Ancestral Voices | The lineage of Modjadji’s tribe

The collection is made up of 891 writings in seven indigenous languages, from writers who were obviously anxious to preserve the history and culture of their people for future generations. Picture: Supplied
The collection is made up of 891 writings in seven indigenous languages, from writers who were obviously anxious to preserve the history and culture of their people for future generations. Picture: Supplied


SA Heritage Publishers, in cooperation with the University of Pretoria, has come across rare writings in seven of South Africa’s indigenous languages. The writings cover history, divination, traditional medicine, agriculture, and village and hut construction. Their translation will be a cornerstone in the preservation of the history and culture of our people. They arguably represent the greatest indigenous language historical and cultural treasure that our country possesses. #Trending will be bringing you a translation over the four Sundays in Heritage Month.

In its research for stories to be included in South Africa’s leading heritage series, Our Story, which City Press has been running extracts from for the past few months, SA Heritage Publishers discovered a collection of writings that can only be described as a treasure trove of South African culture and history.

The collection is made up of 891 writings in seven indigenous languages – siSwati and isiNdebele were not written languages at the time the works were compiled – written between 1930 and 1950 by 187 people in their mother tongues.

READ: Ancestral Voices | The story of Bertie Ncaphayi

It is estimated that there are between 15 000 and 20 000 typewritten A4 pages in the collection.

The writers range from the well-known author and journalist RRR Dhlomo to a number of named but unknown South Africans.

Many were educators. All of them were obviously anxious to preserve the history and culture of their people for future generations. You, the reader, are but one of the generations for whom they wrote.

This is an extract from a work written in Khelobedu in January 1940 by J Modiba. It provides interesting insights into the history of the Rain Queen and the Balobedu.

The tribe name

The name of the tribe is Balobedu. The first king was Makgapele, who was known as Phetole II. He was succeeded by King Mohale III. Mohale was succeeded by King Seale IV. Seale was succeeded by King Bokoto tša Banna V. Thereafter, Queen Modjadji VI ruled the Balobedu tribe. She is Queen Masalanabo. The seventh queen is Queen Modjadji, whose birth name is Sewele. They use a pig as their totem.

It is not known where Queen Makgapele was born. King Mohale was born in Kgamelone. Seale was born in Kgamelone. Mokoto was born in Lenakwi, Radjadji was born in Lebyene, Masalanabo was born in Sekgatini, Sewele was born in Setlakong. Mohale is the son of Phetole. Seale is the son of Mohale. Mokoto is the son of Seale. Radjadji is the son of Mokoto. Masalanabo is the son of Katiba. Sewele is the daughter of Ragafa.

READ: Delve into these fascinating translations from our ancestors

King Mohale fought with the Baseoka in a war and defeated them. Seale participated in a war, but it was Mokoto who fought with Modjadji. Modjadji fought with Marene. Masalanabo fought with Mampye. The current Modjadji is not involved in fights.

Queen Mokoto is a Moatlape. Queen Masalanabo is a Modjadji. The current queen of Balobedu is Legakgale. These women are members of the Balobedu tribe.

King Mohale stayed in Lenokwoe. King Seale stayed in Lebyene, but he originally came from Lenokwoe. King Mokoto also stayed in Lebyene. King Modjadji stayed in Sehlakong, and from there he relocated to Sekutine. King Masalanabo also stayed in Sekutine.


During the reign of Masalanabo, there was an incident of sedumedisananedi – a star with a tail – on the western side of the night sky. It was said that this was an indication that someone popular would be killed; this was true because, on that day, Matlakana was killed.

The Batobolo tribe was one of the first tribes that came to Modjadji. They came just after famine hit the Modjadji people. After King Modjadji’s reign, the Batoka people from Chaagane arrived in Modjadji.

Balobedu kings were independent until today. The Modjadji area stretched from Letaba to Moeketse. Today, many people do not know who the kings of Modjadji were. People do not even know who their ancestors were who lived in this land in ancient times. Only a few people know about this. The Balobedi married among themselves.

Star with a tail Sedumedisananedi

It is no longer known where the grave of King Makgapele, better known as Phetole, is. Nobody knew where his grave was except for King Mohale. Mohale died in Lenokoe, while Seale died in Lebyeni. Mokoto died in Lebyeni. It is no longer known where their graves are, but it is suspected that they might be in a place called Badimong.

Modjadji died in Sekgotini. Masalanabo died in Sekgotini. Badimong is the sacred place which was visited by the royal family during the time of hunger to report to the ancestors about the living conditions of that time. The expectation was that the ancestors would heal the land of hunger, and bring about a land of plenty and success.

The clans that are found in Modjadji are the Magasha, Modika Rele, Malematša, Mabulana and that of Mosata. These are the bigger clans which belong to the royal family. These clans belong to one family. All of them use the pig as a totem. They are Bakwebo.

Separation of the clans

All these clans originate from one big clan. These people are not Baroka, but the Balobedu. They are members of the royal family, not messengers or traditional doctors.

They have horns that they use to call the rain. This traditional practice is performed during the dry season to ask the ancestors to bring the rain. This practice is performed by the chiefs or even the king himself.

The following are the names of the villages and mountains in Modjadji: Sekgota, Maraka, Manopi, Makgere, Raselaka, Tlatša, Kgonopi, Mabulana, Moshaga, Kweke, Sefuloe, Bokanae, Lebyeni, Seopeni, Magowa, Manyaboweni, Mmamatsera, Setloka, Modume, Sekgobikwe, Sekgoti, Kgeishi, Motuopa, Mmopye, Thapane, Mankgele, Komane, Setune and Kgabapi.

Bananas were called moova in Modjadji
Bananas were called moova in Modjadji

The origin of bananas in Modjadji

During Masalanabo’s reign, a group of Venda people visited the Modjadji area. They fled from the warriors of Sewawa. They settled in Modjadji for a long period as they were waiting for the warriors to leave their land. They later returned to Venda and came back to Modjadji with cut banana trees. Bananas, which were called moova, were then planted for the first time in the land of Modjadji. When the Balobedu saw what was happening, many people in the Modjadji area did not approve of what the Venda people were doing.

They were surprised by the activities of a man known as Makgopa, who was planting banana trees all over the area. He was paid with sorghum beer. The Modjadji people did this because they were afraid that if Makgopa was not given something as payment, he would not be encouraged to take care of the banana trees that he had planted and the trees would ultimately die. Afterwards, the Modjadji had plenty of banana trees. People then realised that the banana fruit was delicious. They learnt that the tree should only be planted in a wet area, especially in rainforests. They were warned that birds could eat the delicious crop so they would need to be extra cautious.


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