Nights in the Rain Queen’s realm

23 January 2006

Tourists visiting the palace of South Africa’s famous royal mystic, Rain Queen Modjadji, will soon be able to stay overnight.

Spokesperson for the Modjadji royal family, Clement Modjadji, has confirmed plans to build a hotel in Khetlhakong village near the spectacularly scenic forestry town of Modjadjiskloof (formerly Duiwelskloof, or Devil’s Ravine) in Limpopo province’s subtropical Letaba Valley.

“We are negotiating with local companies and the municipality with a view to raising funds to build the hotel,” Modjadji said. He declined to give further details, saying negotiations had reached a sensitive stage.

He added that the project was expected to create hundreds of jobs in the local community.

Cycad forest, Ivory Route
The Modjadji royal palace, one of Limpopo’s best known tourist attractions, is located near the Royal Modjadji Nature Reserve, home to a cycad forest that boasts some of the oldest and largest specimens in the world.

Cycads are cone-bearing evergreen plants dating back to the Stone Age. The Modjadji cycad or Encephelartos transvenosus is the highest in the world, with recorded specimens reaching 13 metres.

The palace is also part of Limpopo’s African Ivory Route, which includes 3.6-million hectares of national parks, nature reserves, game farms, cultural camps and historical places associated with various African myths and legends.

Clement Modjadji said a hotel was long overdue, with hundreds of tourists visiting the royal palace every year.

The Greater Letaba municipality has also set aside R160 000 to build a cultural village in Khetlhakong village. To be called Modjadji’s Kraal, the village will showcase Balobedu culture, technology and art.

The Rain Queens
Queen Makobo Modjadji VI, who died aged 27 on 12 June 2005, was the youngest in a line of matriarchal monarchs stretching back at least 200 years. Her short reign began on 16 April 2003 when she succeeded her grandmother, Mokope Modjadji V.

Rider Haggard’s 19th-century novels King Solomon’s Mines and She first drew the world’s attention to the legendary Rain Queen of the Balobedu people.

Believed to have been bestowed with the power to control the rains and rivers, the Rain Queen’s mystic powers kept her small tribe safe from regional wars of conquest for two centuries.

The website Prominent People gives “one of the most acceptable versions” of the many legends told about the origins of Queen Modjadji.

According to this version, “an old Karanga chief from the Kingdom of Monomotapa (south-eastern Zimbabwe) was told by his ancestors in the 16th century that he must impregnate his daughter, Dzugundini. This would give the princess rainmaking powers, which would expand the wealth of his kingdom. This princess was called Modjadji, or ‘ruler of the day’.

“Early in the 19th century Modjadji’s tribe, known as the Balobedu, moved further south into the fertile Molototsi Valley, where they founded present day Ga-Modjadji.

“According to custom, the queen must eschew public functions. She communicates to her people via male councillors and indunas, village headmen. In November of every year she directs the annual rainmaking ceremony at her royal compound in Khetlhakone village.

“The queen never marries, but she bears children by her close relatives. She is cared for by her ‘wives’, which are sent from the many villages in Ga-Modjadji. When she is nearing death, she appoints her eldest daughter as her successor and then she ingests poison.

“For centuries many tribes have respected the Queen’s powers. Even Shaka Zulu sent his top emissaries to request the Queen’s blessings …”

According to Prominent People, University of South Africa archaeologist Sidney Miller has excavated the ruins of the original royal kraal, finding stone foundations, pottery and middens.

The ruins, according to the website, “bear resemblance to the famous ruins discovered at Thulamela near Phafuri in the far north of the Kruger National Park and the Great Zimbabwe ruins in south-eastern Zimbabwe. It lends further credibility to the many legends about the origins of Ga-Modjadji.”

SouthAfrica.info reporter and Neville Maakana, BuaNews