Modjadji The Rain Queen

by Pieter du Plessis

The world of Modajadi (pronounced Moo – Jad – she) comprises of virgin African bushveld, awe-inspiring valleys, spectacular mountains, majestic giants such as the imposing African elephant and the baobab trees, the greatest number of mammal species in all Africa, a unique wealth of flora and birding and to compliment this wonderland a fascinating world of cultures and legends.

When the world-renowned author Rider Haggard’s classical novels King Solomon’s Mines and She were published in the 1880’s it drew the world’s attention to the legendary Rain Queen of the Lobedo Peoples.

The late queen Modjadji who died in June 2001 was a direct descendant of the once powerful royal house of Monomotapa, which ruled over the Karanga people in Zimbabwe in the 15th and 16th centuries.  The kingdom of Monomotapa was a very wealthy kingdom and the same people oversaw the construction of the Zimbabwe Ruins.

During the latter part of the 1580’s the somewhat peaceful kingdom experienced an upheaval when a son of king Monomotapa had a relationship with one of his sisters, Dzugundini that produced an heir according to custom.  The old king wanted to avoid at all costs a civil war in his kingdom so he gave his daughter Dzugundini a magic horn with the necessary ‘medicines’ to make rain and to defend her against any enemies.  Some historians believe by giving the secret to his daughter he also banished her from his kingdom.  Mother and her illegitimate child then fled to the south from present day Zimbabwe and established a new kingdom further south towards South Africa.

For the next 200 years the tribe of Dzugundini built a substantial territory and increased their power amongst the lesser tribes.  During the later part of 1800’s the then chief, Mugodo, was warned by the ancestral spirits of a plot by his sons to overthrow him.  To fulfill the desires of the spirits he had all his sons killed and told his daughter that according to the wishes of the sprits he must marry her on his death.  By doing this he ensured that the new heir to his throne would be a queen and thus a new danasty of woman was founded.

When the new queen gave birth to a son that was fathered by her own father, he was strangled at birth.  Her second child was a girl, and she signaled the start of the female dynasty.   This was the first Modjadji and ever since the queen lives in complete seclusion deep in the forest where she practice the age-old secretive rituals to make rain.

To reinforce the legend of miraculous rainmaking powers one only needs to visit the royal house of Modjadi to be convinced.  Located on top of the splendid hills that are surrounded by a parched and somewhat drier region around her seat of power, is the Modjadji reserve where the world’s largest cycad trees grow in profusion under an unbelievable mist and rain belt.

On the political front the rain queen has always held a special place of respect amongst African leaders including the great Zulu king Shaka who respected her and once needed her help with a big drought in Zululand.  Modjadji is thought to have been the only other person apart from the late, volatile president Laurent Kabila of the Congo, to keep Nelson Mandela waiting during a meeting.  When the meeting did take place during 1994, he spoke to her only when spoken to and then only through an intermediary.   Mr. Mandela did have more meetings with her thanks to a generous gift of a luxury four-wheel drive vehicle and a super luxury Japanese sedan.  Thus the icy reserve that her position demanded was melted with the expensive gifts, Mr. Mandela was allowed  to speak to her without the services of an interlocutor.   On addressing the media Mr. Mandela told reporters, just like Queen Elizabeth 11, Queen Modjadji did not answer questions.

Queen Modjadji did not welcome the prospect of an ANC government.   Its campaign of mobilizing youths against traditional leaders in the 1980s had diluted her authority.

According to custom and the strict laws of the tribe, the Queen is not allowed to have a husband but did have around 15 wives.  These were chosen for her by the Royal Council and in general are from the household of the subject chiefs.   This strange ritual of ‘bride giving’ is strictly a form of diplomacy to ensure loyalty to the Queen.

The queen did have three children of whom two daughters have died.   A subject with the right royal credential was chosen by the Royal Council to father her children.  Discreet arrangements were made to ensure that her natural desires were fulfilled but the queen was not expected to confine her sexual activities. 

Modjadji’s daughter and intended successor, Princess Makheala, died two days before she did.  Modjajdi is survived by a son and it is not known who will succeed her.

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