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The Dance of Gesar of Ling
By Ana Fuentes
The Dance of The Lobedu
By Lori Waselchuck

In the small village of Modjadji in the Northern Province of South Africa lives the mystical Queen Modjadji V, the only ruling queen in Southern Africa. Queen Modjadji, or the Rain Queen as most people know her, is the fifth of her line. She and her predecessors have ruled the Lobedu people for nearly 200 years.

All the Modjadji queens have been feared because they are believed to have the power to make rain. Since her reign began, no one has challenged or invaded Lobedu land. Not a single African king wants to earn her wrath fearing that they would be punished with draught.

The mysticism that surrounds the rain queen is fuelled by her isolation. Modjadji cannot leave her kraal and very few people outside her royal village have seen her.

In May, 1998, Michael Modjadji, brother of the fifth rain queen, died. He was the queen's closest relative and proxy. Because she cannot leave her home, he represented her at public meetings and in governmental business.
When a member of the royal family dies, the entire Lobedu nation mourns, and it is the women of this matriarchal society who dance away the grief.

For months after the death, every Saturday evening hundreds of women head for the queen's kraal in packed minibuses and lorries. Villages representing five or six of the queen's headmen come to mourn with their queen. The dancing starts at around 8pm and continues until morning light.

It is a woman's obligation to dance at the sacred kraal. After a death in the Modjadji's family, each Lobedu village turns its drums upside down. Until they come to dance, the villages cannot play their drums and they cannot dance at home.

If the women of a village do not make the pilgrimage to the queen's kraal, they may not dance at any other traditional function and the village's drum must stay silent.

© Images and text by Lori Waselchuck