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Ansisters Event August 2005


Detail from the performance 'Patterns Outside My Head' by Janine Lewis, Rantebeng Makapan and Bonisile Nxumalo. As part of the FACE Ansisters 2005 event, Constitution Hill, Johannesburg.

Copyright © FACE 2005.
All rights reserved.

studio : participants : chris diedericks




Chris Diedericks





Bowl ritual in Modjadji's cycad forest



Where has exploring the theme of 'ansisters' taken you?

The theme Ansisters took me back to my early childhood, specifically a very bad memory, and my mother's role (silence) in this. Physically the project took me back to the Northern Province, to re-visit Modjadji's Cycad Forest...Interesting that she (Modjadji) is the reigning queen of a matriarchal kingdom (queen Dom???) It is here, in Modjadji’s secret garden, where I performed my bowl ritual, and where tremendous healing took place.


What are your thoughts on the world we've inherited from our ansisters?

The world inherited from our ansisters, is one of silence. Women, during my childhood were obedient, silenced, and severely marginalised. These women would rather assume roles as peacemakers, rather than taking action to change/rectify certain unacceptable behaviours in their direct family/community/society. As a little boy, subjected to sexual abuse, my mother, due to her inherited/assigned role of silence, ignored the terrible reality of her twin brother sexually abusing her own son. She rather assumed the role of healer. Like Mojadji, the rain queen, she became a mystical healer, and her quiet power rescued me eventually from the abuse. Also, I assume that women in a forced position of silence have to commit some kind of emotional suicide (Modjadji), in order to deal with their roles as subservient wives. I personally feel that many women are to blame, even today, for never challenging this status quo. Young females are generally a lot more aware of their “assigned” roles in society (wives, mothers, sex objects), and rather prefer an equal partner. In many societies however, this might be a complete sweeping statement, and might only be true of younger professional, well-educated women.


Do you feel you have a message from your predecessors? Or have you come to some insight in the process of investigating them? If so, what is it?

I very definitely have a message from my female predecessors. Patriarchy, as known to Western society, failed; are we are possibly entering a more maternal period again? Men are slowly re-discovering their female attributes, and moreover realise that being male is a mere biological difference from women, and not an automatic position of power/dominance. The so-called “Metro man” is a good example of a new mindset amongst younger men. Only, now, approximately two years after my mother’s passing, I discovered that she too, was operating from a position of power, an emotional power, often much stronger than our traditional male understanding of a physical power. However, I am on the other hand witnessing a new kind of power, this time from women in new power positions, and I think to myself, biological differences only? I want to believe that we are equal, male and female, and that money, and the capitalist society we live in, assign power to people, irrespective of their gender. Were some women in the past rendered “powerless” due to the fact that they did not earn “real” money? Maybe our power-/money hungry/over achieving society is to blame, and this society as we know it, is the direct result of Patriarchy. In the light of the above, I came to the realisation that my mother was indeed a powerful person, a saviour, not by force, but through kindness and love.


Why do you engage in this creative collaboration?

I suppose I am participating Ansisters to find answers about myself, and my relationship with my mother heart. I also see the collaboration as a form of healing, hopefully not only for me, but also for other men in the same position – specifically trying to understand the role of the silent mother in the situation of abuse in the family (male and female). I also find it disconcerting that the fact that boys and men can be raped, was only acknowledged by society very recently.


What are you hoping to communicate through your intended artwork?

I want to communicate understanding and personal growth through the acts of forgiving and healing through my artwork.


Please describe this artwork/production/play/song/series of poems that you are busy with.

My work will be a large sepia tone giclée cut-out of my mother mounted on a wooden panel, with real images/photographs, of childhood memory, nailed to the main image. The act of nailing images into the image of my beloved mother becomes a symbolic reference to forgiveness/healing/setting free. (Christ on the cross?) My documented bowl ritual, in full colour, mounted on small round wooden panels, will form a perfect circle around the main image, almost like a massive halo, protecting the image and memory in the centre, like magic candles protect innocents from evil. The completed work will become a wall-mounted installation.


How has your creative journey before this project prepared you for taking part in this?

My creative journey in the past almost always involved a better understanding of the inexorable world we live in, myself, and my sexual orientation, and. I furiously searched for answers about my traumatic, but otherwise happy childhood. (What an oxymoron...) This work, Dancing in Mama Modjadji’s Secret Garden is undoubtedly the result of this journey, and in a way a catharsis, a turning point in my creative life. I now have an intense urge to create beauty, I feel that I have faced my childhood demons, and want to dance, sing and celebrate life, through my own creative process.


Please tell us a little more about where you've been, what you've done creatively speaking.

(Chris Diedericks is an accomplished and internationally recognised South African artist. Apart from pushing out exhibitions at a prolific rate, Chris teaches creative process at tertiary level.)


Some notes on Modjadji...

The Balobedu of Modjadji

The Balobedu of Modjadji originally migrated southward from Zimbabwe and has occupied their present domain for the past 400 years approximately. They are renowned for their female rulers, the mystical rain queens. It is traditionally accepted that the Balobedu queen has the powers of rainmaking and is still regarded as the most famous rainmaker on the subcontinent. Fear of her powers has always restrained both internal opposition and any attack from outside. Even the mighty Shaka, king of the amaZulu, treated her with great respect and paid her tribute.

The rain queen Modjadji still is the focal point and strength of the Kingdom. The permanent Balobedu population, determined at 40 000 in 1982, is strongly heterogeneous. It is essentially a federation of smaller groups united by their common alliance to the queen. The political power resides in the minority group descended from the original Balobedu with the bush pig as totem. The majority is descended from immigrants of different Northern Sotho and Shangaan tribes. These have largely assimilated with the central minority group culturally, although retaining their original totems. The tribal designation is Balobedu ba gaModjadji, and the central tribal village is Sehlakong in the district of Balobedu.

It is normally believed that the rain queen, Modjadji, is not permitted to marry. According to Lobedu tradition, however, marriage does take place in the sense that Modjadji is seen as a “man” who marries a woman from every headman ship in the kingdom. These “wives” reside in the royal village. Men from the nobility father their children. The biological fathers, may not claim fatherhood, since Modjadji is seen as the father” Traditionally the rain queen was expected, in her old age, to pass on her secrets to her successor and then to commit ritual suicide. Missionaries to break this tradition prevailed upon Modjadji III, who came in power in 1896, and she died of old age in February 1959, aged eighty-six. Although some of the traditional customs have become obsolete, the sacred drums may still be heard on special occasions, and when the Balobodu appear before their queen, they still do so barefooted and in a kneeling position. To her people Modjadji is still a mystical ruler whose powers and health are vital to the nation. As in bygone years, she is still held in high esteem as rain queen of the Balobedu tribe.


Moetapele Wa Modjadji

Tradition dictates that the rain queen of Modjadji does not appear in public, and that a male member from the royal family always be appointed as proxy to act for her. The Balobedu knows him as Moetapele, and his appointment is authorised by the queen by resolution of her private council, all members of which belong to the royal family. Seniority and loyalty to the queen strongly influence their choice of a proxy. He has no original powers or obligations, apart from those delegated by the queen, and he is expected to report to the queen regularly since all decisions taken at tribal and local government meetings must be sanctioned by her.

Ever since it became customary for the Balobedu of Modjadji to be ruled by a female ruler, the proxy of the late queen has acted as regent during the interim period of mourning. The Balobedu knows the regent as “the holder of the axe” called “Moswaraseepe”. The present proxy is Michael Modjadji, who acts for the rain queen Modjadji V, also known as Mokope. Michael Modjadji succeeded Max Modjadji who had been appointed as proxy for Modjadji IV, known as Makoma.

Source: Prinsloo, M.W. 1983. Inheemse Publiekreg in Lebowa. Pretoria (Van Schaik)

Posted 19 June 2005,, author: Chris Deidericks.