The Balobedu (Ba Lobedu – Ba gaModjadji) are a Bantu tribe of the Northern Sotho group, with strong affinities to the Venda, or Vhavhenda, to the north. They have their own kingdom, in the district of Balobedu – Limpopo Province – South Africa. The Lobedu Kingdom comprises over 150 villages. Each has a headman who represents the Modjadji, or Rain Queen. The central Lobedu tribal village is Sehlakong.
Sidney Miller, an archaeologist of the University of South Africa, excavated the ruins of the original royal kraal at Lebweng. Archaeological finds include stone foundations and pottery.

 Balobedu tribal traditional dancers, Madjaji Northern Province,Limpopo: Balobedu tribal dance: This was taken at bolobedu ha masthwi, bolobedu actually means “ho loba” a place were people lose their daughters and sons. By

These ruins also bear resemblance to those discovered at Thulamela near Phafuri in the far north of the Kruger National Park, as well as the Great Zimbabwe ruins in south-eastern Zimbabwe. This lends credibility to the many legends about the origins of the Lobedu Kingdom.
 Lobedu tribal traditional dancers, Madjaji Northern Province,Limpopo

Ecology (Natural Environment)
“The original territory of the Bolobedu included the land situated between the Little Letaba and Great Letaba rivers in the North and South respectively and the common source of the two rivers in the West and their confluence in the East.” “The home of most of the northern Sotho is in Lesotho and in South Africa's Free State Province.

There are also many Sotho who live in South Africa's major cities. Lesotho is a mountainous
country that is completely landlocked within the borders of South Africa. It has an area of about 11,700 square miles (about 30,350 square kilometers). The Free State is a highland plain, called a highveld in South Africa, bordering Lesotho to the West. The eastern section of Lesotho is also a highveld, with plateaus similar to those found in the American Southwest. The Maloti and Drakensberg mountains are in the central and western parts of the country. The Drakensberg Mountains form sharp cliffs that drop off dramatically to South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal Province. The climate of South Africa is temperate, but the mountains make for cold winters. In winter, snow sometimes falls in the Lesotho highlands.”

Balobedu people dancing. courtesy

Myths (Creation)
“According to one Sotho tradition, the first human being emerged from a sea of reeds at a place called Ntswanatsatsi. However, little is known or said about the events of this person's life.”

The Balobedu speak Lobedu or “Khilobedu”, which is grammatically similar to both Sesotho and Tshivenda. The Kingdom is situated between the Venda, other North Sotho speaking peoples and the Tsonga-Shangaan. Khilobedu has become more similar to Sesotho since Sesotho became the language of the schools in the region. However, Balobedu culture originated to the north, in what is today Zimbabwe. The language contains sounds that do not exist in Sesotho.

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.
Princess Ga-Kgosigadi Makobo, 25, was crowned as Rain Queen and enthroned in her royal palace east of Polokwane in the Ga-Modjadji district. In accordance with tradition, it rained at the inauguration of Queen Modjadji VI, ruler of the Bolobedu people, and the only female monarchy in Africa. Pic: Sydney Seshibedi. 11/4/03. © ST.

The Modjadji or Rain Queen is the hereditary queen of Balobedu, a people of the Limpopo Province of South Africa. 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.
Currently there is no ruling Rain Queen as the previous Rain Queen died on 12 June 2005.
There are several different stories relating to the creation and history of the Rain Queens of Balobedu. One story states that an old chief in 16th century Monomotapa (South eastern Zimbabwe), 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 have been the inspiration for H. Rider Haggard's novel, She: A History of Adventure.

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 Rainmaking ceremony at her royal compound in Khetlhakone Village.
Visitors to the area always brought Modjadji 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.
During the Mfecane, which took place in the early 19th century, Modjadji moved her tribe further south into the fertile Molototsi Valley, where they founded the present day Kingdom.
Modjadji, South Africa April 8, 1998. Queen Modjadji V, or more commonly know as the Rain Queen, dozed off while sitting on the floor of her home during an interview. Queen Modjadji is the traditional leader of the Lobedu people of South Africa's Northern Province. Her reign in South Africa is famous because she and her predecessors are said to have been able to make rain. Queen Modjadji was feared by all the kings of Southern Africa. No one, not even King Shaka Zulu, would risk her wrath and her people were left alone. Photo by Lori Waselchuk/South Photographs
Mfecane – Lifaqane – Difaqane
According to custom, the Queen must abstain from public functions, creating a mysticism fuelled by isolation. Modjadji cannot leave her kraal and very few people outside her royal village have seen her. She communicates to her people via her male councillors and village headmen and chiefs. Annual rainmaking ceremonies are meant to take place every year at her royal compound. The Royal Kraal is is located near Modjadjiskloof (Mujaji Kloof), formerly Duiwelskloof.

                                                The largest and oldest cycads in the world at Limpopo

What the queen does to evoke rain is a matter enshrouded in the greatest secrecy. It is doubtful that anyone other then the queen is in possession of the secrets as they are bound up with the title and power to succeed to the throne. The secrets are always imparted to the successor just prior to the death of the chief, via a tradition of suicide. When a chief dies, her body is left for some days in the hut so that when rubbed in a certain way, the skin falls away. The skin is kept and later added with many other ingredients to mehago rain pots. From time to time a black sheep is killed, to be washed with water into these magical pots, but it is said that this is just a modern day substitute for a human being, usually a child, whose brains were used for the washing. The mehago pots are never seen by the public.

She is not supposed to marry but has many "wives", as they are referred to in the Balobedu language. These are not spouses in the usual sense of the word; as a queen regnant she has the equivalent of royal court servants, or ladies-in-waiting), sent from many villages all over the 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 mystical rain making powers are believed to be reflected in the lush 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 prominent figure in South Africa, many communities respecting her position and, historically, attempting to avoid conflict in deference thereto. Even Shaka Zulu of Zululand sent his top emissaries to ask her for her blessings. The fifth Rain Queen, Mokope Modjadji maintained cordial relations with Nelson Mandela.
The Rain Queen has become a figure of interest, she and the royal institution becoming a significant tourist attraction contributing to the South African economy. The Rain Queen was offered an annual government civil list. The stipend was also expected to help defray the costs of preserving the cycad trees found in the Rain Queen's gardens.
The Rain Queen's official mates are chosen by the Royal Council so that all of her children will be of dynastic status, from which future rain queens may descend. However the Rain Queens are not expected to remain in exclusive relations with these partners. In the past, the Rain Queen was only allowed to have children by her close relatives.

Perhaps uniquely, the Balobedu crown descends according to female primogeniture: The Queen's eldest daughter is always her successor, therefore the title of Rain Queen is normally 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, many traditions have been abandoned, influenced by Christian missionaries. Because Makobo's daughter, Princess Masalanabo, was fathered by a commoner, traditionalists are not likely to accept her as the rightful successor to the throne. Therefore there are worries that the 400-year old Rain Queen dynasty may be coming to an end. No new Rain Queen has been enthroned since Makobo died.
Makobo's brother Prince Mpapatla has been designated Regent for Masalanabo. However Mpapatla has a daughter by his cousin, a woman from the royal Modjadji line, and a group of members of the Royal Council has indicated a preference for Mpapatla's daughter to succeed as Rain Queen. Mpapatla, however, has insisted that his late sister's child Princess Masalanabo will be enthroned as the next Queen when she turns 18.

                                                   Modjaji Kraal,Limpopo

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. This entreaty is considered unlikely to be granted, inasmuch as the Rain Queen heritage is recognised as a national cultural legacy and interest in it has stimulated significant tourist trade.

The child who became the first Modjadji was known as Maselekwane Modjadji I. She lived in complete seclusion, deep in the forest where she practiced secretive rituals to make rain. In 1855 she committed ritual suicide.

Masalanabo Modjadji II (died 1894) was the second Rain Queen of the South African Balobedu tribe. Masalanabo reigned from 1854 to 1894. She was preceded by Rain Queen Maselekwane Modjadji I and succeeded by Rain Queen Khetoane Modjadji III.
During the native "location policies" of the early 1890s, Commandant-General Piet Joubert (1834–1900) surrounded the Rain Queen's home until she was forced to give herself up. Historian Louis Changuion wrote that, 'It would be the first time that white people would see the Rain Queen.' However, what happened was not what they had expected. 'After four days,' Changuion continues, 'an old wrinkled black woman was carried out on a litter, accompanied by her chief indunas, to negotiate with the white people. It was a great disappointment to the men watching the proceedings – of "She-who-must-be-obeyed" there was no trace. She was not the white woman of the legends. It is told that Joubert presented her with a "kappie" (bonnet) and a blanket.'
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                                      Lobedu Rain Danced

According to the book Realm of a rain-queen, however, Joubert was shown not the real Rain Queen, but an impersonator. Masalanabo Modjadji is said to be the inspiration for H. Rider Haggard's novel, She: A History of Adventure.
Because Masalanabo Modjadji was barren, the royal council designated the daughter of her "sister" and "great wife" Leakhali as heir to the throne. Masalanabo committed ritual suicide in 1894.

Khesetoane Modjadji III (1869 – 1959) became the third Rain Queen from the South African Balobedu tribe of the South African Limpopo Province. Khesetoane reigned from 1895 to 1959. She was preceded by Rain Queen Masalanabo Modjadji and succeeded by Rain Queen Makoma Modjadji.
Rain Queen Khesetoane Modjadji III
Rain Queen Khesetoane Modjadji III (1869 – 1959)

In 1894 her predecessor, Masalanabo Modjadji, committed ritual suicide. Khesetoane was the daughter of Masalanabo's "sister" and became the heir because Masalanabo's council had already designated it before Masalanabo's death.

MAKOMA MODJAJI IV (1905 – 1980)
Rain Queen Makoma Modjadji IV (1905 – 1980) was the fourth Rain Queen of the Balobedu tribe of the Limpopo Province of South Africa, succeeding her mother, Khetoane Modjadji in 1959 and reigning until her death. Breaking from tradition she married Andreas Maake, with whom she had several children. She was succeeded by her eldest daughter Mokope Modjadji.
Makoma Modjadji IV
                                             Rain Queen Makoma Modjadji IV (1905 – 1980)

MOKOPE MODJAJI V (1936 – 28 June 2001)
Mokope Modjadji V (1936 – 28 June 2001) was the fifth Rain Queen of the Balobedu tribe in the Limpopo Province of South Africa from 1981 until her death in 2001.

Mokope Modjadji was very traditional in her role as Rain Queen. She lived in seclusion in the Royal Compound in Khetlhakone Village and followed all the customs the Rain Queens were expected to follow.
Mokope Modjadji met and became good friends with the then President of South Africa Nelson Mandela. They first met at a meeting in 1994 and even then Mr. Mandela could only speak to Mokope through the traditional intermediary. It was said that Mokope was the only person to have kept Mr. Mandela waiting (except the rather volative Laurent Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo).
Later they became better friends after Mr. Mandela bought the Rain Queen a Japanese Sedan to help her travel up the steep roads to her Royal Compound. He was then able to meet her in person and when asked about the Rain Queen Mr. Mandela said that similarly to Queen Elizabeth II, Queen Modjadji did not answer questions.
On other political fronts, Queen Mokope did not support the idea of an ANC government as she believed that its anti-traditional ideas would dilute her authority. However once the ANC came to power, they treated the Rain Queen with respect, probably because her village was a large source of income due to tourism, as well as the fact that her gardens acted as parks to preserve the large abundance of cycad trees that grew there. She was even offered an annual salary.
Rain Queen Mokope Modjadji V (1936 – 28 June 2001)

Mokope Modjadji had three children, and her designated successor was Princess Makheala. Mokope died in 2001, when she was 65, two days after her daughter Makheala had died. Therefore Makheala's daughter Makobo became the next Rain Queen. Mokope's son, Prince Masopha Edwin Modjadji died in August 2005.

Makobo Modjadji VI (1978 – 12 June 2005) was the 6th in a line of the Balobedu tribe's Rain Queens. It is said that Makobo Modjadji had the ability to control the clouds and rivers. Makobo was crowned on 16 April 2003 at the age of 25 after the death of her predecessor and grandmother, Queen Mokope Modjadji. This made her the youngest Queen in the history of the Balobedu tribe.
File:Rain Queen Makobo Constance Modjadji VI.jpg
Rain Queen Makobo Constance Modjadji VI (1978 – 12 June 2005)

Makobo was the daughter of Princess Makheala and was the only Rain Queen to be formally educated. She was crowned Rain Queen in 2003, two years after the death of her mother Makheala and the previous Rain Queen, her grandmother Mokope Modjadji. Her mother, the designated successor, had died two days before Mokope Modjadji had died, therefore Makobo was selected as the next Rain Queen. On the day of the coronation, a slight drizzle fell which was interpreted as a good omen. The coronation was an elaborate ceremony but it is believed that Makobo accepted the crown reluctantly.
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 the royal 'wives'. Makobo 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 recognised by the Council.

Death and conspiracy
On the 10 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 Royal 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.

End of a Dynasty?
There has not been a new Rain Queen chosen since Makobo died. 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 200 year old Rain Queen dynasty may have come to an end.

Agriculture is their major economic activity, with corn (maize), millet, squash, and peanuts (groundnuts) cultivated by hoe. Animal husbandry is a secondary means of food production. Cattle are also a form of currency in some social and economic transactions, and in many common daily activities beer is traditionally used to make compensation. For the Lovedu the accumulation of goods is frowned upon, and produce is consumed rather than marketed.
Main carbohydrate staples: “The economy was based on...the cultivation of grains such as sorghum.”
“Staple foods are corn (maize), eaten in the form of a thick paste, and bread.”
Main protein-lipid sources: “Beef, chicken, and mutton (lamb) are popular meats, while milk is often drunk in soured form.”

Sexual division of production
“In Sotho tradition, the man is considered the head of the household. Women are defined as farmers and bearers of children. Family duties are also organized into distinct domains based on gender for all Sotho...” hildren, her husband and her mother in law from her fields. Each time she cooks she sends food to her husband and to his mother. What is left must be returned to her ‘house’ unless the husband himself gives it to the herd-boys or other children as a group.”

                               Balobedu people of South Africa

“In addition to having her own granaries and cooking utensils, every wife has a right to raise livestock. She may keep chickens; she may acquire goats by the exchange of her produce; she may get pigs by feeding other people’s pigs in exchange for a pigling. She may even acquire cattle if she is a doctor.”

         Balobedu women: Balobedu tribal dance: This was taken at bolobedu ha masthwi, bolobedu actually means “ho loba” a place were people lose their daughters and sons.

Land tenure
“The economy of the Lobedu is a subsistence one based mainly on agriculture and stock-raising supplemented by migrant labor in European areas. Land for cultivation is allotted to individuals by the district head. Once allocated, fields are inherited in the male line and cannot be taken away so long as they are in effective use.”

Life History, mating, marriage
Most Lobedu used to engaged in polygynous marriage. Currently “most Lobedu who are not Christian have more than one wife.” “Polygynous marriages (more than one wife) are not uncommon among the elite, but they are rare among commoners.”

Arrangement of polygynous households
“Control over material resources also plays an important part in the structure of the polygynous domestic group with its economically independent ‘houses’ so characteristic of the Lobedu. As head of the family the husband has full control over all family resources. Yet each wife forms with her children a unit of production and consumption, the independence of which as against other ‘houses’ has to be respected even by the husband, whose control becomes limited the moment he marries a second wife.”
Bride purchase/dowry
“In cases where a man has received cattle on the ‘security’ of a small girl...the creditor also hands over cattle a second time when the girl comes to be married...the Lobedu usually quote the proverb ‘mobula ndo oa nywala’–the opener or establisher of a house pays marriage cattle’, i.e., every girl commands a bride-price.”
“Marriages are arranged by transfer of bohadi (bride wealth) from the family of the groom to the family of the bride.”
Inheritance patterns
“Each wife has her own fields which it is her duty to cultivate for the needs of her ‘house.’ On her death her sons have first right to inherit her fields unless their father wants to use them for himself or arrange for their cultivation to provide food for the younger children; but they may not be used for the benefit of any other ‘house.’” “A daughter may be given her deceased mother’s field to cultivate while she is still in her parental home, but she cannot inherit it.” “...a married woman may, and often does, get fields from her own people to cultivate.
The difference between these fields and those given by her husband’s people is that the latter are hers as a right and are inherited by her sons; the former she obtains through the goodwill of her bloodkin and on her death they revert back to them unless the children are still young and the fields are needed to feed them.”
“The use of a woman’s bride-price by her brother, and the interest which his cattle-linked sister has in maintaining this ‘house’ in which her son will find a wife, made divorce difficult in the old days. Today, however, partly owing to migrant labour, divorce is more common and girls, especially in the case of arranged marriages with old men or cross-cousins, quite frequently run away to a lover either before or after the marriage knowing that they cannot any longer be forced to return. A return of the bride-price is not always insisted upon...When there are complicated cattle claims a husband, especially he is already old, may find it wiser not to press for a divorce if the wife absconds.”
“The rule in Lobedu divorce was, in the old days, that the husband’s family should receive back the full bride-price plus all increase, irrespective of where the blame lay, in accordance with the saying ‘mosila mobe o boya le noto ea hwe – even the bad workman (husband) returns with his tools.’ The children went with their mother to her people and when she remarried, the new husband had a right to all of them.”
“With European administration came the introduction of the Pedi idea that a man has a claim to both the cattle and the children in the case of malicious desertion. Old men in the 1930s called this a white man’s law; today people are claiming it as a Lobedu custom.”
Preferential category for spouse
“This desire to keep alive the links between brother and sister and to maintain and renew marriage limks with women of the lineage from one generation to another is very strong. The marriage of a woman at her father’s sister’s (i.e., mother’s brother’s daughter marriage) is called ‘ho dsosa moloko’–to awaken or renew relationship. There are several variations of mother’s brother’s daughter marriage that arise from or are bound up with obligations connected with cattle...If in the case of a cattle-linked brother and sister, the latter has a daughter but no son who could marry her brother’s daughter, she might, rather than break the link with her brother and allow her husband to use the cattle to create new links with strangers, nevertheless, with the
agreement and consent of her husband, hand over her daughter’s bride-price to her brother so that he can marry a second wife and establish a ‘house’ from which her daughter may claim a woman later to marry her son and to ‘come and cook for her’.”
“Besides marriage with the mother’s mother’s brother’s daughter, other variations of mother’s brother’s daughter marriages are found, such as marriage with the mother’s brother’s son’s daughter (one generation below), with the father’s mother’s brother’s daughter or even with a father’s mother’s brother’s son’s daughter.”
“The same tendency is present in Lobedu polygyny where the sororate is very popular. Most Lobedu who are not Christians have more than one wife. But it will almost always be found that at least one is a sister or younger relative of one of the other wives.
Patterns of descent (e.g., bilateral, matrilineal) for certain rights, names or associations
“...the Lobedu are a patrilineal people in the sense that a man belongs to his father’s lineage,
property is inherited in the male line, and marriage is patrilocal.”  “Dating was not part of traditional Sotho life. Marriages were arranged between families, and a girl could be betrothed in childhood. Nowadays, most people pick their mates.”

 Balobedu people: Balobedu tribal dance: This was taken at bolobedu ha masthwi, bolobedu actually means “ho loba” a place were people lose their daughters and sons. Courtesy

Socio-Political organization and interaction
 Political system: (chiefs, clans etc, wealth or status classes)
“It (the Balobedu population) is essentially a federation of smaller groups united by their common alliance to the queen. The political power resides in the minority group descended from the original Balobedu with the bush pig as totem. The majority is descended from immigrants of different Northern Sotho and Shangaan tribes. These have largely assimilated with the central minority group culturally, although retaining their original totems. The tribal designation is Balobedu ba gaModjadji, and the central tribal village is Sehlakong in the district of Balobedu.”
“The form of government is that of a central authority with the queen as the head of state and spatially defined political units which, each under a headman, enjoy a considerable degree of autonomy. A large proportion of these districts in which the country is divided are ruled by the descendants of original sections of the nuclear group; a few have been allocated by alien groups under their own headmen while some are held by royal women, batanoni or ‘wives’ of the queen.
Many districts now held by commoners originated from batanoni but since women do not succeed one another as heads of districts these have been inherited by their sons of husbands given to them by the queen. Royal wives (batanoni) are of various kinds. Some are of royal blood, daughters of close relatives of the queen to whom they have been given as a token of homage (ho loba). Only these are set up by the queen as rulers over districts...Other royal wives are the daughters of district heads, while a number are daughters of foreign chiefs who come, sometimes with cattle, sometimes with money or a daughter to loba the queen for rain.
Once a woman from within the tribe has been accepted by the queen as a royal wife, the tie is renewed
from generation to generation on the pattern of cross-cousin marriage. Men may offer a daughter to the queen also in return for, or in the expectation of, economic help or political favour...and there is a tendency today for districts to be subdivided into smaller and smaller units to satisfy the political aspirations of ambitious subjects. Royal wives bind to the queen not only her closest relatives but most of the important people in the tribe. Some wives are given away in marriage to her councillors, relatives and district headmen. Some remain with her and have allocated lovers. Children of these latter call the queen ‘father’ and she is responsible for helping them to marry.”
“The Lobedu proper appear originally to have regarded themselves as an aristocracy but today it is only the royal lineage (ba Mohale) and a number of important Lobedu heads that are looked up to. Many non-Lobedu lineages have, by virtue of marriage links through royal wives, a higher status and are more closely related to the queen than sections of Lobedu themselves. The society is remarkably egalitarian and there is no concentration of wealth in the hands of the ruling group. Nor would this be easy in a tribe in which the limited resources in property (in cattle) are used primarily for, and are constantly being converted into, marriage alliances.”
Post-marital residence:
“Upon marriage, a woman is expected to leave her family to live with the family of her husband.”
Territoriality ; “Traditionally, then, property is of value to the Lobedu only in so far as it can be consumed or
meets an immediate need on the one hand or, on the other, is used for creating and maintaining social relationships.”
Sex divisions in politics:  Here Lovedu women, unlike their Southern Sotho counterparts, play an important role in family affairs and public administration, often holding positions of office. Indeed, four out of five recent Lovedu rulers were women. Consequently, argues Kuper, linked brother-sister ties are predominant in Lovedu society, as are corresponding relations between agnates and the father’s sister. This relationship, he notes, is reflected in kinship terminology, which tends to underline the ‘relatively greater status of women on Lobedu society.’”
Village and house organization
“Lobedu homesteads vary in size and composition from a typical minimum of a married man with his mother, wife, and children to a group of half-brothers, their mothers, wives, children and grandchildren, still living together after the death of the father. Very often other relatives, such as a widowed sister and her children, a maternal relative or an affine of the head are to be found living in the homestead. But these are the least stable elements and tend to move away in a short time.
Pollet Nakana (left) with friends presenting Limpopo's Balobedu Culture
Lobedu people wearing different dress,Limpopo

Though small units continuously hive off, and there is a good deal of change in the small homesteads of more recent immigrants or where a migrant labourer husband has never returned, the Lobedu homestead is on the whole, especially in the case of the chief son and his descendants, a remarkably stable unit. Over a period of thirty years most of the larger homesteads known to me have remained in the same place or been rebuilt a few hundred yards from the old site after the death of their head.”
Specialized village structures (mens’ houses)
“Family life for many rural Sotho has been disrupted for generations by migrant labor. Today, many Sotho men continue to live in all-male housing units provided by the gold-miningcompanies that employ them. With the end of apartheid, some of the families previously separated by the old labor laws now live together in urban areas.”
 Social organization, clans, moieties, lineages, etc
“The Sotho have clans, many of which bear animal names, such as the Koena (crocodile). These clans stress descent through the father's side, but there is flexibility in defining clan membership. A feature of Sotho kinship was that a person was allowed to marry a cousin (ngwana wa rangoane) who was a member of the same clan.”

Religion (animism, ancestor worship, deism, magic, totems etc.)
“The tribe is made up of a large number of different totemic groups, Lion, Elephant, Crocodile, Wild Pig, none of which, not even the royal Lobedu totem, is confined to the Lobedu tribe.”

The Rabothada dancers were called magôgôbya. They had magnificent costumes with headdresses surmounted by animal figures, with underskirts trailing the ground to create a dramatic effect.

“The supreme being that the Sotho believe in is most commonly referred to as Modimo. Modimo is approached through the spirits of one's ancestors, the balimo, who are honored at ritual feasts. The ancestral spirits can bring sickness and misfortune to those who forget them or treat them disrespectfully. The Sotho traditionally believed that the evils of our world were the result of the malevolent actions of sorcerers and witches.”

Ritual/Ceremony/Religion (RCR)
 Specialization (shamans and medicine)
The most powerful religious leaders in Balobedu society are their rain queens, who are believed to have powers over the weather and other natural phenomena. “The Balobedu of Modjadji...are renowned for their female rulers, the mystical rain queens. It is traditionally accepted that the Balobedu queen has the powers of rainmaking and is still regarded as the most famous rainmaker on the subcontinent. Fear of her powers has always restrained both internal opposition and any attack from outside. Even the mighty Shaka, king of the amaZulu, treated her with great respect and paid her tribute. The rain queen Modjadji still is the focal point
and strength of the Kingdom.”
Bolobedu woman,Limpopo South Africa

“The rain-making powers of their queen, enhanced by the mystery and secrecy of her ritual seclusion, attracted many accretions from diverse tribal groups from surrounding areas who sought peace and security...For enemies feared to attack the Lobedu queen lest they be visited by drought and locusts.”
“ Traditionally the rain queen was expected, in her old age, to pass on her secrets to her successor and then to commit ritual suicide. Missionaries to break this tradition prevailed upon Modjadji III, who came in power in 1896, and she died of old age in February 1959, aged eightysix. Although some of the traditional customs have become obsolete, the sacred drums may still be heard on special occasions, and when the Balobodu appear before their queen, they still do so barefooted and in a kneeling position. To her people Modjadji is still a mystical ruler whose powers and health are vital to the nation. As in bygone years, she is still held in high esteem as rain queen of the Balobedu tribe.”
“The list of wild animals believed to have medicinal and curative properties is long...the pangolin is considered to be a particularly potent medicine by the Lobedu tribe in north-eastern Transvaal.”
 ‘Witchcraft and Sorcery:’ There is a distinction between ‘day witches’ (sorcerers), and night witches. The (day) sorcerer utilizes ‘natural, known powers of medicine for anti-social ends,’ while the (night) witch utilizes evil powers beyond ordinary understanding.”

Passage rituals (birth, death, puberty, seasonal)
The Vuhwera Initiation School


                                                    AKM Collection                                               Johannesburg Art Gallery

The costume above represents the supernatural Muwhira, known as the recruiter for the Sungwi initiation school for girls. He is both deaf and dumb. North Sotho, including the Ba Roka, Venda and Lobedu, all know Muwhira. His character is made of reeds and body parts of hawks, owls and hammerhead birds. This  example was collected in the Sekororo Area by J. Witt during the early 1960's. Later it became the property of the Potchefstroom University Collection. Few examples are known, in that traditionally Muwhira was burned at the end of Sungwi.
“There are elaborate rites of initiation into adulthood for boys and girls in Sotho tradition. For boys, initiation involves a lengthy stay in a lodge in a secluded area away from the village. The lodge may be very large and house dozens of initiates (bashemane). During seclusion, the boys are circumcised, but they are also taught appropriate male conduct in marriage, special initiation traditions, code words and signs, and praise songs. In Lesotho, the end of initiation is marked by a community festival during which the new initiates (makolwane) sing the praises they have composed. In traditional belief, a man who has not been initiated is not considered a full adult.” 

Vhawhera initiates masked in grass and reed enter the stockaded capital of the Lobedu people, ha-Modjadji, South Africa. (Greg Marinovich) horizontal colour slide. 1989.

“Initiation for girls (bale) also involves seclusion, but the ritual huts of the bale are generally located near the village. Bale wear masks and goat-skin skirts, and they smear their bodies with a chalky white substance. They sometimes may be seen as a group near the homes of relatives, singing, dancing, and making requests for presents. Among some clans, the girls are subjected to tests of pain and endurance. After the period of seclusion the initiates, now called litswejane, wear cowhide skirts and anoint themselves with red ocher. Initiation for girls does not involve any surgical operation.”
Lobedu girls wore short wraps around the hips during the early stages ofvuhwera.  At a later stage the girls wore bandoliers platted from grass.


Coming forth from puberty seclusion.
The Realm of a Rain Queen - Plate VIII

On special occasions, both girls and woman wore beaded panels. Similar examples to the one below were photographs be E. J. Krige in 1938.

                                  Vol 94 Part 3 Page 160                                                                          Plate VII
                   Annals of the South African Museum                                              The Realm of a Rain Queen
Women give birth with the assistance of female birth attendants. Traditionally, relatives and friends soaked the father with water when his firstborn child was a girl. If the firstborn was a boy, the father was beaten with a stick. This ritual suggested that while the life of males is occupied by warfare, that of females is occupied by domestic duties such as fetching water. For two or three months after the birth, the child was kept secluded with the mother in a specially marked hut. The seclusion could be temporarily broken when the baby was brought outside to be introduced to the first rain.”
“When someone dies, the whole community takes part in the burial. Speeches are made at the graveside by friends and relatives, and the adult men take turns shoveling soil into the grave. Afterward, all those in attendance go as a group to wash their hands. There may also be a funeral feast.”
 Other Rituals
“Interpreting aspects of the structure of Lovedu society, social anthropologists Krige and Krige claim that natural order among Sotho-speakers in the north-eastern Transvaal region of South Africa is premised upon the assumption that ‘cosmic forces’ are controllable events. Hence, they identify four methods whereby the Lovedu control natural phenomena: First, vunaga, is the skilled use of impersonal power believed to be inherently concentrated in persons and objects. The vunaga is a ‘medico-magical’ practice performed by an expert doctor (ngaka) and applied in the interests of health and well-being. 

The Realm of a Rain Queen - Plate X - E. J. Krige - 1938
The dithugula is deployed to indirectly influence the ancestors; the ancestors may cause harm and sickness to descendants who neglect them and are therefore propitiated to ensure good crops, fertility, good fortune, and success. Here, the use of objects once in the possession of, or in close contact with ancestors (beads, animals, or clothing), are employed. Third, the divine queen may be approached to secure the regularity of seasonal change; her death, by contrast, might mark the onset of drought, famine, or the breakdown of social order. Fourth, and finally, cosmic forces can be controlled or manipulated to promote abundance and rain by using a ‘sacred drum’ during the designated digoma (drum) ritual.”
“...evil is symbolically represented by ‘heat’ or ‘burning’ (leswa). Indeed, heat is perceived to denote a disturbance caused by negative events such as abortions and miscarriages. ‘Cooling‘ medicines, such as the burying of dead fetuses in wet soil, by contrast, are considered effective mechanisms for realigning social imbalance.”

Cultural material (art, music, games)
“Sotho traditional music places a strong emphasis on group singing, chanting, and hand clapping is an accompaniment to dance. Instruments used included drums, rattles, whistles, and handmade stringed instruments. One instrument, the lesiba, is made from a pole, a string, and a feather. When it is blown, the feather acts as a reed, producing a deep, resonant sound.”

Balobedu tribal dance: This was taken at bolobedu ha masthwi, bolobedu actually means “ho loba” a place were people lose their daughters and sons. Courtesy

“Generations of mine labor have led to a distinct migrant-worker subculture in Lesotho. This subculture developed its own song and dance traditions. Some types of mine dances have synchronized high-kicking steps. One song tradition, difela, has lyrics relating the travels, loves, and viewpoints of the migrant workers. Other popular music in Sotho includes dance tunes played by small groups on drums, accordions, and guitars.”

The lower left necklace has two beaded leather medallions. The old Balobedu woman in the centre image wears a number of necklaces which very much resemble them and the others. She was alive and well in 2007. She reported she had owned her necklaces since she was a young girl.


The focal point of Lobedu culture is the Rain-Queens Royal Kraal and more specifically the khôrô. The khôrô is a circular arena at the centre of the royal kraal, which served as a meeting place. It was surrounded by a palisade of large poles, some figured, which were brought to the kraal by visitors in tribute to the Modjadji Queen.


The Rain Queens private residential entrance and enclosure.
Rain-Queens and Python Dance - Plate's 9 and 4

Headmen from all the district are called up to provide poles for the Queen'skhoro when in need of renewal. This symbolized the solidarity of the Kingdom. Figured palisade examples were exclusive to the queens khôrô.  Jurgen Witt of Tzaneen advised that craftsmen of particular skill carved the poles to distinguish their contribution to the khôrô.


                                      Plate 24  - Circa 1950's                                                        Vol. 94 Part 3 Page 133
                           Rain-Queens and Python Dance                                  Annals of the South African Museum

The photographs "above left and lower right" were taken at the Rain Queen Royal Kraal insito. The two poles depicted in the upper right photograph were collected by Witt, as was the example to the lower left. Krige collected the carved pole, above right, with breasts.


                     The Power of Form - Page 227                                                      Vol. 94 Part 3 Page 132
                                                                                                                  Annals of the South African Museum

The unique figure below was presented to Minister de Wet Nel during his meeting with the Rain Queen on the 22nd October 1959. At the time it was positioned near the center of the khôrô.


Rain-Queens and Python Dance - Plate 36

Carved and figured palisade poles no longer decorate the khôrô.


                  Rain songs and the observance of the rain cult amongst
                                         the Lobedu people of Queen Modjadji1
                                                         Annekie Joubert
The royal nucleus of the Lobedu descends from one of the Rozwi states that gained prominence in the southern part of the former Karanga empire. The Lobedu people live in the Limpopo Province below the Drakensberg escarpment near Duiwelskloof. For the past six generations they have had female rulers, all bearing the dynastic title ‘Modjadji’, the legendary ‘Rain Queen’. According to Hammond-Tooke (1993), the southern Bantu have been living under the rule of various chiefs since at least 800AD.
young queen modjadjis khethlakone limpopo south
                                 Rain Dance of Balobedu people

 The coming of chieftainship transformed the essential nature of these societies because certain persons were accorded authority to make decisions on behalf of individuals and the group as a whole. According to Hammond-Tooke (1993:65), the only way to safeguard this authority was through ritual, ‘by clothing the chieftainship in mystical sections to ensure, as far as possible, compliance with this new political (or governmental) authority’. To achieve the adherence to chieftainship:
• the concept of royal blood was developed, where ‘blood’ is metaphorically linked to descent and a division created between royalty and commoners
• a sacredness was created around the chief and a mystical link between the person of the chief and the chiefdom as a whole. Hammond-Tooke (1993:65) points out that ‘in its extreme form this meant that the health and strength of the ruler could influence the weather, crops and general wellbeing of man and beast’. He mentions Modjadji, the Rain Queen, as an example of this kind of sacredness where it was expected of her to commit ritual suicide after the fourth initiation school of her reign to achieve divine status
• the status of chiefs must be protected by strong medicines to ward off witchcraft, sorcery, assassination and attack from other, antagonistic chiefdoms
• the integrity of chieftainship is ensured by the sacra, possession of which was the ultimate legitimization of
the ruler. These could be in the form of sacred heirlooms, medicines or, as in the case of Modjadji, the sacred rainmaking beads, or the sacred rain drums used during rainmaking rituals.
This was taken at bolobedu ha masthwi, bolobedu actually means “ho loba” a place were people lose their daughters and sons.

The Lobedu people are surrounded by the Shangaan-Tsonga people to the east, the Pedi to the south, the Venda to the north, and several other tribes to the west. Contact and influx from the Sotho groups in the southeast had a significant influence on Lobedu culture from the mid-eighteenth century onwards. Tsonga refugees, on the other hand, entered the Lobedu area from about 1840 (as recorded in one of the rain songs that will be discussed), but remained segregated subjects within Lobedu territory. An interesting point is that despite the acceptance by the Lobedu of Shangaan-Tsonga elements of material culture, a great divide exists between the two cultural configurations. According to Krige and Krige (1943:313), they have:
"different views as regards sex, morality, different marriage patterns, different conceptions of the hierarchy
of age and the position of women, they deal differently with the situation of death, with rainmaking,
display, and regimentation, and, whereas the social groupings are totemic among the Lovedu, they are
non-totemic among the Shangana-Tonga."
Bolobedu rain dancer

 Because of their diplomacy, reputation as rainmakers, and strategic position in the mountains, the Lobedu were the most influential tribe in the Lowveld between the Levubu and the Olifants rivers. The disturbances of the nineteenth century had only a slight effect on the Lobedu because of their well-protected sanctuary in the mountains. Unlike other chiefs, Modjadji did not depend on an army to maintain peace, stability and political integrity in her territory. She accomplished this through her ritual position as rainmaker and through marriage ties. Her enemies were afraid of attacking her, because the consequences to her attackers were drought and famine.
Lobedu girl

The Lobedu rain cult
The rain cult amongst the Lobedu consists of an intricate network of customs with consequences for many aspects of tribal life. The lives and functions of individual members in the tribe are closely intertwined with rain – the indispensable element for human survival. Irregularities in the community, such as the birth of twins, an abortion or a miscarriage, children or animals with deformities, and unrecognized corpses of dogs are thought to have an effect on the rain. In these cases, the children or animals have to be killed and buried in moist soil, and certain rites have to be performed in order to prevent a terrible drought.
Symbol of Lobedu Rain Queen and Python Dance

 Numerous rain making rituals are also observed for agricultural purposes. Schapera and Goodwin (1953:136) point out that ‘various important taboos (e.g. on the cutting of certain trees) must be observed by the whole community during the early part of the rainy season, lest drought, hail, or some similar disaster destroy the young crops’. The Lobedu also possess sacred rainmaking objects such as rain beads, rain horns containing rain medicine, and rain pots filled with holy water – kept in secrecy in a rain hut that is in close proximity to the queen’s residence.
It is believed that the Lobedu use the body dirt and skin of deceased queens as part of the rainmaking medicine. Krige (quoted by Eiselen & Schapera, 1953:266), describes this process as follows:
"On the death of the queen, which is kept secret for a whole year, the body is washed every day and the
dirt is made to fall into an earthenware basin. This is done until all the skin comes off, and only then is
the chief buried. This skin is put into the rain pots."
The souls of deceased persons become the ancestral spirits of the Lobedu, and are regarded as their most intimate ‘gods’ (badimo) who act as intermediaries between the living and the spiritual world. According to Eiselen and Schapera (1953:250), the ancestral gods are:
"exclusively interested in the affairs of their own family and tribe, and without their help and guidance
their living descendants cannot hope to flourish. As long as the moral code is strictly followed, they
confer blessings and abundance; but if offended by any breach of custom, they can also send drought,
cattle plague, tribal or personal disaster, sickness or death."
Unless sorcery is involved, the misfortunes of a community are ‘almost always attributed to the intervention of some offended or neglected ancestor, whose spirit must be propitiated before relief can be expected’ (Eiselen & Schapera, 1953:252). Many of the rainmaking rites have a magical as well as a religious character because magic and religion, according to Eiselen and Schapera (1953:247), are closely inter-related in belief and practice. For example, ‘when sacrifices are made to the ancestor gods, the meat eaten by the worshippers is often “doctored” with medicines as protection against witchcraft’.
When studying the collection of texts documented by Eiselen in the 1920s among various dialect groups such as the Kopa, Pedi and Lobedu, one gets the impression that an assumption does exist among some tribes that a supreme being closely related to the sky exists:
"Ge komelelo e godile vasadi va tla tshela metzi kua levitleng la kgoshi le vzhalwa vzho vontzhi. Vzhalwa
vsho ge vo tshelwa levitleng vo vitzhwa metzi. Ge va tshela va volela va re: Modimo o lego godimo a o
fe o lego fase metzi (Eiselen, 1923:23).
‘When the drought worsens, the women will pour out water and huge quantities of beer on the graves of
the chiefs. The beer that is poured on the graves is also called water. As they pour out the beer they utter:
“God, you who are above, give the god below water!”’ (Own translation).
Considering the corpus of literature on the Supreme Being (Modimo) in the Sotho religion on the other hand, one becomes aware of the influence caused by encounters with Christian missionaries and the extreme difficulty to ‘disentangle the strands of Christian and traditional discourse about Modimo’ (Chidester, 1997:278). In a personal interview conducted with the late Queen Modjadji V in 1996, she confessed that her rainmaking powers could be attributed to the grace of the Christian God and the powers of her ancestral gods.

Observance of the Lobedu rain cult
According to tradition, the Lobedu must observe the rain cult at all times. Either the rain queen or the chief should be approached in times of drought, since the whole tribe acknowledges the queen’s ancestors as a source of communal well being and prosperity. The Lobedu queen is, in the words of Krige and Krige (1943:271):
"primarily not a ruler, but a rain-maker, and men rely for their security, not on regimentation, armies,
and organization, but on the queen’s power to make rain for the people and to withhold rain from its

Although the queen assumes total responsibility for rain and fertility, it should be pointed out that she always has a rain-doctor (moroka wa pula) who co-operates with her, as all rainmaking rituals have a political character that is linked to the well being of the tribe’s polity. For example, as a last resort the rain-doctor will reveal to the queen the forces that prevent her powers from working properly, and remove these forces. Krige and Krige (1943:275) state that ‘the queen can control rain only “in agreement with her ancestors” who are able, if they wish, to stay her hand just as she herself is able to stay the hands of rain-doctors’. Specially prepared beer has a sacred significance in the observance of the Lobedu rain cult and is regarded as the ‘ritual food of the ancestors’. The queen is not only regarded as the ‘transformer of the clouds’, but also as the modifier of the seasons and the guarantor of their cyclic regularity. Huskisson (1958:150) points out that the queen is in possession of rain horns (dinaga ja bula) filled with medicine (dithugula). According to Huskisson, the medicine is burnt to produce smoke which rises up in the air to draw and produce the required clouds for rain to fall. Rain is supposed to fall as long as the horns are placed on the ground, but when they are hung up, the weather clears and the sky becomes dry. The queen’s rainmaking ability takes continuous care of her people in times of severe drought as well as in good seasons. According to Lobedu interlocutors, the queen’s emotional state affects her rainmaking powers.

 When she feels upset, sad, dissatisfied or angry, her powers are reduced and her work is less successful.
There are various ways of approaching Queen Modjadji for rain. Councillors whom she holds in high esteem
or important relatives may approach her in person; district heads may pay tribute to her (ho lova) in the form of money, cattle or gifts; dancing groups can visit her ‘to evoke her pity at the sorrowful sight of people dancing in summer when they ought to be ploughing’ (Krige & Krige, 1943:272). After cooking food for their families, married women would assemble at the royal kraal every morning for up to a week to lova (pay tribute to) their queen with dances to arouse her pity or to bring her joy. The great hardship that this dancing entails for nursing mothers who have no time to feed their babies is thought to melt the heart of the queen. The music used during the rain dancing performances consists of lesugu songs, which are also ‘sung at the annual harvest ceremony, on the death of important royal people, and at the girls’ initiation school’ (Krige & Krige, 1943:273).
The Rabothada dancers were called magôgôbya. They had magnificent costumes with headdresses surmounted by animal figures, with underskirts trailing the ground to create a dramatic effect.

According to the performers of the songs that I documented, a difference exists between multi-functional rain
songs and mono-functional or proper rain songs.
• Multi-functional rain songs can include loba songs, which refer to songs that are sung to pay homage to the
queen. The verb ho loba/ho lobela means to pay respect, tribute or allegiance to somebody by giving gifts. The following example is used in Ziervogel and Mokgokong’s Northern Sotho dictionary (1975:766) to explicate the meaning of the verb: ditšhaba tše ntšhi di lobela pula ga Motšatši (many tribes pay tribute to Modjadji for rain).
• Mono-functional or proper rain songs (lesugu) are usually sung concurrently with the dancing of a special
dance called the legobathele. These dances are regarded as the most acclaimed dancing for rain. Krige and
Krige (1943:272) describe this dance as follows:
It is more dignified, its movements slower and more stately, and its drumming more subdued than in
an ordinary gosha. Only two drums are used, and none but those who have lost at least one parent may
perform, and it is begun in the dim light of the dawn before sunrise, when, after a short spell, it stops and
is resumed later in the day. (


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