Rain Queens of Balobedu

While re-reading a wikipedia entry on Ororo Munroe (aka Storm), I came across a reference
to what may be a real life inspiration for this groundbreaking character, the Rain Queen.

The people of the Limpopo Province located in South Africa are known as the Balobedu. Their hereditary Queen, the Modjadju, is known as the Rain Queen. The royal line is matrilineal, when the reigning Rain Queen dies, her eldest daughter inherits the title---whereas sons are considered part of the royal family they are not entitled to the throne. The Rain Queen is believed to have power of tide and storm, wind and rivers. In addition, female members of the royal family are said to have the power to see visions.

Modjadji or the "Rain Queen", is 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 enemies. Her position as paramount ruler is based on this power. Modjadji have been feared and respected for centuries. Not a single African king would seek her wrath, fearing punishment meant drought. Shaka Zulu sent top emissaries to request her blessings.

Visitors to the area always brought gifts and tribute, including cattle and their daughters as wives, to appease her so that she would bring rain to their regions. The custom is allied to an emphasis on fertility of the land and the population.The name Lobedu is thought to derive from the practice, referring to the daughters or sisters who were lost to their families. The Rain Queen extends her influence through her wives, because they link her politically to other families or villages. Her status as marrying women does not appear to indicate lesbianism, but rather the queen's unique ability to control others. The Rain Queen is not meant to marry, but bears children by her close relatives. She is cared for by her “wives”.

There are several accounts which relate how the Rain Queens assumed power. One such story as it that in the 16th century an old chief was told by his ancestors that by impregnating his daughter, Dzugundidni, she would gain rain-making powers. In another account, Dzugundidni was impregnated by her brother, but only she was held accountable. Dzugundidni was forced to flee the village and found herself in the Molototsi Valley, where she established a village which became the kingdom of the present day Rain Queen.

In the past Rain Queens were expected to have children with close relatives so that their children would be born of royal blood. The mantle of Rain Queen is always passed from mother to daughter. In the past, when one Rain Queen was close to death, she was believed to commit suicide by ingesting poison so as to allow her daughter to rise to power quickly. However, due to the influence of Christian missionaries, some of these practices have been abandoned.

The belief in the Rain Queen's powers are reinforced by the beautiful gardens which surround 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. The Rain Queen is a highly respected figure in South Africa and many tribes revere and respect her and her land. Her influence is so powerful that even when surrounding states are warring with one another, they rarely invade or even touch her land.

The last Rain Queen, Majobo MOdjadji, was the 6th in a line of the Balobedu tribe's Rain Queen's. She was crowned on April 16th, 2003 at the age of 25, after the death of her predecessor and grandmother, Queen Mokope Modjadji. Before her death, she was the youngest Queen of the Balobedu Tribe.

Although respected for her abilities and lineage, Makobo was seen as too modern to be the next Rain Queen, which may have been why there was such a long delay before she was crowned. Custom dictated that rain queens live reclusive lives, hidden in the royal kraal with their 'wives.'. Modjadji, however, liked to wear jeans and T-shirts, visit nearby discos, watch soap operas and chat on her cell phone. Modjadji also had a boyfriend, David Mogale, who was believed to have fathered her second child. He is the former municipal manager of Greater Letaba Municipality. 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 recognized by the Council. On the 10th of June Makobo was admitted into the Polokwane Medi-Clinic with a then-undisclosed illness and died two days later at the age of 27. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the late Rain Queen's death. Some villagers believe she died from a broken heart when her lover David Mogale was banned from the village by the Royal Council to put and end to their love affair. 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 whilst others are concerned with the disappearance of Makobo's brother, Mpapatia, 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. Officially Makobo died of chronic meningitis. Because Makobo's daughter, Princess Masalanabo, is fathered by a commoner, the traditionalists are not likely to accept her as the rightful heiress to the Rain Queen Crown. Therefore there are worries that the 400-year old Rain Queen dynasty may be coming to an end. No new Rain Queen has been chosen since Makobo died.


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