Description of Rainilaiarivony, Prime Minister of Madagascar in 1868

Below is a description of Rainilaiarivony, the Prime minister of the Kingdom of Madagascar, in 1868, by a Frenchman. As you remember, this was a man who was married to 3 queens: Rasoherina, Ranavalona II, and Ranavalona III. He was in reality the one holding the true power. He held that position for 31 years from 1864 to 1895, when the Kingdom of Madagascar became a French protectorate, and he was destituted, and sent to exile in Algeria.

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Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony of Madagascar, ca 1880

Rainilaiarivony is of small height ; his hair is a bit kinky, the complexion is brown, mulatto, the mouth is thick, pronounced. He does not have the Malaysian [Austronesian] phenotype. He looks shy, embarrassed, and yet he is considered to have great willpower and remarkable eloquence.  Moreover, this figure, of gentle appearance, is as if closed, the furtive glances convey a distrust which always dominates in men who think themselves constantly threatened, from inside as well as from outside,

Docteur Lacaze, from a note from G. Grandidier, Les Africains, Editions J.A., Vol 5, p. 310 (1977). Translated to English by Dr. Y., Afrolegends.com

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.

Why the name: Antananarivo?

Madagascar
Madagascar

Ever wondered about the meaning of the name Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar? Like: why does the ‘na‘ repeat itself twice (nana)? or whether this ‘nana‘ could mean mother or father or grandmother or grandfather as in many African languages, or ‘girl‘ in French? or could the ‘rivo‘ have something to do with river? or have you simply wondered why such a long name for a capital city?

Flag of Madagascar
Flag of Madagascar

Well, I have often wondered about Antananarivo because of the way its name falls from my mouth as if I was in a hurry, and then being rushed to say it quickly so as not to stumble. I have also wondered about its name, because it reminds me of the beauty of its country, Madagascar, the big island. Moreover, numerous neighborhoods in Cameroon have been renamed after the country because of its beauty and also I imagine, by respect for its people’s struggle for independence which was similar for the people of Cameroon.

Antananarivo in 1905
Antananarivo in 1905

The name Antananarivo means “the City of Thousand” with an meaning ‘to‘ or ‘at‘, tanan meaning ‘city‘, and (a)rivo meaning ‘thousand‘. Some think the ‘thousand’ is in reference to ‘thousand hills‘ or ‘thousand soldiers‘ in reference to the important royal Merina guard. In reality, Antananarivo was the site of a town called Analamanga, meaning ‘Blue Forest‘ in Malagasy. Analamanga was founded by the Vazimba people, the island’s first occupants. When King Andrianjaka of the Merina people moved into the area between 1610 and 1625, he deployed a garrison of 1,000 soldiers to successfully capture the city and guard the site. Declaring it his capital, Andrianjaka built a rova (fortified royal dwelling) that expanded to become the royal palaces of the Kingdom of Imerina. The site maintained its name Analamanga until it was renamed almost fifty years later by King Andriamasinavalona as Antananarivo, “City of the Thousand“, in honor of King Andrianjaka’s soldiers. People of Madagascar affectionately call it “Tana“, the city, and its named was frenchified during colonial time into Tananarive.

Manjakamiadana, the Royal compound built for Queen Ranavalona I
Manjakamiadana, the Royal compound built for Queen Ranavalona I

The city was first built as a fortress by the Merina Kings at the beginning of the 17th century, who made it the capital of the united Kingdom of Imerina in 1794. The community grew rapidly under the Merina Kings, and particularly under King Radama I whose control ultimately extended over a major part of the island, leading him to be considered the King of Madagascar by European diplomats, with Antananarivo as the island’s capital. Antananarivo remained the island’s capital after Madagascar was colonized by the French in 1897 , after the French military invaded Antananarivo on September 1894 causing major casualties amongst the Malagasy people, and causing queen Ranavalona III to surrender. Claiming the island as a colony, the French administration retained Antananarivo as its capital and transcribed its name as Tananarive. Antananarivo remained the capital of Madagascar after independence in 1960.

Antananarivo (Wikipedia)
Antananarivo today (Wikipedia)

Today, Antananarivo is a vibrant city full of life, culture, and immense history. The city’s skyline is dominated by the rova of Antananarivo, which was destroyed in a 1995 fire but is under reconstruction. The nearby Andafiavaratra Palace was the home of 19th century Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony and currently contains a museum featuring historic artifacts of the Kingdom of Imerina. Downhill from the palaces is Andohalo square, where Merina kings and queens delivered speeches to the public.  Tsimbazaza Zoo displays many of the island’s unique animal species and a complete skeleton of the now-extinct elephant bird. Other historic buildings include the Ambatondrafandrana tribunal where Ranavalona I dispensed judgement, the second residence of Rainilaiarivony with its indigenous medicinal plant garden, the recently renovated Soarano railroad station, four late 19th century memorial churches built to commemorate early Malagasy Christian martyrs, the tomb of Prime Minister Rainiharo, and the early 20th century pavilions of the Analakely market. Enjoy the video below, and if you are ever in Madagascar, please do visit the beautiful Tana, the capital of the great Merina Kings, named to celebrate a thousand courageous soldiers and the beautiful hills of the central highlands.