Lobedu people

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A Lobedu man undergoing the vuhwêra rite of passage, 1938
A Lobedu man spinning wild cotton, c.1937
Clay vessels in a Lobedu village, 1975, by which time they were only used for ritual purposes

Balobedu (BaLodzwi/Bathobolo) is a southern African tribe and an ethnic group of the Northern Sotho group. They were initially known as BaKwebo (wild pigs).The name "bolobedu" means place of tribute, go loba/lobela. Hence BaLobedu are people who receive tribute from others.They have their own kingdom, the Balobedu Kingdom, within the Limpopo Province of South Africa with a female ruler, the Rain Queen Modjadji.

The population of BaLobedu numbers around 2 million. It is estimated that around 30%-40% of Northern Sotho speakers are of Lobedu ethnicity.Their population is distributed in around Mopani and Vhembe regions of Limpopo. Some are found in Gauteng as labour migrants especially in Tembisa and Alexandra townships. The majority of Northern Sotho people living in Tembisa are BaLobedu.


Their language is known as Lobedu, KheLobedu or Khelovedu, which is a "non-Pedi" dialect of Northern Sotho. Khelovedu is grammatically similar to other Sotho–Tswana languages and Tshivenda. Khelovedu is also similar to the TshiGuvhu and TshiIlafuri dialects of TshiVenda. Mutual intelligibility between these Venda dialects and Khelovedu is so high that speakers of this Venda dialects can effectively communicate with Khelovedu speakers without difficulty. A TshiGuvhu speaker can understand a Khelovedu speaker so easily, or vice versa, Khelovedu could have easily been classified as a Venda dialect or an independent language. For example, Northern Sotho and its parent dialect Sepedi have a higher mutual intelligibility with Southern Sotho and Setswana than with Khelovedu.

Most Khelovedu speakers only learn to speak Northern Sotho at school, as such Northern Sotho is only a second or third language and foreign to them like English and Afrikaans. Until recently, Khelovedu existed only in an unwritten form, and the standard Northern Sotho language and orthography was usually used for teaching and writing. As of 2018, a Khelovedu dictionary is being compiled and a specific Khilovedu orthography is also in the process of being developed.


There are three sub-groups of the Lobedu:

  • BaLobedu Ba Ga Modjadji (BaLobedu ba Ha Modjadji), which is the main group of BaLobedu and is led by the Royal House of Modjadji
  • BaLobedu Ba Ga Sekgopo (Balobedu Ba Ha Sekhopo), which are located at Ga-Sekgopo Village. They separated from the main group of BaLobedu in the late 1700s when the first female ruler of BaLobedu was crowned.
  • BaLobedu Ba Ga Mamaila (BaLobedu ba Ha Mmamaila), which was founded by Prince Mmamaila elder brother of Modjadji I, who objected to being ruled by women. He was one of the eldest sons of the last male rulers of BaLobedu, King Mokodo Mohale of the Royal House of Mohale of BaKwebo as BaLobedu where then known. This tribe is located at around Ga-Mamaila and Sekhosese township an area known as Boroka which means north in Khelovedu.


The Balobedu originally migrated south from present day Zimbabwe and Egypt to their present location in South Africa. The central tribal village is Khethakoni in the district of Balobedu. This Kalanga migrants consisted of the Mokwebo, who are the ancestors of all wild pig clans (va ana golove/ba bina kolobe) like Mamabolo Ramafalo and Modjadji, the Nengwekhulu, who are ancestors of all elephant clans (Ditlou) and the Ramabulana, ancestors of the other elephant clans (Ditlou), are also uncles of the Nengwekhulus. All BaLobedu are descended from these three groups BaKwebo, Nengwekhulu and Ramabulana. The rest of the people are descendants of East Sotho or BaLaudi refugees and indigenous South Venda groups like BaNgona. As a results the most common animal totems among BaLobedu are the wild pig (Goloe/Kolobe) and the elephant (Dou/Tlou).

The wild pig clans (Dikolobe) are the Modjadji, Mabulana, Mohale, Mahasha, Mokwebo, Mampeule, Thobela and Ramafalo all this are descendants of the ancient Mokwebo (wild pig) royal house. All Chiefs in Bolobedu are of the wild pig clans with the exception of the chiefs of Ga-Wally (Ha-Wale). The elephant clan are Rabothata, Selowa (Khelowa/Tshilowa/Shilowa), Shai, Matlou (Ma₫ou), Mabulana and Maenetja, these are the descendants of the ancient royal house of Nengwekhulu.

The BaLobedu/BaLotswi are more closely related to the Rozwi Kingdom started by Changamire Dombo, rather than Mwene Mutapa as has been widely believed.As they were migrating southward, another splinter went South-East. The Northeran Rozvi/Lozei are found in the present day Zambia in Livingston. They settled alongside the Zambezi River Banks day establish it as Musioa-thunya(storms that thunders), present day Victoria falls. 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 and Egyptian connections of the Rozvi.


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 a male initiation ceremony called Moroto. The female initiation ceremony is called Dikhopa.

Balobedu have their own way of praising and talking to their God through Dithugula. They sit next to a traditionally designed circle in their homes and start calling the names of their ancestors.

Traditional rulers[edit]

Queen Makobo Modjadji VI

The Lobedu 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 around 150 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 (though their role is more akin to what those in the West would call 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.

The Rain Queen was referenced in literature as a basis for H. Rider Haggard's novel She.

List of rulers of Balobedu[edit]

  1. Queen Maselekwane Modjadji I (1800-1854)
  2. Queen Masalanabo Modjadji II (1854-1894)
  3. Queen Khesethoane Modjadji III (1895-1959)
  4. Queen Makoma Modjadji IV (1959-1980)
  5. Queen Mokope Modjadji V (1981-2001)
  6. Queen Makobo Modjadji VI (2003-2005)
  7. Prince Regent Mpapada Modjadji (2007-2018)
  8. Queen Masalanabo II Modjadji VII (2018-), Recognised by South African Government in 2017

Notable people[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • 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.

External links[edit]