The Rain Queen – or Modjadji – is the hereditary Queen of Balobedu. The Balobedu people live in the Limpopo province in South Africa. Unlike many other monarchies, the succession is matrilineal. This means that the eldest daughter is the heir and men are completely banned from inheriting the throne.
The history of the Rain Queens is based on several stories, one of which states that a 16th-century chief was told that by impregnating his daughter, she would gain rain-making skills. The Rain Queen is hardly seen by her people, and she communicates through male councillors. When a Rain Queen dies, her body is rubbed in a way that skin comes off. This skin is kept and used to make rain pots. She is not supposed to marry but will have children by her relatives. Traditionally, if she is close to death, she ingests poison and appoints her eldest daughter as her successor. The Rain Queen is cared for by women called her “wives.”
In any case, the first Rain Queen was Maselekwane Modjadji I who reigned from 1800 until 1854. She lived in complete seclusion and committed ritual suicide in 1854. She was succeeded by her eldest daughter Masalanabo Modjadji II. She reigned until 1894 when she too committed ritual suicide. She reportedly had children, but it appears that she did not have daughters or her daughters predeceased her as she named the daughter of her sister as her heir. Khesetoane Modjadji III reigned from 1895 to 1959. Her daughter was Makoma Modjadji IV who broke with tradition and married Andreas Maake. She reigned from 1959 until 1980 and was succeeded by her daughter Mokope Modjadji V. She had three children, including an heir Princess Makheala but tragically, she died two days before her mother in 2001.
Princess Makheala’s daughter became the next Rain Queen as Makobo Modjadji VI at the age of 25. She was crowned in 2003, but some considered her too modern to become a Rain Queen. Tragically, the young Rain Queen died just two years later, officially of chronic meningitis, but there were a lot of rumours surrounding her death. Hospital staff said that she was suffering from AIDS.1 She left a son, Prince Lekukena (born 1998) and a daughter, Princess Masalanabo (born 2005). The father of her children later said, “She told me I was the man she had dreamt of meeting. We would have married and settled into a happy family life, but she was forbidden by ancient custom to take a husband.”
Developments in 2016 recognised the 11-year-old Princess Masalanabo as the new Rain Queen, and she was expected to be crowned as soon she turns 18.2 Masalanabo turned 18 years old in January 2023, and the Balobedu Royal Council recognised her as the new rain queen.3 Her inauguration is planned for August 2023.4