Balobedu (ba Lobedu ba gaModjadji) is a southern African tribe of the Northern Sotho group. They have their own kingdom, the Balobedu Kingdom, within the Limpopo Province of South Africa with a female ruler, the Rain Queen Modjadji.
Their language is known as Khelobedu, which is a "non-Pedi" dialect of Northern Sotho. Khelobedu is grammatically similar to other Sotho–Tswana languages and Tshivenda, nowadays the Khelobedu is becoming more similar to the Northern Sotho which is used as the standard in education. The Balobedu are situated between Tsonga and Northern Sotho speaking people. Khelobedu has become more and more similar to Sesotho since the language of the schools in the region is Northern Sotho. However, the Balobedu culture originated in the north, in what is now Zimbabwe, and their language contains sounds that do not exist in Sesotho.
The Balobedu originally migrated south from Zimbabwe to their present location in South Africa. The central tribal village is Khehlakone in the district of Balobedu.
The BaLobedu/BaLotswi are more closely related to the Rozwi Kingdom started by Changamire Dombo, rather than Mwene Mutapa as has been widely believed. They have the praise lines Sai/Shai and Dewa, and call themselves the people of Thobela, which is the same as the Rozvi/Kalanga. The rainmaking powers of Queen Modjadji are also synonymous with the Njelele Shrine in BuLozvi/SiLozvi (in present day Matabeleland, Zimbabwe) and it is therefore accepted that there is an intertwining of their history with the rest of the Rozvi. Linguists have listed Lobedu together with Kalanga, Nambya (a dialect of Kalanga), Venda, Lemba, Shankwe, Nyubi (an extinct Shona dialect) and Karanga, as a language of the Rozvi, and consequently connects them to their history. Their rainmaking history is tied by some to the claimed Jewish connections of the Rozvi. Northern Sotho which encompasses Khelobedu and Sepedi, makes them sound more familiar despite their tones, as both are of similar derivation.
Balobedu have their own traditional dances called khekhapa for women and dinaka for men. Dinaka is a traditional dance of all the Northern Sotho speaking people covering such areas as gaSekhukhune, gaDikgale and Bolobedu.
Balobedu have their own way of praising and talking to their God. They sit next to a traditionally designed circle in their homes and start calling the names of their ancestors.
They have female rulers known as "Rain Queens". The queen is believed to have powers to make rain. The Balobedu Kingdom consists of a number of small groups tied together by their queen. On 12 June 2005, Queen Makobo Modjadji died, leaving no clear successor acceptable to all members of the Queen's Council. The late queen's brother has served as regent since then.
The area of Balobedu consists of many villages and every village has a male or female ruler who represents Modjadji, the rain queen.
The Rain Queen was historically known as an extremely powerful magician who was able to bring rain to her friends and drought to her enemies. Visitors to the area always brought her gifts and tribute, including cattle and their daughters as wives (more accurately thought of in the West as ladies-in-waiting), to appease her so that she would bring rain to their regions. The name Lobedu is thought to derive from this practice, referring to the daughters or sisters who were lost to their families. The rain queen extends her influence through her wives, because they link her politically to other families or villages.
- Krige, E. Jensen and J. D. Krige. The Realm of a Rain-Queen: A Study of the Pattern of Lovedu Society. London: Oxford University Press, 1943.