legend of her miraculous rainmaking powers one only needs to visit the royal house of Modjadi to be convinced.  Located on top of the splendid hills is the Modjadji reserve where the world’s largest cycad trees, known locally as mofaka, grow in profusion under an unbelievable mist and rain belt.

The reserve boasts a dense 305 hectare, home to more than 12 000 cycads, the largest natural concentration of a single cycad species in the world. Living fossils of a primeval plant group, the Cycadales, which was the dominant type of vegetation approximately 300 million years ago is the most primitive living seed-bearing plants known to still exist. 

On average the cycad grows to 6 metres in height some reaching the height of 13 metres. Ndhlovu says that "…there are many, many mysteries and legends about these cycads. Also, they are sacred for the Bolobedu people and are protected by generations of Modjadji’s." and it is due to her particular vigilance that the area was eventually declared a national monument in 1936 and proclaimed a nature reserve in 1985 and is now part of South African heritage. Even in the midday African heat, the forests have an evocative atmosphere.


Her realm is a fascinating world of cultures and legends and encompasses an entire district, called Modjadjiskloof.

The naming of Modjadjiskloof itself has an interesting history. Originally called Ga-Modjadji by the Balobedi tribe, it was 'christened’ Duiwelskloof (Devil’s Ravine) in 1894 by Dutch Reform colonialist who objected to the town being named after the Modjadji Royal family who at that time were allegedly regarded as sinners by the church. Finally in June 2004, the district was officially renamed Modjadjiskloof by Sello Moloto, Premier of Limpopo, who says that the name is an icon of tourism and would help bring investment to the area.

Investment in the regard is already underway with a hotel planned for the area. Spokesperson for the Modjadji royal family, Clement Modjadji, has confirmed plans to build a hotel in Khetlhakong village near the spectacularly scenic forestry town of Modjadjiskloof in Limpopo province's subtropical Letaba Valley.

"We are negotiating with local companies and the municipality with a view to raising funds to build the hotel," Modjadji said, and added that the hotel which was long overdue, was expected to create hundreds of jobs in the local community.

The Greater Letaba municipality has also set aside R160 000 to build a cultural village in Khetlhakong village. To be called Modjadji's Kraal, the village will showcase Balobedu culture, technology and art.

And so the realm of the Rain Queen comes of age and flourishes. All in readiness for HER that we’re waiting for.