Queen Ranavalona III, the Last Monarch of the Kingdom of Madagascar

Queen Ranavalona III of Madagascar

Today we will talk about the last queen of the Kingdom of Madagascar, Queen Ranavalona III. She reigned from July 30, 1883 to February 28, 1897. Like many African kings and queens of the late 1800s and early 1900, she was deposed by the European colonizer, in this case the French, and sent into exile first on the island of Reunion, and then later in Algeria (just like the King of Dahomey, Béhanzin) where she died, never to see her native Madagascar again.

Map of modern-day Madagascar

Who was Ranavalona III? Well, as her name goes, she was the third Malagasy queen with the name Ranavalona. She became queen after the death of her grand-aunt, queen Ranavalona II. Ranavalona III was born Princess Razafindrahety in 1861. She was raised as a protestant, and taught by instructors from the London Missionary Society. Upon completion of her education, she married nobleman Ratrimo, but he died under suspicious circumstances in May 1883, just 2 months after Queen Ranavalona II’s passing. Rumor had it that the prime minister Rainilaiarivony had poisoned her husband, Ratrimo so as not to relinquish power. The young princess then ascended the throne of Madagascar at the tender age of 22, on July 13, 1883. It is said that she was chosen over her older sister, Rasendranoro, because of her conciliatory nature which the prime minister and other members of the Andriana looked for.

Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony of Madagascar

At the time of Ranavalona III’s ascension, Madagascar was navigating a shift from absolute rule (power in the hands of the king/queen) to constitutional monarchy. Under the new system, true authority was vested in the prime minister: in this case, Rainilaiarivony, who secured his grasp on power by marrying the newly crowned—and recently widowed—queen. In accordance with tradition, Rainilaiarivony had previously wed both of Ranavalona III’s predecessors, Ranavalona II and Rasoherina. Lucky man, wouldn’t you think? One man married to 3 successive queens! Probably the only one in history (this will be the story for another day)! Rainilaiarivony largely oversaw the day-to-day governance of the kingdom and managed its foreign affairs.

Illustration of France implanting its protectorate on Madagascar

As a queen, Ranavalona III inherited a kingdom which was assaulted by the French who wanted her country to be part of their protectorate. Throughout her reign, she tried to strengthen trade and diplomatic relations with the United States and Great Britain, in an effort to keep the French at bay. In 1886, the queen solicited U.S. intervention to help protect Madagascar from the French but was ignored. She, like many kings and queens of Africa back then, was probably not aware of the scramble for Africa, and the Berlin Conference (Selection from the 1885 Berlin Conference Final Act, The Berlin Conference 1884 – 1885 – Final Act (Continuation)), where Europeans allocated areas of the continent to themselves. She was forced to sign a treaty that gave France a certain control of Madagascar in order to prevent war, but the French wanted full control over Madagascar and did not back down. Ranavalona III successfully kept the French at bay until 1896 when the French declared Madagascar as their colony. Repeat French attacks on coastal port towns and an assault on the capital city of Antananarivo ultimately led to the capture of the royal palace in 1895, ending the sovereignty and political autonomy of the century-old kingdom (French Colonial Treaty in Madagascar : 18 January 1896).

Queen Ranavalona III

The newly installed French colonial government promptly exiled prime minister Rainilaiarivony to Algiers, Algeria. Ranavalona and her court were initially permitted to remain in Madagascar as symbolic figureheads, but the outbreak of a popular resistance movement – the menalamba rebellion – and discovery of anti-French political intrigues at court led the French to exile the queen to the island of Réunion on February 27, 1897.

Queen Ranavalona III with her grandniece Marie-Louise ca 1905 in exile in Algiers, Algeria

Rainilaiarivony died that same year in Algiers, and shortly thereafter Ranavalona was relocated to a villa in Algiers, along with several members of her family. Despite Ranavalona’s repeated requests, she was never permitted to return home to Madagascar. Like many African kings and queens, she was deported (Deportation of African Heads of States). She died of an embolism at her villa in Algiers on May 3, 1917 at the age of 55. Her remains were buried in Algiers but were disinterred 21 years later and shipped to Madagascar, where they were placed within the tomb of Queen Rasoherina on the grounds of the Rova of Antananarivo (Rova de Manjakamiadana). you remember Queen Ranavalona III, remember that she was a queen who fought against the foreign invasion to the best of her ability, but above all remember that all she wanted was the independence of her people and culture.

French Colonial Treaties: In Dahomey 03 Oct 1890 between France and Behanzin

Statue of Behanzin in Abomey, Benin
Statue of King Behanzin in Abomey, Benin

Below is one of the treaties signed between the French and the King of Dahomey, Béhanzin. This treaty was signed a few months after one of Béhanzin‘s unanswered letters to the French president , and two (2) years prior to King Béhanzin‘s defeat by the French, whose kingdom then came under Protectorate of the French Republic on 3 December 1892. Translated to English by Dr. Y. on http://www.afrolegends.com

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3 October 1890

Agreement between France and the Dahomey

In order to prevent the return of misunderstandings which have brought between France and the Dahomey a state of hostility prejudicial to the two countries’ interests, –

Us, undersigned

Dahomey_Bertrand_de_Montesquiou-Fézensac_(1837-1902)_10
Bertrand de Montesquiou-Fézensac

The king’s messengers

Aladaka

Do-De-Djé

Assisted by:

Cussugan – acting as Yeroghan* 

Zizidoque – cabécère† 

Zououhoucon – cabecere†

Aïnadou – Treasurer of Gore

Designated by his Majesty the King Béhanzin Ahy Djéré

And

Ship Captain de Montesquiou Fezensac [Bertrand de Montesquiou-Fézensac] commanding the cruiser Le Roland – artillery Captain Decoeur, designated by Rear Admiral Cavelier de Cuverville [>Jules de Cuverville] Commander-in-chief of the land and sea forces acting as governor of the gulf of Benin, acting on behalf of the French government.

                Have jointly agreed on the following arrangement which leaves intact all past treaties or conventions agreed upon between France and the Dahomey.

I

The King of Dahomey agrees to respect the French Protectorate of the Kingdom of Porto Novo, and to abstain from all incursions on the territories forming part of that Protectorate.

Dahomey_Jules Marie Armand de Cavelier de Cuverville
Jules de Cuverville

He recognizes the right of France to occupy Kotonou indefinitely.

II

France engages to take such action, on the King of Porto Novo, as to prevent any legitimate cause of complaint being made in future by the King of Dahomey.

By way of compensation for the occupation of Kotonou, France will pay an annual sum, which will in no case exceed 20,000 francs (in gold or silver).

The blockade will be lifted and the present arrangement will take effect from the day of the exchange of signatures. However this arrangement will become final only after it has been submitted for ratification to the French government.

Made in Whydah on the third of October eighteen hundred and ninety.

*someone who governs a city on behalf of the King – a governor

† a sort of nobleman from court

Description of King Behanzin’s Army on 13 March 1890

Behanzin, king of Dahomey
Behanzin, king of Dahomey

Below is a description of the army of King Béhanzin by a French prisoner made on 13 March 1890. This Frenchman is stunned by the number of warriors in Behanzin’s army, by their discipline, strength and muscular stature. More importantly, he also describes the Dahomey Amazons (locally known as Mino), the Fon all-female military regiment of the Kingdom of Dahomey (in present-day Republic of Benin) who formed the king’s special bodyguard unit, and his secret weapon! Remember that in Behanzin’s Farewell Speech in Dahomey, the king had sung praises of his beloved Mino. Here the narriator is amazed by their sight and confirms, “Old or young, ugly or beautiful, they are wonderful to contemplate. Just as muscular as the Black warriors, their attitude is just as disciplined and correct, …”  Translated to English by Dr. Y. Afrolegends.com.

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Dahomey_Amazones a 1890
Dahomey Amazons ca 1890

We are right in the Dahomean camp!

At least 15000 men are in front of us, arranged in order of battle in front of their tents made up of palm leaves, immobile, in such a deep silence that at 100 meters from our prison, in the same courtyard, separated by a simple wall, we could not have imagined their existence.

It is really a painting of a sublime horror and which painfully squeezes our heart. Fifteen thousand men, armed with guns and machetes! There is nothing to say, they are beautiful robust and muscular warriors under their white loincloths, which brings out the ebony of their stature even more. Not a cry, not a single movement, not a noise.

Quiet ourselves and deeply moved, we cross the hay that they form, lined up like the long rows of ears on a wheat field. Black and human harvest of which the one who is there can freely pick or mow heads.

Seh-Dong Hong-Beh, leader of Dahomey Amazons (painted by Frederick Forbes in 1851)
Seh-Dong Hong-Beh, leader of Dahomey Amazons (painted by Frederick Forbes in 1851)

The main officers of the army came to surround us. Our group starts to walk, it takes us more than a quarter of an hour to cross the first rows, given that their battle ranks are so deep. Then we cross an empty space, on the other side of which the Black army continues. Here it is no longer just warriors. The second line, in fact, consists of amazons in three tight ranks, surrounding in a huge circle the very throne of the king whom we cannot yet see.

They are there the four thousand female warriors, the four thousand Black virgins of Dahomey, bodyguards of the monarch, immobile under their war shirts, gun and knife in the fist, ready to pounce on a signal from the master.

Old or young, ugly or beautiful, they are wonderful to contemplate. Just as muscular as the Black warriors, their attitude is just as disciplined and correct, lined up like them in ranks.

An Amazon warrior ca 1890
An Amazon warrior ca 1890

The chiefs are in rows, at the head of the columns, recognizable by the richness of their shirts, by their proud and resolute air. Such are the amazons at rest with their arms. There is a long way from this discipline, this order, to the savage and barbaric hordes that we imagine. His Majesty Behanzin can be calm, these viragos will not let him be taken away easily. The triple circle that they form is immense, without a void, gap, or hole.

E. Chaudoin, extract from the Illustration of 26 July 1890, Les Africains Tome X, Editions J.A., 1978, P. 250

 

 

 

France urged to change heritage law and return looted art to Africa

Pendant Ivory mask representing Queen Idia, Iyoba of Benin City (16th Century)
Pendant Ivory mask representing Queen Idia, Iyoba of Benin City (16th Century) – exposed at the MET

France, like so many European countries, is being urged to return looted art to Africa. Below is the article. For the full article, go to the Guardian.

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A report commissioned by Emmanuel Macron will call for thousands of African artworks in French museums taken without consent during the colonial period to be returned to the continent.

Unless it could be proven that objects were obtained legitimately, they should be returned to Africa permanently, not on long-term loan, said the authors of the report, the Senegalese writer and economist Felwine Sarr and the French historian Bénédicte Savoy.

They have recommended changing French law to allow the restitution of cultural works to Africa, after Macron announced that he wanted it to begin within five years.

… “I cannot accept that a large part of the cultural heritage of several African countries is in France,” the French president said last year in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. “There are historical explanations for this but there is no valid, lasting and unconditional justification. African heritage cannot be only in private collections and European museums – it must be showcased in Paris but also in Dakar, Lagos and Cotonou. This will be one of my priorities.” [Politicians always make promises, but never deliver. Let’s wait and see if Macron can do anything. In 2015, Francois Hollande, then French President Acknowledged French Genocide in Cameroon while in visit in Cameroon, without ever apologizing!]

Benin_Fon statue symbolizing Behanzin Man shark
Fon statue symbolizing King Behanzin, the Man-Shark by Sossa Dede (c. 1890) – currently exposed at the Musee du quai Branly in Paris

The extent to which France, Britain and Germany looted Africa of its artefacts during colonialism is not known, but according to the report, which will be released this Friday, about 90% of Africa’s cultural heritage currently lies outside the continent.

The report’s authors travelled to Mali, Senegal, Cameroon and Benin and looked through the works held by the Musée du quai Branly, a museum focused on non-European cultures in Paris, and found that about 46,000 of its 90,000 African works were “acquired” between 1885 and 1960 and may have to be returned.

… To start with, they [the researchers] have recommended that palace doors, thrones and statues stolen from Abomey be returned – something the modern-day country of Benin has long requested [especially given that Béhanzin, the King of Dahomey, was one of the last African Resistant to French Colonization, and had been deported to Martinique and then Algeria – Deportation of African Heads of States]….

French Colonies in Africa: Dahomey under French Protectorate

Combat de Dogba au Dahomey le 19 Septembre 1892
Combat de Dogba au Dahomey le 19 Septembre 1892

Below is the notification by Alfred-Amédée Dodds from the French Republic stating that the Kingdom of Dahomey is now under the Protectorate of the French Republic, with the exception of Whydah and certain other territories, which were declared by a French Notification issued on the 3rd December, 1892, to be annexed to France.

The following is a Translation of that Notification :—

(Translation)

le general Alfred-Amedee Dodds
le general Alfred-Amedee Dodds

In the name of the French Republic:

We, Brigadier-General, Commander-in-Chief of the French Settlements of Benin, Knight Commander of the Legion of Honour.

In virtue of the powers conferred upon us,

We declare :

That King Béhanzin Ahy-Djere has been deposed from the throne of Dahomey, and has been banished for ever from this country.

Behanzin, the Last King of independent Dahomey
Behanzin, the Last King of independent Dahomey

That the Kingdom of Dahomey is, and remains, placed under the exclusive Protectorate of France, with the exception of the Territories of WhydahSaviAvlékétéGodomey, and Abomey-Kalavy, which constituted the ancient Kingdoms of Ajuda and Jacquin, which are annexed to the Possessions of the French Republic. The limits of the annexed Territories are: to the west, the River Aheme; to the north and to the east, the River Savi and the north-east frontiers of the Territory of Abomey-Kalavy; to the south, the Atlantic Ocean.”

Done at Porto-Novo, 3rd December, 1892.

Alfred-Amédée DODDS

Deportation of African Heads of States

prempeh_i
Prempeh I of Ashanti Kingdom

History repeats itself! Over 100 years ago, African Heads of states, Emperors and Kings, were deported by European colonizers for defending their people, lives, independence, land, livelihood, and themselves. Some were killed, and others were exiled. In those days, they were deported to other territories in Africa, far from their lands. Today, 100 years later, they are being deported to the Hague or to some other African lands again. Here are a few, and I am sure you know others.

Prempeh I, Asantehene of Ashanti Kingdom deported to Seychelles in 1896 by British forces. His throne is still displayed at the Royal Signals Museum in Blandford, England. He was allowed to return after 24 years in exile.

asantewaa
Yaa Asantewaa of Ashanti Kingdom

Queen Yaa Asantewa of the Ashanti Kingdom was deported to Seychelles in 1902 by the British. She arose her people to fight against the British. She died in exile.

Samori Toure, Founder and leader of the Wassoulou Empire, was deported to Gabon (on an island of the Oogoue) in 1898 by the French. He died in exile.

Samori
Samori Touré

Behanzin, King of Dahomey,was deported to Martinique and then later Algeria by the French. He died in exile in Algeria in 1906.

The Oba of Benin Kingdom deported to Calabar by the British in 1897. He died in exile.

Gungunyane, King of Gaza in Mozambique, first sent to Lisbon, and then later to the island of Terceira on the Portuguese Azores. He died in exile in 1906.

Behanzin, the Last King of independent Dahomey
Behanzin, the Last King of independent Dahomey

Cheikh Amadou Bamba, of Senegal, deported to Gabon in 1895 by the French. He was brought back 7 years later in 1902, but deported to Mauritania in 1903 for 4 years, before being brought back to Senegal. He died in Senegal.

Nowadays, Laurent Gbagbo, President of Côte d’Ivoire, deported to the Hague in the Netherlands 2011 by the French and the Ivorian Ouattara. He is still there.

Laurent Gbagbo
Laurent Gbagbo

Charles Ble Goude, Youth Minister of Côte d’Ivoire deported to the Hague in Netherlands in 2011 by the French, and the Ivoirian Ouattara. He is still there.

Moussa Dadis Camara, President of Guinea, shot and almost left for dead, deported to Burkina Faso(let’s call the cat by its name). …

And the list goes on… How long will it last? Can we not judge our people ourselves? Is this a choice by the people for the people? Are we really independent?

Why Behanzin should stay in Blida

Statue of Behanzin in Abomey, Benin
Statue of Behanzin in Abomey, Benin

The article below is from 1906 giving reasons why the French government refused to return Béhanzin to his country. The English translation is brought to you by Dr. Y., Afrolegends.com .

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Under this title, La Petite République published an article from which we extract the following conclusions:

What will be the effect of Béhanzin’s return in his country?

The Dahomeans, who in the old days, used to raid their neighbors have been transformed under 10 years, into a population of peaceful docile peasants and easy to be led. No troops are stationed in the ancient kingdom of Behanzin and the administration is working amazingly.

Do not for one instant believe that the negroes have forgotten their old master and here is what M. Francois, ancient chief of cabinet of the governor of Dahomey, says about this in the volume he published three months ago on this colony.

Behanzin_18 Juillet 1906
The original article from La Petite Republique, in French

The people of Dahomey have kept the memory of Kondo (Béhanzin). The name of our courageous adversary still exerts a magical power on his old subjects. The population remains certain of his return. They say, Kondo was defeated by the whites, Kondo is imprisoned on an island by his enemies and this despite the ancient law which guards the Kings of Abomey from seeing the sea, but anyhow, Kondo will transform himself into a small bird and will come back to his capital.

As for the chiefs, here is, from the same author, an anecdote which shows their state of mind:

“The old Alloan who used to command the Dahomean army when Béhanzin was not here, and who today is a worker on the Sudan railroad, was telling one of the engineers, “We know well that we could easily make you disappear, you and the other white people who are in the Dahomey. It would not even be necessary to kill you, it will suffice not to bring you any food for a few days. But what will be the point of this? You will come back, by the thousand, with guns which fire all at once and traverse palm trees. Moreover, if it wasn’t you, it will be the British or the Germans.” And he politely added, “better if it is the French.”

One can see that the loyalty of the chiefs holds onto a fine thread, an occasion, a possibility, to rid their land of the whites.

It is undeniable that the return of Béhanzin will provide this anticipated occasion.

When Benin Stuns All!

Statue of Behanzin in Abomey, Benin
Statue of Behanzin in Abomey, Benin

The presidential election last week in Benin stunned all. Most thought that the candidate of the hexagon Lionel Zinsou, the candidate of colonialism, was going to win. We all thought that, France, was going to crush the people’s will and have its man be handed the country. But the people of Benin said NO! The people of Benin resoundly said NO! The country of Béhanzin said NO! The country of the beloved Mathieu Kérékou said NO to France and its puppet and elected Patrice Talon. Vive la Démocratie! In some other African countries (I will not name them), France’s will would have been almighty… but in the land of the fierce Amazons said NO! We, the people has spoken!

I live you here with an excerpt of this victory, and its meaning to all Africans. We have a lot to learn from the people of Benin who have taken a hold of their destiny. Check out these articles by the Brookings Institute, AlJazeera and the BBC on this historic win. And of course, when ‘We the people’ wins, the imperialistic forces are bitter and unhappy, and want to brush it aside in the press.

Behanzin’s Letters to the French President

Statue of Behanzin in Abomey, Benin
Statue of Behanzin in Abomey, Benin

Here are letters written by King Behanzin to the French president about his kingdom, his land, and French attacks to force him into war. The originals can be found in French archives, and Benin Archives; the translations from French to English are by Dr. Y., afrolegends.com . Enjoy!

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Our desire is that you have the kindness to send us an officer of your house to deal with litigation issues. As for Cotonou, my father never signed it away, and never will we sign it away. It is impossible for us, because if we do, it will be a great prejudice to us, and thunder will crush anyone who would dare dwell on that territory.”

Behanzin, to the President of the French Republic, 30 April 1890, Archives of the Marines, Paris.

French invasion of the Dahomey along the Oueme River in 1892
French invasion of the Dahomey along the Oueme River in 1892

I have just been informed that the French government has declared war on the Dahomey (…). You could start on all the points you want (…) I, too, will do the same. About what happened at the Ouémé River, you caused it (…). If you had not come to start war against me on the Atchoupa way, I would not have done anything to you first (…). Now, I come to tell you that, if you remain calm, I too will remain calm and we will have peace(…).

Seh-Dong Hong-Beh, leader of Dahomey Amazons (painted by Frederick Forbes in 1851)
Seh-Dong Hong-Beh, leader of Dahomey Amazons (painted by Frederick Forbes in 1851)

The first time I did not know how to fight a war, now I know. If you start war, I have troops ready. My men are as numerous as works coming out of the earth. I am the king of the Africans and the Europeans have no say in what I do. The villages you are talking about do actually belong to me, they belong to me and wanted to become independent (under your influence), so I gave orders for them to be destroyed (…).

I desire to know how many independent French villages were destroyed by me, King of Dahomey. Remain calm, so your trade in Porto-Novo, this way we will always remain in peace as in the past. If you want war, I am ready. I will not end it even if it lasts a hundred years or kills 20,000 men.”

Behanzin, to Victor Ballot in Porto-Novo, 10 Avril 1892, Archives of the Popular Republic of Benin.

Why the name: Cotonou?

Benin with its map and flag
Benin with its map and flag

When I was little, I always wondered why the name Cotonou was given to a major city in Benin.  I used to think that the name was probably a French transcription of the word ‘coton’ (cotton) for ‘coton – ou’, and that maybe there used to be a lot of cotton there … but nowhere did I find cotton to be the main export or agriculture of Cotonou or Benin.

For starters, Cotonou is the largest city and the economic capital of the Republic of Benin.  Cotonou is known in West Africa for its international market Dantokpa, which is hosted over 20-hectares, and is the largest market in the whole of West Africa, generating over 1 billion CFA-Franc per day.  Cotonou is also well-known for its Zemidjans (or moto-taxis, similar to the Cameroonian bend-skins), and its pollution arising from its use of bad petrol (essence frelatée) also known as kpayo, which is fraudulously imported from neighboring Nigeria.

Cotonou, today.
Cotonou, today.

Located on the coastal strip between Lake Nokoué, and the Atlantic ocean, Cotonou’s name comes from the Fon language and means “mouth of the river of death.”  At the beginning of the 19th century, Kotonou (as it was then spelled) was a small fishing village.  It was originally ruled by the Kingdom of Dahomey until a treaty made with the French by King Ghezo in 1851 allowed the French to establish a trading post at Cotonou.  When Glèlè succeeded to his father Ghezo, the territory of Kotonou was ceded to France by a treaty signed on 19 May 1868.  After Glèlè’s death in 1889, his son Behanzin tried, unsuccessfully, to challenge the treaty.  The town Cotonou then developed itself quickly to become today the largest harbor in the region.

As the economic capital of the republic of Benin, Cotonou hosts 2/3 of the industries of the country, and is the seat of the main enterprises and banks of Benin.  It also hosts many of the governmental institutions of the country.  It is now the turntable of commerce in the region, especially because of its close proximity with the Nigerian border (and used to be a place for the conversion of the naira), and is the main port for its neighbor land-locked Niger, which is the world’s first producer of uranium. Enjoy this nice video of Cotonou by benin-passion.com.