The name Modjadji or Rain Queen refers to a line of queens of the Balobedu (Limpopo province, South Africa) known for their ability to control clouds and rainfall. The origin of the first Rain Queen is shrouded in mystery, but all accounts agree that she is a direct descendent of an old chief from the Karanga kingdom of Monomotapa (southeastern Zimbabwe).
In one version of the story it is mentioned that the first Modjadji’s mother, Dzugundini, was forced to flee from her village after she was impregnated by her brother. With her mother’s help, she stole her father’s rain charms and sacred beads then headed towards Molototsi Valley (present day Balobedu kingdom). Yet another version recalls that when rainmaking abilities started to decline within the Lovedu tribe, Mugodo, the last of the male line, decided to rejuvenate the process by having incest with his daughter. The girl child that was the result of this union became the first in a long line of Lovedu Rain Queens, known by the ceremonial name of Mudjadji (or Modjadji), which literally means ‘ruler-of-the-day’.
The Modjadji was viewed as a sacred figure and as such could not attend any public events. The only way she could communicate with her people was through male councilors and headmen. She was also not allowed to get married, but bore children by her male relatives and had wives who served as her maids. They were selected from the many villages of Ga-Modjadji by the councilors. When she is about to die, she has to select an eldest daughter to take over from her.
Maselekwane Modjadji I reigned from approximately 1800 to 1854. During her lifetime she lived in complete seclusion deep in the forest, here she practiced secretive rituals to make rain. She committed ritual suicide in 1855.
Maselekwane was followed by Masalanabo Modjadji II who reigned from 1854 to 1894. Like her mother before she lived in seclusion, seldom appeared in public and was practically inaccessible to her people. It was this second Mudjadji who was said to have been the inspiration for H Rider Haggard’s book, She. As was the custom, Masalanabo committed ritual suicide in 1894 after having designated Khetoane (daughter of Masalanabo’s sister) as the next Modjadji.
The third Rain Queen, Khetoane Modjadji III, reigned from 1895 to 1959. The South African prime minister of that period, Jan Christian Smuts, described her as ”handsome and intelligent”. It is believed by some that Khetoane’s refusal to commit ritual suicide when she was deemed to have reached a suitable age, placed a curse on the Modjadji bloodline.
Makoma followed her mother, Khetoane, in 1959 and became the fourth Rain Queen. Makoma became the second Modjadji to break a Rain Queen tradition in being the first to have married a man, namely Andreas Maake. She had several children and was succeeded by her eldest daughter Mokope in 1981.
With Mokope’s reign between 1981 and 2001 there seems to have been a return to the more traditional role of the Rain Queen. She followed the customs of the earlier Modjadjis and lived in seclusion at the royal compound in the Khetlhakone Village. It was of Mokope that Nelson Mandela after having met her commented that like Queen Elizabeth II, the Rain Queen also did not answer questions. As the years passed these two powerful leaders became well acquainted. Mokope had three children and as was the tradition she appointed her successor before her death. Unfortunately the designated successor, Makheala, died two days before her mother and as a result Makheala’s daughter Makobo became the sixth and to date last Modjadji.
Makobo Constance Modjadji VI’s short reign from 2003 and 2005 was filled with controversy from the onset. It took two years since her grandmother’s death on 28 June 2001 before she was finally appointed as Modjadji VI on 16 April 2003. Not only was she at the age of 25 the youngest Modjadji in the history of the Lovedu tribe but also the first to have received a formal education. Makobo appeared not to have attached too much value to any of the traditional roles of the Modjadji. She lived a normal public life, wore popular western clothes such as jeans and T-shirts loved disco dancing and to crown it all had a boyfriend, David Mogale, who is believed to have fathered at least one of her two children. Makobo’s untimely death at the age of 27 is surrounded with controversy. Some suspected foul play, but the official records indicate that she died of chronic meningitis. She is survived by a son, Prince Lekukena (b. 1998), and a daughter, Princess Masalanabo (b. February 2005).
Currently, there is no ruling Rain Queen after the death of Makobo, but her daughter Masalanabo is expected to be crowned when she turns 18. In the meantime, Makobo’s brother Prince Mpapatla has been designated regent.