The Modjadji or Rain Queen is the hereditary queen of the Balobedu in Limpopo. The succession to the position of Rain Queen is matrilineal, meaning that the Queen's eldest daughter is the heir, and that males are not entitled to inherit the throne at all. The Rain Queen is believed to have special powers, including the ability to control the clouds and rainfall.
There are fears that the 400-year old Rain Queen dynasty may be coming to an end. No new Rain Queen has been chosen since Rain Queen Makobo Constance Modjadji VI died on June 12, 2005 at the age of 27. She is survived by a son, Prince Lekukena (b. 1998), and a daughter, Princess Masalanabo (b. February 2005).
Because Princess Masalanabo, was fathered by a commoner, the traditionalists are not likely to accept her as the rightful heiress.
The Rain Queen's brother, Prince Mpapatla, was designated Regent. Mpapatla has a daughter by his cousin, a woman from the royal Modjadji line, and a faction of the Royal Council have suggested that they would prefer Mpapatla's daughter to succeed as Rain Queen. Mpapatla, however, has insisted that his late sister's child, Princess Masalanabo, be enthroned as the next Queen when she turns 18.
A male branch of the extended royal clan has also petitioned the South African President to restore the male line of the Balobedu royal house which reigned before 1800.
One account of how the Rain Queens of Balobedu came about relates to an old chief in 16th century Monomotapa (South eastern Zimbabwe). He 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. Dzugundini was held responsible and 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.'
The second Rain Queen, Masalanabo Modjadji is said to be the inspiration for H. Rider Haggard's novel, She.
According to custom, the Rain Queen must shun public functions, and can only communicate with her people through her male councillors.
Every November she presides over the annual rain-making ceremony at her royal compound in Khetlhakone Village.
She is not supposed to marry but has many 'wives' (these are not wives in the actual sense of the word; as a noble woman she has to have servants so these women ought be to called "the servants of the queen" or Ladies in Waiting), sent from many villages all over Balobedu Kingdom. These wives were selected by The Queen's Royal Council and in general are from the households of the subject chiefs. This ritual of ‘bride giving’ is strictly a form of diplomacy to ensure loyalty to the Queen.
The Rain Queen's sexual partners are chosen by the Royal Council so that all of her children will have blue blood. However the Rain Queens are not expected to confine their sexual activities. In the past, the Rain Queen was only allowed to have children by her close relatives, probably to ensure that her children were of 'pure blood' although this probably meant the children may have displayed some genetic defects as a result of inbreeding.
The Queen's eldest daughter is always her successor, therefore the title of Rain Queen is always passed from mother to daughter. It is said that the Queen ingests poison when she is near death so that her daughter will assume the crown more quickly. Lately, however, a lot of these traditions have been abandoned with the influence of Christian missionaries.
The Rain Queen's mystical rain making powers are reinforced by the beautiful garden which surrounds her royal compound. Surrounded by parched land, her garden contains the world's largest cycad trees which are in abundance under a spectacular rain belt. One species of cycad, the Modjadji cycad, is named after the Rain Queen.
The Rain Queen is a highly respected figure in South Africa and many tribes revere and respect her and her land. The Rain Queen's influence and esteem is so high that even when states around the Balobedu kingdom are warring, they rarely invade or even touch her land. Even Shaka Zulu of Zululand sent his top emissaries to ask her for her blessings. The fifth Rain Queen, Mokope Modjadji, met and befriended Nelson Mandela.