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  • Mokope Modjadji, Rain Queen, V (1936 - 2001)
    The Rain Queens of South Africa According to legend, a Kranga chief named Mugodo was warned by his ancestral spirits of a plot by his sons to overthrow him. He had them killed and told his daughter D...
  • Makoma Modjadji, Rain Queen, IV (1905 - 1980)
    The Rain Queens of South Africa According to legend, a Kranga chief named Mugodo was warned by his ancestral spirits of a plot by his sons to overthrow him. He had them killed and told his daughter D...
  • Khetoane Modjadji, Rain Queen, III (1869 - 1959)
    The Rain Queens of South Africa According to legend, a Kranga chief named Mugodo was warned by his ancestral spirits of a plot by his sons to overthrow him. He had them killed and told his daughter D...
  • Masalandbo Modjadji, Rain Queen, II (b. - 1894)
    The Rain Queens of South Africa According to legend, a Kranga chief named Mugodo was warned by his ancestral spirits of a plot by his sons to overthrow him. He had them killed and told his daughter D...
  • Maselekwane Modjadji, Rain Queen, I (b. - 1855)
    The Rain Queens of South Africa According to legend, a Kranga chief named Mugodo was warned by his ancestral spirits of a plot by his sons to overthrow him. He had them killed and told his daughter D...

The Rain Queen – Modjadji

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.

The Rain Queen Dynasty

The Lobedu and their neighbors.

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.

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.

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.

The Rain Queen is not meant to marry, but bears children by her close relatives. She is cared for by her “wives”. When she is near to death, she appoints her eldest daughter as her successor and ingests poison.

When a member of the royal family dies, the entire Lobedu nation mourns, and it is the women of this matriarchal society who dance away the grief.

For months after a death, hundreds of women head for the queen’s kraal. Villages representing five or six of the queen’s headmen come to mourn with their queen. The dancing starts in the early evening and continues until morning light. It is every woman’s obligation to dance at the sacred kraal. After a death in the Modjadji’s family, each Lobedu village turns its drums upside down. Until they come to dance, the villages cannot play their drums and they cannot dance at home. If the women of a village do not make the pilgrimage to the queens kraal, they may not dance at any other traditional function and the village’s drum must stay silent.

The Rain Queens of South Africa

According to legend, a Kranga chief named son fathered by her father, the child was strangled. Her second child was a girl, which signalled the start of the female dynasty.

Maselewane Modjaji, Rain Queen I (1800-54)

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.

Masalandbo Modjaji, Rain Queen II (1854-94)

Masalanabo Modjadji II succeeded her mother Modjadji I to become the second Rain Queen. Like her mother she never married the father of her children, but was cared for by a number of “wife’s”. The Queen was practically inaccessible to her people, appeared seldom in public and is said to have had the mystical power to transform clouds into rain. She committed ritual suicide in 1894 after having designated the daughter of her sister and great wife Leakkali as heir.

She is said to have been the inspiration for Rider Haggard's novel: She

Khetoane Modjadji, Rain Queen III (1895-1959)

Khetoane Modjadji III became the third Rain Queen and reigned from 1895 to 1959. Khetoane was the daughter of Masalanabo’s “sister” and became heir, as Masalanabo’s council had designated this before Masalanabo’s death.

Makoma Modjadji, Rain Queen IV (1959 – 1980)

Makoma Modjadji IV was the fourth Rain Queen. She succeed her mother Khetoane Modjadji and reigned until death. Breaking from tradition, she married Andreas Maake, with whom she had several children. She was succeeded by her eldest daughter Mokope Modjadji.

Mokope Modjadji, Rain Queen V (1981-2001)

Mokope Modjadji V was the fifth Rain Queen. She played a very traditional role, followed all the customs she was expected to follow and lived in seclusion at the royal compound in Khetlhakone Village. Mokope Modjadji met and became good friends with President Nelson Mandela. The first contact was in 1994, but Mandela could only speak to Mokope through the traditional intermediary. Later they became better friends after Mandela bought a Japanese Sedan to help her travel up the steep roads to her royal compound. Afterwards, he was able to meet her in person. Mandela noted that like Queen Elizabeth II, the Rain Queen Modjadji did not answer questions. Queen Mokope did not support the idea of an ANC Government as she believed that its anti-traditional ideas would dilute her authority. At the same time, she did accept an annual salary from the ANC government.

Mokope Modjadji had three children, and her designated successor was Princess Makheala. However Makheala died two days before her mother in 2001. Mokope Modjadji was 65 years old at the time. As a result, Princess Makheala’s daughter Makobo became the next Rain Queen.

Makobo Modjadji, Rain Queen VI (2003-2005)

Makobo Constance Modjadji VI was crowned the 6th Rain Queen on 16 April 2003 at the age of 25, after the death of her grandmother, Queen Mokope Modjadji. This made her the youngest Queen in the history of the Lobedu tribe.

Makobo was the only Rain Queen to be formally educated. As mentioned, her mother was the designated successor, but died two days before her grandmother Mokope Modjadji. 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 only reluctantly accepted the crown.

Though 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 their “wives”. However Makobo Modjadji 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 was rumoured to have moved into the Royal Compound. 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. Mogale was banned from the village, and the Rain Queen’s two children were never been recognized by the Council.

Makobo was admitted into the Polokwane Medi-Clinic with an undisclosed illness on the 10th of June 2005 and died two days later at the age of 27. There is a lot of controversy surrounding her death. Some villagers believe she died from a broken heart because her lover David Mogale was banned from the royal village. 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.

For Fun: Terry Pratchett's commentary on Rain Queens

'The idea that there is a Rain Goddess who decides when it will rain, or a Lion God who can either keep you safe from lion attacks or unleash them upon you, therefore has irresistible advantages. You can't control rain, and of course you can't control a Rain Goddess either, but, with the proper rituals, you can hope to influence her decisions.

This is where the priesthood comes in, because they can act as an intermediary between everybody else and the gods. They can prescribe the appropriate rituals - and, like all good politicians, they can claim the credit when things work out and blame someone else when they go wrong.

'What, Henry was eaten by a lion? Well then, he must not have shown proper respect when making his daily sacrifice to the Lion God.'

'How do you know that?'

'Well, if he had shown proper respect, he wouldn't have been eaten.'

Rider Haggard's 'SHE - A History of Adventure'

She, subtitled A History of Adventure, is a novel by [ Henry Rider Haggard0, first serialized in The Graphic magazine from October 1886 to January 1887. She is one of the classics of imaginative literature, and with over 83 million copies sold in 44 different languages, one of the best-selling books of all time. Extraordinarily popular upon its release, She has never been out of print. According to the literary historian Andrew M. Stauffer, "She has always been Rider Haggard's most popular and influential novel, challenged only by King Solomon's Mines in this regard".

The story is a first-person narrative that follows the journey of Horace Holly and his ward Leo Vincey to a lost kingdom in the African interior. There, they encounter a primitive race of natives and a mysterious white queen, Ayesha, who reigns as the all-powerful "She", or "She-who-must-be-obeyed". In this work, Rider Haggard developed the conventions of the Lost World sub-genre, which many later authors emulated.

She is placed firmly in the imperialist literature of nineteenth-century England, and inspired by Rider Haggard's experiences of South Africa and British colonialism. The story expresses numerous racial and evolutionary conceptions of the late-Victorians, especially notions of degeneration and racial decline prominent during the fin de siècle. In the figure of She, the novel notably explored themes of female authority and feminine behaviour. It has received praise and criticism alike for its gendered representation of womanhood.


A Cambridge University professor, Horace Holly, and his ward, Leo Vincey, together with their servant, Job, travel to Africa. They follow instructions on the "Sherd of Amenartas" left to Vincey by his father. They travel to Africa and suffer shipwreck on the eastern shore of Central Africa. They survive together with an Arab, Mahomed, and journey into an unexplored part of the African interior, where they discover the lost kingdom of Kôr, inhabited by the primitive Amahagger people. The adventurers learn that the natives are ruled by a fearsome white queen, who is worshiped as Hiya or "She-who-must-be-obeyed". The Amahagger are curious about the white-skinned interlopers; She had warned them of their coming.

Billali, the chief elder of one of the Amahagger tribes, takes charge of the three men, introducing them to the ways of his people. One of the Amahagger maidens, Ustane, takes a liking to Vincey and during a tribal feast sings lovingly to him. Billali tells Holly that he needs to go and report the white men's arrival to She. In his absence, some of the Amahagger become restless and determine to eat Mahomed as part of a ritual "hotpot". In a scuffle Mahomed is killed and Vincey gravely wounded, but the three Englishmen are saved when Billali returns and declares that they are under the protection of She. As Vincey's condition worsens, he approaches death although tended by Ustane.

They are taken to the home of She, which lies under a dormant volcano amongst a series of cavernous tombs. There, Holly is presented to the queen, a white sorceress named Ayesha. Her beauty is so great that it enchants any man who beholds it. She, who is veiled and lies behind a partition, warns Holly that the power of her splendour arouses both desire and fear, but he is dubious. When she shows herself, however, Holly is enraptured and prostrates himself before her. He learns that She has lived in the realm of Kôr for over two millennia, awaiting the reincarnated return of her lover, Kallikrates (whom she had accidentally slain in a fit of jealous rage). After she veils herself again, Holly remembers Vincey and begs Ayesha to visit his ward. Having agreed, she is startled upon seeing him, as she believes him to be the reincarnation of Kallikrates.

She heals Vincey but becomes jealous of the girl, Ustane. The latter is ordered to leave the home of She-who-must-be-obeyed but refuses, and is eventually struck down by She. Despite the murder of their friend, Holly and Vincey cannot free themselves from the power of She's beauty. They remain amongst the tombs as Vincey recovers his strength, and She lectures Holly on the ancient history of Kôr.

In the climax of the novel, Ayesha takes the two men to see the pillar of fire, passing through the ruined city of Kôr. She is determined that Vincey should bathe in the fire to become immortal and remain with her forever. They come to a great cavern, but at the last Vincey doubts the safety of entering the flame. To allay his fears, She steps into the Spirit of Life. With this second immersion, she reverts to her true age, withering away in the fire. The sight is so shocking that Job dies in fright. Before dying, She tells Vincey, "I die not. I shall come again."


  • Horace Holly - protagonist and narrator, Holly is a Cambridge don whose keen intellect and knowledge was developed to compensate for his ape-like appearance. Holly knows a number of ancient languages, including Greek, Arabic, and Hebrew, which allow him to communicate with the Amahagger (who speak a form of Arabic) and She (who knows all three languages). Holly's interest in archaeology and the origins of civilization lead him to explore the ruins of Kor.
  • Leo Vincey - ward of Horace Holly, Vincey is an attractive, physically active young English gentleman with a thick head of blond hair. He is the confidant of Holly and befriends Ustane. According to She, Leo resembles Kallikrates in appearance and is his reincarnation.
  • Ayesha - thought to have been inspired by Masalandbo Modjaji, Rain Queen II - the title character of the novel, called Hiya by the native Amahagger, or "She". Ayesha was born over 2,000 years ago amongst the Arabs, mastering the lore of the ancients and becoming a great sorceress. Learning of the Pillar of Life in the African interior, she journeyed to the ruined kingdom of Kôr, feigning friendship with a hermit who was the keeper of the Flame that granted immortality. She bathed in the Pillar of Life's fire.
  • Job - Holly's trusted servant. Job is a working-class man and highly suspicious and judgmental of non-English peoples. He is also a devout Protestant. Of all the travellers, he is especially disgusted by the Amahagger and fearful of She.
  • Billali - an elder of one of the Amahagger tribes.
  • Ustane - an Amahagger maiden. She becomes romantically attached to Vincey, caring for him when he is injured, acting as his protector, and defying She to stay with him.
  • Kallikrates - an ancient Greek, the husband of Amenartas, and ancestor of Vincey. Two thousand years ago, he and Amenartas fled Egypt, seeking a haven in the African interior where they met Ayesha. There, She fell in love with him, promising to give him the secret of immortality if he would kill Amenartas. He refused, and enraged She struck him down.
  • Amenartas - an ancient Egyptian priestess and ancestress of the Vincey family. As a priestess of Isis, she was protected from the power of She. When Ayesha slew *Kallikrates, she expelled Amenartas from her realm. Amenartas gave birth to Kallikrates' son, beginning the line of the Vinceys.

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