Changing the Seasons With "The Rain Queen"

South African Rainmaking Ceremony of the Lovedu Tribe

Figure 1: Three different views of South Africa.



The Lovedu tribe of South Africa believes that heat is an evil, destructive force.  They also believe that rain is the material source of happiness and spiritual well-being.  Rain gives the Lovedu a sense of security.  The Rain Queen is the rain-maker and transformer of the clouds.  She holds more power than any other member of the society.  In order to ensure that rain falls on time and that there are no droughts, the Lovedu people approach the Queen with cattle heads and dancers in an attempt to invoke pity.  This has become an annual tradition, and on October 22 the Lovedu perform the Rainmaking Ceremony to please the Rain Queen.  The ceremony gives insight to the importance of rain and the Rain Queen in their society.



Figure 2: A South African valley in need of Queen Modjadji's "potions." Figure 3: A photo of the legendary Queen.


One of the most important South African celebrations is the Rainmaking Ceremony of the Lovedu Tribe. Rain is the center of the agricultural cycle, giving it immediate importance in the Lovedu society. The Lovedu believe that “The Rain Queen” is a rain-maker, and the transformer of the clouds. They also believe in the regularity of the seasons, meaning if the rain is not falling in October then the Queen must be approached. To ensure rainfall each and every year, the Lovedu people summon the powers of the Queen annually on October 22 (Ikageng 2004:1). They do this by approaching the Queen with gifts and dancing performers in order to invoke pity. The Rainmaking Ceremony demonstrates the Lovedu Tribe's strong belief in the power of their Queen as their protector from evil, demonstrating her importance as the ultimate figure in their belief system.


Context of South Africa

The country South Africa is located at the southern tip of the continent Africa . South Africa 's terrain consists of a large interior plateau that is surrounded by rugged hills and a narrow coastal plain. The climate is mostly semiarid and subtropical along the east coast. South Africa has sunny days and cool nights.

  The Union of South Africa was a result of the Boer War of 1899 (World Factbook 2004: 1). The British defeated the Boers (Dutch settlers) in this war and operated South Africa under a policy of apartheid. Under the apartheid, blacks were separated from the whites. They were isolated to homelands and overcrowded townships. This apartheid ruled South Africa until Nelson Mandela forced constitutional reform following his release from jail in 1990.

  In 1991, The Population Registration Act was revoked. This act classified South Africans by race and was the cornerstone of the apartheid. Nelson Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, and was elected President of South Africa in 1994 (National Geographic 2004: 1). The country regained active membership in the British Commonwealth and the United Nations.


Origins of The Rainmaking Ceremony

The Queen is a real person.  Like any other human being, the Queen eventually will die, when the current Queen passes on, her powers are passed on to a daughter or whomever she may choose as her successor.  Whomever the current Queen is at the time, her powers are thought to be the cause of any drought or any lack of rain.  If there is a lack of rain, the Lovedu people approach her.  She is approached by "royal relatives with gifts of cattle heads and with dancers in order to please her and to invoke pity for these dancers that should be hoeing" (Lovedu 1999: 66).  While the powers of rainmaking have been around much longer, the first time the Queen was approached with dancers and cattle heads is 1937 when rains did not come until December.  This ritual began happening more and more often, especially near the start of every rainy season in October.  Pleasing the Queen is necessary for the Lovedu society to function normally, making the ceremony an annual tradition in their society.



The gifts of cattle heads are significant to the ritual; however, the dancing performers ( gosha ) hold the most significance. The most renowned form of dancing for rain is the legobathele (Krige 1943: 272). This is a special kind of gosha , using slower and more dignified movements. The legobathele is performed with a light drumming and various tones from a reed pipe. Dancing is the most effective element in invoking the Queen's pity, making it an effective tool in the Rainmaking Ceremony.



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Figure 4: Dancers dressed for the Queen. 




Prognosis for The Rainmaking Ceremony

The Rainmaking Ceremony has increased in popularity over the years, and is at a crucial point in its existance right now.  Queen Modjaji's twenty-year reign came to an end when she died at the age of sixty four (Economist 2001: 64).  Thsi would not be as significant had her daughter not died a few days before her.  A new Rain Queen will be appointed, and with the significance of rain in the tribe, the ceremony should continue to be a key element in the existance of the Lovedu people.



The Rain Queen holds immense significance in the lives of the Lovedu people.  The Rainmaking Ceremony helps give insight to the religious beliefs of the Lovedu people.  Nature is a very important element in their society, and more specifically rain is a symbol of well-being and the material source of happiness.  The Rainmaking Ceremony is the way which the Lovedu people ensure annual rainfall.  Each year on October 22, the Lovedu take part in an old tradition to help bring rain, the most important material in the society, to their towns on time.


Internet References Cited


Peer-Reviewed References Cited

  • --

    2001 Rain Queen dies at 64.  Economist.  82

  • Jones, Ann

    1998 Finding the Lovedu.  Women's Review of Books.  11-12

  • Krige, Jensen E and J.D. Krige

    1943 The Realm of the Rain Queen. International Institute of African Languages and Cultures.  271-284.

  • --

    1999 Lovedu of the Transvaal.  African Worlds.  55-82.

  • McNeil, Donald G.

    1998 Even in a Rain Queen's Live, some rain must Fall.  New York Times.  p 4.

  • Turner, Victor and Edith Turner

    1982 Religious Celebrations.  201-219.


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