This is a story about women who ruled the Limpopo Province of South Africa, the only matrilineal monarchy in the world; I introduce to you the Modjadjis or Rain Queens of Balobedu. Two stories exist that tell the origins of the Rain Queens, the first is in the 16th century, the Chief of Monomotapa was told his daughter Dzugundini could gain rain making skills if he impregnated her. The second story is that Dzugundini was impregnated by her brother but was able to flee to the Sotho region of South Africa. Dzugundini eventually went on to found the Balobedu Kingdom of South Africa, which at the time had a male ruler. As warfare increased so did problems within the Balobedu Kingdom, the Mugudo or male ruler of Balobedu wanted to restore peace within his kingdom so he impregnated his daughter, the child was the first Modjadji or Rain Queen. The succession of Rain Queens are as follows; Rain Queen I was Maselekwane Modjadji who ruled from 1800 to 1854, Rain Queen II was Masalanabo I Modjadji who ruled from 1854 to 1894, Rain Queen III was Khesetoane Modjadji who ruled from 1895 to 1959, Rain Queen IV was Makoma Modjadji who ruled from 1959 to 1980, Rain Queen V was Mokope Modjadji who ruled from 1981 to 2001, Rain Queen VI was Makobo Modjadji who ruled from 2003 to 2005. From 2007 to 2018 Prince Regent Mpapada Modjadji led the Balobedu Kingdom.
During the reign of the second Rain Queen, the Balobedu Kingdom was overrun by the majority white South African military. Under the oppression of apartheid the power and influence of the Rain Queen was weakened. During the 1990s, after apartheid ended, the Rain Queens power and influence was restored. Currently, no Rain Queen sits upon the throne, but in 2023 Princess Masalanabo II will be crowned Rain Queen VII Modjadji Masalanabo on her eighteenth birthday. It was customary for the Rain Queen to never appear in public, she would communicate to her people through royal counselors. The Rain Queen does not marry but is allowed to have a romantic partner. To ensure the loyalty of the kingdom, the Rain Queen would take “wives” from the various nobles of the kingdom; the “wives” would become royal servants or even romantic partners for some of the men in the kingdom. The lure and the prominence of the Rain Queen was prominent throughout South Africa, even the mighty king Shaka Zulu respected the lure of the Rain Queen. To help reinforce the Rain Queens power, every November a rain making ceremony was held within the kingdom. It is said that the power of the Rain Queen keeps the cycad tree in abundance under a rain belt within the gardens that surround the royal compound.
Since the Rain Queen will only be a woman, when she does mate she would usually mate with a man chosen by her royal counsel. The eldest daughter of the Rain Queen is usually the successor to the throne, if the Rain Queen has no daughters or other circumstances prevent the Queens eldest daughter from ascending to the throne, the woman who is the closest in relation to the queen becomes the next Rain Queen. In the past it was custom for the Rain Queen to commit ritual suicide so her daughter can ascend to the throne, today they no longer continue that custom. The influence of the Rain Queen even spread to Western culture; Marvels character Storm of the X-Men was taken from the Rain Queen, the book She: A History of Adventure written by r H. Rider Haggard was inspired by the Rain Queens, specifically the second Rain Queen Masalanabo I Modjadji. There seems to be a continued misconception that women can’t rule, and specifically black women are not rulers of kingdoms. The Rain Queens are the latest example of women rulers I have presented to you; they are the first and only all-woman led monarchy in the world. To all six of the previous Rain Queens and to the upcoming seventh Rain Queen, we proudly stand on your shoulders.
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