Midsummer has arrived in the Southern Hemisphere. A slightly drier festive season would have been welcome.
With record rainfall in southern Africa since October – including in flood-prone Mozambique – pressure is mounting on the six secretive elders of Ga-Modjadjito anoint the next Rain Queen.
“The rain is out of control. It never stops,” Alfred, a Northern Province hotel porter, said. “Ever since the Rain Queen died in June things have been bad. In fact, they started deteriorating when her daughter died. Something must be done.”
But Victor Matekga, a spokesman for the Modjadji Royal Council, said he and the five other elders of Ga-Modjadji – a rural community of 150 villages ruled by the Rain Queen – were not ready yet. “We are observing a vow of silence,” he said. “I cannot say when the next Rain Queen will be named. It could be as late as March.”
If South Africans are to be believed, this small community near the border of Zimbabwe has been responsible for the precipitatory fortunes of much of Africa since the 19th century, after the previously nomadic Balobedu clan made it their home. Whether the Balobedu had any links to Songo, the Yoruba god of rain who operates over Nigeria, is not known.
So mighty is this Rain Queen – whose clan is one of a handful of matriarchal societies in Africa – that when South African farmers wanted more showers, in 1997, the state broadcaster, SABC, put her on the television. It poured for months. Indeed, some people believe the combination of the queen’s powers and modern technology was what sent weather patterns haywire. Forget El Nino.
Queen Modjadji V died aged 64 in June. The coroner in Pietersburg recorded the cause as kidney and heart failure. The Balobedu say she died of a broken heart because of the death of her daughter, Makheala, the crown princess. Makheala passed away only a year after her two brothers. So it was a sad Rain Queen who passed behind the cumulus earlier this year.
The Royal Council, which is advised by 152 headmen, is not permitted to anoint a successor who is not a close blood relative of Modjadji V. There is understood to be division within the ranks.
The most obvious successor is her last remaining daughter, Makobo, but she will not be chosen unless the Royal Council believes she can learn the intricate rain-making skills required. Some doubt that she can, given that she was not trained by her mother and the powers will have to be handed on by the all-male council. Some of Makobo’s critics also claim she lacks the charisma to lead the one million people of the Balobedu nation.
According to John, a ranger at the Ga-Modjadji Nature Reserve, adjacent to the Royal Council’s meeting hall, rain-making is closely associated with gift-giving. Not himself a Balobedu, but a believer nevertheless, he feels at greater liberty to speak than do the villagers.
“I have seen some of the ceremonies and they are very long,” he said. “There are a lot of presents, for instance fridges and furniture, brought from far away. There is a great deal of dancing, and everyone looks very smart. There is also a lot of secrecy, which you would expect from a woman of such power.”
John said the Rain Queen clearly dictated precipitation, not just for the Balobedu but for all of South Africa and possibly the entire continent. “I think you just need to look at how out of control the rain is at the moment to realise that it needs to be taken care of by someone,” he said.
By Alex Duval Smith