QUEEN RANAVALONA I (1778 – August 16, 1861) 

Ranavalona I (born Rabodoandrianampoinimerina; 1778 – August 16, 1861), also known as Ramavo and Ranavalo-Manjaka I, was the sovereign ruler of the Kingdom of Madagascar from 1828 to 1861. After positioning herself as queen following the death of her young husband and second cousin, Radama I, Ranavalona pursued a policy of isolationism and self-sufficiency, reducing economic and political ties with European powers, repelling a French attack on the coastal town of Foulpointe, and taking vigorous measures to eradicate the small but growing Malagasy Christian movement initiated under Radama I by members of the London Missionary Society. She made heavy use of the traditional practice of fanompoana (forced labor as tax payment) to complete public works projects and develop a standing army of between 20,000 and 30,000 Merina soldiers, whom she deployed to pacify outlying regions of the island and further expand the realm. The combination of regular warfare, disease, difficult forced labor and harsh measures of justice resulted in a high mortality rate among soldiers and civilians alike during her 33-year reign. Although greatly obstructed by Ranavalona’s policies, French and British political interests in Madagascar remained undiminished. Divisions between traditionalist and pro-European factions at the queen’s court created opportunities that European intermediaries exploited in an attempt to hasten the succession of Ranavalona’s son, Radama II. The young prince disagreed with many of his mother’s policies and was amenable to French proposals for the exploitation of the island’s resources, as expressed in the Lambert Charter he concluded with a French representative in 1855. These plans were never successful, however, and Radama II was not to take the throne until 1861, when Ranavalona died aged 83.- Wikipedia; Ranavalona 1


Queen Ranavalona 1


Her Story

Ranavalona I was born as Rabodoandrianampoinimerina  in 1778 to Prince Andriantsalamanjaka and Princess Rabodonandriantompo at Ambatomanoina east of Antananarivo. She started out life as a girl named Ramavo who lived as a commoner with her parent when Andrianjafy was forced from the throne at the royal city of Ambohimanga After years of internal warfare, and many of the warring tribes were finally united under the leadership of the King Andrianampoinimerina (1787–1810) bringing peace and prosperity to the Kingdom of Merina. This was at a period when most of African empires have fallen to the guns and bombs of the Europeans but for centuries, Madagascar was virtually unknown to foreign invaders. By the 18th century, this unspoiled and untamed land was discovered by European explorers who scrambled to claim the prime estate as their very own. For the English, Madagascar was the perfect pit-stop on the long voyage to India while the French were eager to add Madagascar to their already burgeoning African portfolio.

King Andrianampoinimerina in his wisdom believed that learning from these foreigners would help his kingdom, his people but the traditionalists and the priests were not so keen on this idea and so were against it. His uncle took it one step further by trying to assassinate him but Prince Andriantsalamanjaka; Ramavo’s father got wind of this assassination plot and so he alerted the king who moved swiftly to foil this plan and executed all the people involved. To say ‘thank you’ saving his life, the King decided to adopt Ramavo as his daughter, bringing her to court and in addition, he arranged for her to marry his own son,  Prince Radama whom the king had designated as his heir and furthermore he declared that any child from this union between his son and Ramavo would be first in the line of succession after  Radama. However, despite she was the first and highly ranked among the royal wives, Ramavo was not the preferred wife of Radama and did not bear him any children as He paid little attention to her.

Upon King Andrianampoinimerina‘s death in 1810, Prince Radama succeeded his father as king. There were lots of arguments between Ramavo and her husband who agreed with his father’s policies, especially when it comes to foreigners. The relationship between Radama and Ramavo may have become strained following Radama’s execution of a number of potential opponents (amongst who were Ramavo’s relatives) in order to secure his succession upon Andrianampoinimerina’s death. Unable to find satisfaction in her loveless marriage, Ramavo became increasingly frustrated at her inability to check her husband’s modernization ideas. He was eager to bring his country into the 19th century. King Radama began to allow more foreigners onto the island, particularly British missionaries, who began efforts to convert the natives to Christianity. They built schools, and helped to develop a written language. Ramavo watched in horror as the new religion slowly took root threatening the worship of the Malagasy gods. In July 1828, King Radama died after a long battle with syphilis, leaving the Kingdom without any descendants as and according to the local matrilineal custom, the rightful heir was Rakotobe, the eldest son of Radama’s eldest sister (Rakotobe was an intelligent and amiable young man, he was the first pupil to have studied at the first school established by the London Missionary Society in Antananarivo on the grounds of the royal palace).

King Radama and Ramavo had no children who could have succeeded the throne in fulfillment of the declaration of King Andrianampoinimerina on the union, This would obviously threaten Rakotobe’s claims. The smartest thing for Rakotobe to do would be to kill Ramavo—and she knew it. So when the King died in the company of two trusted courtiers who were favorable to the succession of Rakotobe, they hesitated to report the news of Radama’s death for several days, fearing possible reprisals against them for having been involved in denouncing one of the king’s rivals, whose family had a stake in succession after Radama. But Ramavo got wind of the plan to assassinate her; she mobilized her supporters which included the priests and the hard-core traditionalists. She had already befriended many people who believed in the traditional Merina (their tribe) way of life as opposed to her husband who had allowed Christian missionaries onto Madagascar, earning him many enemies, and people feared that Rakotobe would follow in his uncle’s footsteps. During this time, another courtier, a high-ranking military officer named Andriamamba, discovered the truth and discreetly transmitted the information to Ramavo, collaborated with other powerful officers; Rainijohary, Ravalontsalama and Andriamihaja (who served as her first minister and may also have been her lover and the father of her son, Rakoto, who was born 11 months after Radama’s death until he got on her bad side and was summarily executed.) – To support Ramavo’s claim to the throne. These officers hid Ramavo and one of her friends in a safe location, then secured the support of several influential power brokers, including judges and the keepers of the sampy (royal idols). Many traditionalists believed in Ramavo, and so she was able to rally enough military men to hold down the palace in those first few days after Radama’s death.  When people came to defend Rakotobe’s right to the throne, they were met with just one choice: accept Ramavo as queen or face the consequences.

In August 1828, Ramavo declared herself the successor to Radama on the pretense that he himself had decreed it, and that the gods were telling her that she was destined to be the next ruler. And so there could be no immediate resistance to her ascension to the throne. She followed the royal custom like every other ruler, systematically had all immediate rivals to the throne captured and put to death including Rakatobe, his family and other members of Radama’s family, much as Radama had done to her own family upon his succession to the throne Ramavo took the throne name “Ranavalona” (Meaning “folded”, “kept aside”) and at Her coronation ceremony which took place more than a year after the death of Radama, on August 12, 1829 she proclaimed:

“Never say, ‘she is only a feeble and ignorant woman, how can she rule such a vast empire?’ I will rule here, to the good fortune of my people and the glory of my name! I will worship no gods but those of my ancestors. The ocean shall be the boundary of my realm, and I will not cede the thickness of one hair of my realm!”

Those are strong words indeed, but whether or not Ranavalona’s rule was “good fortune” for her people remained to be seen.

Despite the fact that she overturned many of her husband’s policies, Queen Ranavalona’s rule was more like a continuation of precedent established under Radama I. Both monarchs encouraged the introduction of new technologies and forms of knowledge from foreigners as long as it is beneficial to the people of Madagascar, supported the establishment of an industrialized economy, and adopted measures to professionalize the army. Both viewed foreigners with ambivalence, establishing close personal relationships and drawing upon their expertise while enforcing restrictions on their activities to avert destabilizing changes to existing cultural and political systems. In addition, both contributed to the further development of a complex political bureaucracy that enabled the Merina court to govern remote provinces across an island larger than the Netherlands, Belgium and France combined.

“There was one European invention she had any use for, which strangely enough, was soap. When the French brought it to the island, Ranavalona became obsessed, and determined to discover how it was made. Once she obtained the recipe, she had no more use for the people who gave it to her. Like Cleopatra, Ranavalona was a master at propaganda and ritual. Once a year, she would take a public bath on her balcony. People would come from miles around to see it; it was the best ticket in town. After her bath, she would pour the water over the balcony to sprinkle the spectators. It was her way of allying herself with the ancient Malagasy gods.” Elizabeth Kerri Mahon; Queen Ranavalona I – The Mad Monarch of Madagascar (1782 – 1861)

Ranavalona’s 33-year reign as the Queen was distinguished by an ongoing struggle to strengthen the domestic authority of the Kingdom of Merina over subjugated provinces and preserve the political and cultural sovereignty of Madagascar in the face of increasing European influence, competing French and English bids for domination over the island. The fact that she was a woman ruler was not so remarkable in itself, Although female rulers had once been common among the Vazimba, described in oral histories as the original inhabitants of Madagascar, this tradition ended in the central highlands with the reign of Andriamanelo (1540-1575), founder of the Kingdom of Imerina and successor to his Vazimba mother, Queen Rafohy(1530-1540).[11] But the speed with which Ranavalona moved to consolidate her rule was quite remarkable. Her first move was the incremental steps she took to distance Madagascar from the purview of European powers by first putting an end to the treaty with Britain, then placing increasing restrictions on the activities of the missionaries of the London Missionary Society. And she would forbid the practice of Christianity among the Malagasy people and restricting foreigners to practice their religion and culture but within the confines of Malagasy laws.

“Christianity involved a repudiation of the ancestral customs of the country, established by previous monarchs who were her ancestors. The queen’s legitimacy depended entirely on her relation to her predecessors, who had given the kingdom to her. Furthermore… she was queen because she was the descendant of the royal ancestors, who were in a mystical sense the ancestors of all the Merina. To deny her mystical power was to repudiate not only her but also the ancestors, the quintessence of good and blessings… She was the custodian of a holy trust… Christianity was therefore treason… in Ranavalona’s words it was ‘the substitution of the respect of her ancestors, Andrianampoinimerina and Radama, for the respect of the ancestor of the whites: Jesus Christ.’ She saw the introduction of a new religion as a political act, and there is no doubt that she was right.” Maurice Bloch, From Blessing to Violence (1986), pp.18–19″

Ranavalona wanted her people to be self-sufficient as their people were becoming too dependent on the foreigners but she was wary of confrontation with the missionaries. She could not hope to prevail in a direct conflict with European powers, and she needed the income that their cottage industries generated. Divine providence brought her a French arms manufacturer whose boat was shipwrecked off the coast. He helped her to build up her arsenal, and became her lover as well. Before long Madagascar had built factories to produce guns, bullets, sugar, clothing and booze. In the tradition of many of her royal Merina predecessors,[15] the queen ruled from the royal Rova compound in Antananarivo. Between 1839 and 1842, Jean Laborde built the queen a new residence called Manjakamiadana, which became the largest structure on the Rova grounds.

Manjakamiadana Rova of Antananarivo  (The Queen’s Palace)

Jean Laborde who had swum ashore after a shipwreck in 1831. Laborde and Ranavalona may have had a romantic as well as a political relationship; he has also been proposed as the father of her son, Rakoto, the future King Radama II. More important was Laborde’s breadth of practical knowledge. An ingenious man with a broad grasp of metallurgy, munitions, and engineering, he directed the construction of a new factory town called Mantasao, some miles from the capital of Antananarivo. There he supervised the manufacture not only of guns and gunpowder for Ranavalona’s army, but also of soap, silks, ceramics, and other items for which the kingdom previously had to trade. He also directed construction of an elaborate palace for Ranavalona on a hill above Antananarivo, which was destroyed by fire in 1995.Notable Biographies; Queen of Madagascar Ranavalona I Biography

The residence was made entirely from wood and bore most of the features of a traditional home of the Merina andriana (aristocratic class), including a central pillar (andry) to support the roof. In other ways it showcased distinctly European innovations, as it contained three floors entirely surrounded by wooden verandas and incorporated dormers in the shingled roof. The palace would eventually be encased in stone in 1867 by James Cameron of the London Missionary Society during the reign of Ranavalona II. The original wooden palace of Ranavalona and virtually all other structures of the historic Rova compound were destroyed in a 1995 fire, leaving only the stone shell to mark where her palace had once stood.[16] Ranavalona maintained the tradition of ruling with the support of advisers drawn largely from the aristocratic class. The queen’s most powerful ministers were also her consorts. Her first chief adviser was a young army officer from  Namehana  named Andriamihaja, who served as First Minister from 1829 to 1830. Andriamihaja is most likely fathered the queen’s only son, Prince Rakoto (later King Radama II),[17] who was born eleven months after the death of his official father, King Radama I.[18] Andriamihaja was the leader of the queen’s court’s progressive faction, who favored maintaining the relations with Europe initiated under Radama while the brothers Rainimaharo and Rainiharo led the conservative faction and the latter being the official guardian of one of the most powerful royal sampy. These royal sampy played a major role in the spiritual life of the Merina people and were believed to embody and channel the supernatural powers of the kingship since at least the 16th century reign of Ralambo. Due to conflict of interest (Or maybe jealousy*), Andriamahaja’s progressive influence over the queen was drastically reduce in a conspiracy planned out by the conservative faction, and in no time they managed to persuade her (while highly intoxicated or maybe angry**) to sign his death warrant for charges of witchcraft and treason. In September 1830, He was captured in his home, taken to the court and mandated to take the Tangena, Andrianamihaja refused the test, and was speared in the throat as he bravely directed his executioner as to where the spear should enter his body.

The Queen’s Palace after the fire

Following Andriamihaja’s death, the conservative advisers at court grew ever closer to the queen eventually resulting in Ranavalona’s marriage to a sampy guardian and conservative figurehead Field Marshal Rainiharo (also called Ravoninahitriniarivo) of Ilafy in 1833. (Though Rainiharo gained initial access to the court through his father, Andriantsilavonandriana, a hova (commoner) who had exceptionally been accorded the privilege of joining King Andrianampoinimerina’s inner circle of noble advisers.[17]) Field Marshal Rainiharo served as the queen’s First Minister from 1830 to 1832, then Prime Minister and Commander-in-Chief from 1832 to 1852. Upon Rainiharo’s death, the queen got married to another conservative, Field Marshal Andrianisa (also called Rainijohary), who remained Ranavalona’s husband until her death in 1861. He served as Prime Minister from 1852 to 1862 before being exiled to the royal city of Ambohimanga for his part in a plot against the queen’s son, Radama II.[8]

Ranavalona was prosperous as well as powerful, she founded cities, and held off European forces who made efforts at colonizing her island, and French forces, distracted by political upheaval at home in the 1830s, had completely given up their attempts to establish a foothold in the country. Ranavalona was especially suspicious of the political and cultural effects of Christianity, which she saw as leading the Malagasy to forsake the ancestors and their traditions. In 1831, the queen enacted a ban on Christian marriages, church services and baptisms for soldiers and members of government studying in the Missionary schools,[33] and in December extended the ban on church service attendance to all Malagasy.[34] From 1832 to 1834, baptisms and church services continued, increasingly in secret.[35] During this time, several Christians each year were charged with witchcraft and exiled or made to undergo the tangena ordeal,[35] and Ranavalona requested the departure of three missionaries, retaining only those whose particular technical skills she viewed as valuable to the state.[36]  In a kabary (formal oratory speech) in February 1835, Queen Ranavalona formally forbade the practice of Christianity among her subjects. In her discourse, she was careful to differentiate between her own people, for whom the new religion was forbidden and its practice a capital offense, and foreigners, to whom she permitted freedom of religion and conscience. She furthermore acknowledged the valuable intellectual and technological contributions that European missionaries had made to the advancement of her country, and invited them to continue working to that end on the condition that their proselytizing would cease.

Her words

“To the English or French strangers: I thank you for the good that you have done in my land and my kingdom, where you have made known European wisdom and knowledge. Do not worry yourselves—I will not change the customs and rites of our ancestors. Nevertheless, whoever breaks the laws of my kingdom will be put to death—whoever he may be. I welcome all wisdom and all knowledge which are good for this country. It would be a waste of time and effort to grab the customs and rites of my ancestors. Concerning religious practice—baptism or assemblies—it is forbidden for my people who inhabit this land to take part whether on Sunday or during the week. Concerning you, foreigners, you can practice according to your own manners and customs. Nevertheless, if skilled handiwork and other practical skills exist, which can profit our people, exercise these skills that good will come. These are my instructions which I make known to you.”Ranavalomanjaka, Kabary, February 26, 1835.

And within a year nearly all foreigners had left her territory as none could cope with her style of rule (many called her the “Mad Queen of Madagascar”). In 1836, 14 Christians who had resisted orders to give up their religion were executed. Though the queen pursued a policy of self-reliance, made possible through frequent use of the long-standing tradition of fanompoana—forced labor in lieu of tax payments in money or goods.  Discipline under Queen Ranavalona was brutal as the Merina society was restored to its traditional structure and she continued the wars of expansion conducted by her predecessor, Radama I, in an effort to extend her realm over the entire island, and imposed strict punishments on those who were judged as having acted in opposition to her will. She fought off an attack from both the French navy and the British who spent considerable time and effort trying to dislodge Ranavalona from the throne due to some of her husband’s polices on foreigners which she overturned. Queen Ranavalona I was one of the few African rulers to successfully hold off colonial rule. However, it came at a high prize as Ranavalona turned to selling her own subjects into slavery in order to boost the economy of the kingdom. Those who were sold were considered traitors, prisoners of war, or Christians caught practicing their religion in secret. Due to large loss of life throughout the years of military campaigns, high death rates among fanompoana workers and harsh traditions of justice under her rule have contributed to a strongly unfavorable view of Ranavalona’s rule in historical accounts as the population of Madagascar declined drastically between 1833 and 1839, and also between 1829 and 1842 in Imerina.[13] According to 19th-century Malagasy historian Raombana, in the eyes of the greater populace, the tangena ordeal was believed to represent a sort of celestial justice in which the public placed their unquestioning faith, even to the point of accepting a verdict of guilt in a case of innocence as a just but unknowable divine mystery. More serious accusations were met with torture by progressive amputation.

Queen Ranavalona I was regarded by the Malagasy people as a ruler favored by powerful gods, and now she turned her attention to the last vestige of European influence: the Christian church. She continued with her determination to uphold customary rites and traditional beliefs and to defend her realm from the encroachment of European powers. The queen grew wary of foreigners’ influence on the island and demanded the departure of any foreigner not able to make what she deemed a valuable contribution to her country. Many foreign Christians fled, leaving their converts to face fines, imprisonment, torture, and execution. A few thousand people were thought to have been persecuted for religious reasons under Ranavalona’s rule. Understandably, Ranavalona is portrayed as a brutish tyrant by many of her contemporary European leaders. Her own people grew somewhat wary themselves, particularly as Ranavalona’s behaviour became more and more erratic. For instance, in 1845 she demanded that the entire court — along with a huge number of servants and slaves — go on a “buffalo hunt”. To make this happen, a total of 50,000 people set off on the quest to hunt buffalo, carrying with them a very few supplies of foods and possible drinks, and had to build a road as they went as per Ranavalona’s orders. There were no food supplies for the workers other than what they could extract from villages along the way, and even noblemen were forced to pay exorbitant prices for rice. As road builders fell ill and died, they were replaced by fresh recruits.”Notable Biographies; Queen of Madagascar Ranavalona I Biography

Many dropped dead from hunger and exhaustion, and it is thought that around 10,000 people died during the four-month long of the queen’s hunt in which no record that a buffalo was killed. Perhaps this “madness” of Queen Ranavalona was what motivated a combined French and English attack on Madagascar in 1849, to which they failed miserably as European sailors were surprised by a false-fronted native fort that concealed a much more substantial structure (Built by Jean Laborde). It is said that a struggle between French and English troops over a temporarily captured Malagasy flag also contributed to Ranavalona’s victory. After the battle, 21 heads were cut off from the dead Europeans, stuck them on pikes, and lined them up on the beach, warning others of their countrymen’s mistakes and to repel any future invaders. And so the two nations decided they were better off concentrating their efforts on other African Kingdoms not ruled by “insane females”.

In 1855, queen Ranavalona’s son Rakoto, entered into an agreement with a French man by the name Joseph-François Lambert who was a representative of the French on the Island. The agreement “charter” guaranteed Lambert and his business associates the first rights to the exploitation of many of the island’s commodities and natural resources. This does not go down well with Rakoto but Lambert conspired with Jean Laborde and local leaders to persuade Rakoto to sign the document written in French; a language in which the prince was not fluent — which Lambert orally translated as containing “only an account of the excessive pressures the Queen’s policies were placing on her subjects.” Rakoto, who was sympathetic toward the commoners and interested in easing their burden but suspicious about the letter’s true purpose, reluctantly signed the document unknowingly of a request for French military intervention that could have potentially brought Madagascar under France. The French were eager to hasten Rakoto’s succession in the interest of capitalizing on the Lambert Charter – the agreement between the French representative and Rakoto that could only come into effect upon the prince’s succession. France however did not intend to take such an action without the accord of their ally, Britain, whose influence had been so well-established on the island through their Christian converts. While Rakoto was made to swear on the Bible not to speak of the letter to anyone, his concerns had grown enough to contact a British diplomat, thereby revealing the true circumstances of the plans and so the British refused to cooperate in the French plot, and an attack was averted,[46] or so it was thought. But Lambert decided to instigate a coup d’état having failed to gain the support of the British or the French to place Rakoto on the throne and bring the charter into effect. In 1857, he traveled to Ranavalona’s court in the company of the celebrated 19th-century Austrian globetrotter Ida Pfeiffer, who became an unwitting participant in the plot (She documented her perspective on these events in one of her late works). According to Pfeiffer, “Rakoto and Lambert had planned to dethrone the queen on June 20, when ministers and soldiers loyal to Rakoto would infiltrate the Rova grounds and declare loyalty to the prince and support for a political transition.” Pfeiffer blamed the failure of the plot on Rainilaiarivony, then Commander-in-Chief of the army who reportedly had been unable to ensure the presence of soldiers in the courtyard who were loyal to Radama.[48] According to a British account however, “Rakoto himself was credited with warning the queen of the plot, in which his cooperation was merely a ploy to entrap the conspirators. This British view claims that Ranavalona deliberately allowed the plot to unfold almost to its conclusion in order to ascertain the loyalties of her members of government.[46] After the plot’s discovery, the Europeans were largely confined to their houses on the palace grounds and prohibited from receiving visitors, until an order was issued to immediately and permanently quit the queen’s territory in late July.[48]

Having foiled the planned coup and arrested the conspirators, the queen sent them on a forced march through malaria-ridden swamps. Many of the conspirators died, but Laborde survived (He later returned to Madagascar as an adviser to Radama II after Ranavalona’s death.) After the coup plotters have been dealt with, the queen designated her son, Rakoto, as her successor but Rainimaharo and the conservative faction knew of his progressive leanings and tried instead to ensure the queen’s nephew, Ramboasalama, would come to power and maintain loyalties to them and their political agenda.[49] The progressive brothers Rainivoninahitriniony and Rainilaiarivony, who were the queen’s co-prime minister and head of the army respectively during her strong days, supported the succession of Rakoto and were able to exercise greater influence than Ramboasalama, particularly in ensuring the support of the army for the prince’s claim to the throne.

Her Death

Queen Ranavalona died in her sleep in August 16, 1861, at the Manjakamiadana, the palace she had constructed on the grounds of the Rova compound at Antananarivo, having successfully resisted the attempts of the European powers to gain control of the island over the course of her 33-year reign. Twelve thousand Zebu were slaughtered and their meat distributed to the populace in her honor, and the official mourning period lasted nine months. Her body was laid in a coffin made of silver piastries in a tomb at the royal city of Ambohimanga. During her funeral, a spark accidentally ignited a nearby barrel of gunpowder destined for use in the ceremony, causing an explosion and fire that killed a number of bystanders and destroyed three historic royal residences in the Nanjakana section of the compound where the event was held. Her son, Prince Rakoto, succeeded her as King Radama II.[53] Radama took precautions to ensure his succession would be uncontested, surrounding his residence at the Rova of Antananarivo with several hundred soldiers and sending a member of Ramboasalama’s family to bring him to the Rova to swear a public oath of allegiance to the new king, to whom he submitted.[50]

Ranavalona’s son, Rakoto (King Radama II)

Her Legacy

Ranavalona’s traditionalist policies were abruptly reversed under the reign of her son, King Radama II. A widespread epidemic of “spirit possession” throughout Imerina followed Radama’s public conversion to Christianity and was popularly attributed to the outraged spirit of Ranavalona I.[54] The people and powers that were suppressed by the queen’s brutal rule returned with a vengeance after she died, and King Radama II was assassinated after only two years on the throne. And a series of increasingly weakened rules opened the kingdom to European exploitation, and in 1896 Madagascar became a French colony.

In 1897, French colonial authorities disinterred and moved the queen’s body and the remains of other Merina sovereigns to the tombs at the Rova of Antananarivo in an attempt to desanctify Ambohimanga. Her bones were placed within the tomb of Queen Rasoherina.[52] Queen Ranavalona’s foreign contemporaries strongly condemned her policies and viewed them as the actions of a xenophobic tyrant or even a madwoman, a characterization that persisted in Western historical literature until the 1970s.[10][55] she is commonly viewed as an astute politician who effectively protected the political and cultural sovereignty of her nation from European encroachment.[55][56] In Madagascar today, the Malagasy of the central highlands hold complex and diverse views ranging across this spectrum. Most Malagasy Christians condemn her reign, in line with negative depictions of Ranavalona in current Malagasy history textbooks; while others admire her effort in preserving Malagasy traditions and independence. Majority, regardless of their feelings toward her domestic policies, consider her a remarkable figure in Malagasy history and commend her strength as a ruler in a period of tension with European powers.[55] Today the island is unusually rich in traditional arts—probably because it remained free of European influence for much of the nineteenth century.

*Andriamahaja was the queen’s lover and the closest consort of the queen which may have been the reason for the jealousy and also his son, Rakoto (Many historical sources favored Andriamahaja to be the father) is the heir apparent to the throne.

**She turned against him after he was linked romantically with another woman which may have been reported to her but another source said that she caught him with another woman. However, Andriamahaja refused to take the Tangena test which may have angered the queen to get drunk.

Thank you for reading this.. We will like to read your comments.


  1. Pfeiffer, Ida (1861).The last travels of Ida Pfeiffer: inclusive of a visit to Madagascar. London: Harper.
  2. Ranavalona I Wikipedia
  3. “History of Madagascar,” Historyworld, http://www.historyworld.com (December 11, 2006).
  4. Ranavalona I and the Missionaries
  5. Ade Ajayi, Jacob Festus (1989).Africa in the Nineteenth Century until the 1880s. Paris: UNESCO
  6. Madagascar and Me

Africa Heritages is free and we don’t place ads on our website. We are mostly funded by small donations and unfortunately we have a frustratingly limited budget. If you read our write ups and you find what we do is useful, then please consider donating! You can support our operations via donations to any of the links below: Thank you!!! 

1. Paystack – Africa Heritages 

2. Flutterwave – Africa Heritages 

Disclaimer: Africa Heritages claims no credits to any of the images used in this historical article.


  1. I really enjoyed reading this balanced account. I’ve read much about her and I believe that although she was the victim of a smear campaign. History is written by the victors and in this case that was the Colonialists. It’s clear she was also judged by very different standards because she was female. I don’t think her behaviour was different to that of Kings before her, but many modern historians couldn’t accept a Queen could rule so ruthlessly. What’s amazing is how she managed to hold on for 30 years and retain the country’s independence.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s