Queen Ranavalona I of Madagascar

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Queen Ranavalona I of Madagascar

Born on the Island of Madagascar in 1788 as a commoner, Ranavalona’s future would have an unexpected twist of fate. Her father would learn of a plan to have the future king assassinated, he would alert the King of the plan sparing his life. The king rewarded Ranavalona’s father by adopting her and making her the first wife of his son Prince Radama who eventually became the King of Madagascar. As the years passed Ranavalona had not birthed any children and the King was becoming ill. The kingdom was questioning who would succeed Radama after his death because he had no children with Ranavalona. In 1828 King Radama eventually succumbed to his illnesses and the throne was left vacant, the current heir of the throne was the son the Radama’s oldest sister Prince Rakotobe. However, because of the tradition of the Monarchy if Ranavalona was to have any children at any time by anyone, that child would be considered Radama’s offspring and the rightful heir to the throne. To secure her safety Ranavalona formed a partnership with the supporters of the traditional Merina cultural belief system; King Radama was embracing the Christian influences of the European missionaries.

Ranavalona gathered a small army of 20,000 men to occupy the kingdom before Prince Rakotobe’s position was solidified. The pressure she placed on the kingdom allowed her to rise to power and she was appointed the Queen of Madagascar in August of 1828. Because of the influences of European culture, during Ranavalona’s coronation she was dressed as a French Monarch but she was set on eliminating the European influence from her people. She immediately eliminated anyone who opposed to her throne as well as all trade agreements with France and Britain; she also eliminated an attack by the French Navy with the help of a malaria outbreak. The traditional Merina culture and way of life of Madagascar was being restored under Ranavalona’s reign. She showed a strong distrust for European influences and any Merina person who favored European culture. She had swift and harsh punishments for any traders and often made her subjects prove their loyalty to the kingdom and tradition. Her methods were viewed as cruel and unusual by her enemies who often used propaganda to demonize her name. She oversaw the implementation of a metallurgic and chemical industry for her kingdom; she also commissioned the building of the Manjakamiadana her new royal headquarters.

She was criticized very harshly for her taxation process by France and Britain, heavy taxes were imposed on the residents of the kingdom to help expand the kingdom and to building her army. She would often use her army to appease the people of the outlying regions of her kingdom which helped the kingdom expand. She wanted any traces of Christianity expelled from her island by any means and anyone who was a Christian convert was exiled from Madagascar. She was weary of the education her people were learning from the Europeans, she saw the history and customs of her people beginning to be challenged by foreigners, which caused the Merina people to questions their own customs. Under the rule of King Radama the Christian influence was welcomed but Ranavalona was determined to return her kingdom to an independent self-sufficient Merina ruled kingdom. The teachings of Christianity were banned from being taught in the mission schools throughout the island. Ranavalona despite her distrust of Europeans and their culture had an affinity for French fashion and clothing, but her affinity with Europe would stop at the fashion. In 1849 her kingdom was able to resist an attack by the English and the French which helped to cement Ranavalona’s reputation of being favored by her ancestors. Her reputation with some of the people of her kingdom was becoming tainted because many people disagreed with her decisions as well as were influenced by the European propaganda. Eventually her son Rakoto and her confidant turned against her and begin working with the French to eliminate Ranavalona. They were unaware of the intelligence and tact, she was able to stop their plan before it had any effect on her or her kingdom. Ranavalona had her conspirers put to death in a malaria ridden swamp; the only survivor was her son Rakoto. Ranavalona would rule Madagascar for thirty three years before her death. She is seen as a cruel killer by her enemies but her won people tell a different story, they tell a story of triumph and the establishment of a powerful ruler. Because Ranavalona was a woman initially her kingdom was seen as weak, but her domestic and foreign enemies quickly learned that her kingdom would not be easily overthrown. Queen Ranavalona I, we proudly stand on your Shoulders.

J.A. Ward.

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On the Shoulders of Giants pop Quiz.

  1. What year was Ranavalona crowned Queen of Madagascar?
  2. True or False: The British Navy was immediately eliminated as a threat when Ranavalona as crowned Queen?
  3. True or False: Madagascar is an Island off the Coast of Australia?
  4. Short Essay: Explain why Ranavalona wanted to expel any Christian of European influence from her kingdom.
  5. Short Essay: Why was Ranavalona’s life in danger after the death of her brother King Radama?













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