On Wednesday 4th April, we drove six hours north of Johannesburg to the town of Tzaneen ( in the Limpopo Province of South Africa), to attend an ‘unveiling ceremony ‘ in one of the local villages. This is a ceremony whereby the family of a person who has passed formally unveils their headstone and celebrates their life. It was a big family occasion as two of my partner’s extended family were being honoured – there were lots of reminiscence that included skits, jokes and laughter about the deceased, the serving of freshly slaughtered beef and traditional Shangaan dancers wearing pleated and layered full circular skirts which swished when the women moved their hips.
As it was also the Easter holiday period, I was able to make time to relax and enjoy the beauty of the province which is also the agricultural heartland of South Africa producing much of the country’s fruit and vegetable – the avocado season allowed us to purchase a sack of more than 50 avocadoes from street vendors for R50 (about £4.00). The mountains, waterfalls, dams, flora and faun, tea plantations were stunning – we picnicked under the oldest known baobab tree in the world – approximately 6000 years old (see picture below)! I felt throughout this journey that I was experiencing heaven on earth – South Africa at its’ best!
Debengeni Waterfalls, Tzaneen, Limpopo
Pekoe Tea Plantation, Magoebaskloof (owned by the local black African community)
Shangaan dancers at the unveiling ceremony
However the highlight of the trip was a visit on Good Friday to Modjadji (a royal authority), where my partner and I went to find out about the Rain Queen – one of the few remaining female dynasties in the world –she is the only ruling queen in Southern Africa. One of her main duties is to provide her 150 villages with rain – she was feared as a magician who could bring rain to her friends and drought to her enemies. The story of the Rain Queen is well known throughout Southern Africa, although I had only heard about her some three years ago through watching a television documentary in South Africa.The Queen is never supposed to marry, but bears children with her close relatives and is cared for by her ‘wives’ from the local villages. Similar to most royal families found around the world, there have been many stories, controversy and much rumour. Have a look at the link to read more about this interesting and unique dynasty.
We realised that we were being rather curious and probably quite presumptuous – wanting to find out more whilst hoping for the best! However, we were also well aware of local protocol and that we wouldn’t just get access to the royal site. We did not have a map and local people we asked said they did not know where the royal krall was located although on reflection I feel they were being very protective and suspicious of outsiders. At most we hoped to leave with a few stories about the royal family and the Rain Queen in particular.
We firstly visited Modjadji nature reserve which has a proliferation of huge, magnificent and ancient palm trees – unfortunately the beauty and tranquillity of the whole area was temporarily spoilt somewhat by a loud music system which was being tested for a surprise 60th birthday party which was being hosted in the reserve that afternoon.
On leaving we asked a member of staff for directions to the Rain Queen’s krall. Although she was not clear about its’ precise location, it became apparent to us that we had passed it somewhere on the hill leading up to the nature reserve. We drove back down the hill and made what we thought was an arbitrary stop into a local tavern and asked for directions. Again local people said they did not know, but a man pointed out another local man whom we approached. He turned out to be one of the Modjadji princes and a key member of the royal family. Although he quite rightly appeared cautious about our intentions, he quickly opened up and was extremely gracious and generous towards us. He took us behind the tavern into the Royal krall – we had actually been standing on royal ground and hadn’t realised it!
He explained the history of the Rain Queens, introducing us to outer courtyard and pointing out the three stones where the traditional court ‘sits’ to arbitrate local disputes. He told us about the unexpected death of the sixth and last Queen after reigning for only two years. She was aged 27 years when she died and now her small daughter is being looked after until she is old enough to assume the position – a Regent is currently in place. He took us into the main compound and we were able to see the Queen’s hut, the original palace and the new palace. It felt magical and awe inspiring – we were totally overwhelmed by what had unexpectedly opened up to us. We thanked our ancestors and the angels for guiding us to this sacred place and for allowing us to experience something which probably not many of us have witnessed and /or are still around to tell the tale.
Ancient palms at Modjadji Nature Reserve
The Krall or homestead of the Modjaji Queen