The far north-eastern corner of South Africa is a treasure trove of culture and natural wonders. A long, long time ago, it became the home of migrant groups of people from central and eastern parts of Africa, who came here seeking peace and sanctuary. In this ‘pleasant land’: Venda, they found high mountains, peaceful valleys, an abundance of clear water and beautiful forests. In the silence of these forests many legends were born, legends of the spirits of the water and the sacred guardians of hidden lakes and of ancient burial places.
In the mountainous area north of what today is know as Magoebaaskloof, a group of people called the Lobedu settled. Their formed their own, unique society and a tale of incest and strife, mysticism and ritual led to the formation of the secretive royal house of the Rain Queen Modjadi. The Lobedu tribe is one of the few matrilineal dynasties in the world, with hundred years of unbroken succession of queens (although right now, the tribe is ruled by a caretaker monarch until the Crown Princess comes of age). The Rain Queen is believed to have the ability to control clouds and rain, and has been an important figure throughout South Africa’s past. Shaka Zulu sent his emissaries to her to ask for her blessings, and Nelson Mandela was very close to the former Queen Mokope Modjadi.
The Queen’s royal compound is surrounded by a dense forest of ancient cycads: a plant that remains much like it was in prehistoric times when dinosaurs roamed the earth. The Modjadi Cycad is endemic, and does not grown anywhere else in the world. While the Rain Queen herself is rarely seen (not even by her subjects), the Modjadi Cycad Reserve is well worth a visit.
Travellers can stay overnight in the Modjadi Cultural Camp, in well-appointed self-catering rondavels. The guides all come from the Lobedu Tribe, and can tell you many stories about the history and the present of the Rain Queen. It is also possible to visit the Modjadi Cycad Reserve as a day trip.