Balobedu are a nation of people situated in the Mopani District of the Limpopo Province in South Africa, and the only nation with a matrilineal throne in the country. The succession of female rulers (Khosi) who sit on the throne are called Modjadji and upon ascension, Khosi Modjadji is believed to be a maker of rain. The Balobedu speak a non-homogenous dialect called Khelobedu, an infusion of Tshivenda, Southern Sotho, XiChangana and most recently, Northern Sotho (Incorrectly known as SePedi).
The story, as most oral narrations are, varies from one version to the next but mostly similar. My family’s version starts in present day Zimbabwe, where there was said to be upheaval in Munomotapa, the Rozvi Royal House, following a prohibited act of incest between a prince and a princess. Afraid of the dire consequences, the prince gathers his men and flees South, along with the princess. The Queen as a parting gift, secretly steals rainmaking charms of the family and hands them over to her daughter, and thus a nation was started.
In their travel South, the rebel off-shoot Rodzwi nation grew and stopped in Venda, the Vhembe District in Limpopo. Vha-Venda so it turned out, had also travelled South from the Zimbabwe region centuries before. Regarding themselves as long lost cousins, the Vha-Venda and VaRozvi struck an intimate relationship which lasts to this very day. After their lodge in Venda, the nation travelled further South, where it is said they merged with a tribe of Basotho before settling in present day Bolobedu.
The VaRozvi were a prosperous people who conquered several Northern Sotho clans in the area now known as Bolobedu. Forming a political structure which constituted over a hundred villages overseen by headmen, who all reported to the King. The name Balobedu was gained during their encounter with the Northern Sotho people. The root word loba has two meanings, to blossom and thanksgiving sacrifice. Those who support the first meaning say that the name came about as a description of the evergreen lush vegetation characteristic of the area, whereas those of the second meaning say the name is attributed to the peculiar human sacrifices performed by these people from the North. Another lesser known name, Bolobathaba (thaba meaning mountain) bears the same contentions, the first group claiming that it describes the lush mountainous area and the second asserting that it alludes to human sacrifices which took place on a mountain. Because of this peculiar journey of influences, this nation now takes on a plurality of identities, identifying as Balobedu, Basotho and Balozwi.
The female rulership came as a result of a vision by King Mugodo, the last in the line of Kings in Balobedu. There was a dispute among his sons as to who should ascend the throne after Mugodo. Mugodo said that he had a visitation from the ancestors in the form of a vision, who prophesied to him that next to ascend the throne, would be a female. A fully blooded royal daughter borne of incest, she will have supernatural powers and revered the world over. The female rulers will be called Modjadji, ruler of the sun. Mugodo thus impregnated one of his daughters, and the first Modjadji was born, whom he named Masalanabo, meaning she who remains with them. Masalanabo Modjadji was the first of six female rulers, succeeded by Khesethwane Modjadji, Makoma Modjadji, Mokope Modjadji and lastly Makobo Modjadji, who passed away in 2005 leaving an infant daughter to the throne. As it stands, Mpapatla Modjadji is Regent until such a time the Royal Council appoints and subsequently crowns the next Modjadji.
Modjadji is polygamous and like male rulers before her, takes daughters of subordinate chiefs in symbolic marriage as a token of allegiance. No man can claim her children and who she procreates with is a closely guarded secret and a taboo topic. Believed to be sacred, she lives the life of a recluse and doesn’t attend public events, and is often assigned a double body.