Thursday, July 10, 2014

Radama II: Opening to the West

Radama II
Malagasy Christians hailed the death of their Queen. Queen Ranavalona I, ruler of the Merina or Malagasy Kingdom in Madagascar, who ruled with a bloody iron fist. She reversed her husband’s policy of openness and sealed his nation from foreign influence of French, British, and the Christians. She persecuted her own Christian people, killed thousands in the most horrific ways. But in 1861, Queen Ranavalona I died. Her son, Prince Rakoto ascended to the throne as Radama II. His reign would mark a new chapter of openness for the Merina Kingdom.

King Radama II grew up from a period of chaos. He was the son of Queen Ranavalona I, the ruthless Queen of the Merina or the Malagasy Kingdom. His father was in dispute. It was not confirmed if he was the son of the late King Radama I because the King died fourteen months before his birth. According to research, his real father could had been an army officer named Andriamihaja, a lover of the Queen. The then Prince Rakoto was tutored by few privileged Frenchmen, Jean Laborde and Joseph-Francois Lambert.

From his youth, he became acquainted to the Europeans. From his tutors, he learned modern sciences. He also learned more about the foreigners. Because of his upbringing, he also learned to become tolerant of the Christians. Although accepted them, he never converted to become one.

His foreign tutors, meanwhile, influenced the young Prince for commercial and later, political gains. In 1855, Lambert used his close affiliation to the Prince to acquire a charter to exploit natural resources in Madagascar. The Prince promised to approve it once he became King. On the other hand, the Queen became highly xenophobic and the Europeans hated it. They lose influence and money from the Queen’s policy. And so they devised a plan to remove her in power. In 1857, Lambert planed a coup to depose the Queen and placed their candidate, Prince Rotoko, to the throne. The Prince collaborated with the plan. However, the plan was foiled when Ranavalona heard of the plan somehow. Queen even became more xenophobic afterwards. The remaining foreigners, like Lambert, Laborde, and also the traveler Ida Laura Pfeiffer, were expelled from the island. Lucky for the Prince, he received no harsh punishment.

In 1861, Queen Ranavalona I died. A minor power struggle ensued. Due to his connection to the 1857 coup, some conservatives in the court wanted another to succeed the late Queen. Their candidate was the cousin of Prince Ratoko, Ramboasalama. But the progressive and liberal faction under the Prime Minister, Rainivoninahitriniony, wanted the equally open Prince Ratoko to take the throne. With much talk and convincing, Prince Ratoko, eventually, came out as the King. And so, in the same, the Prince ascended to the throne as King Radama II.

Radama II’s reign saw the reversal of policy of the previous ruler. The new King supported the opening of the country to relations with the Europeans. One of his first acts was sending his friend, Joseph-Francois Lambert, to France and Britain to attain his recognition as King. This he received when the great powers sent consuls to the capital city, Antananarivo. The British sent Conolly Pakenham as their consul. The French appointed another King’s friend, Jean Laborde, to be their representative to Radama II’s court. The start over of relations resulted to the return of missionaries to the island. The Jesuits returned first on September 1861 under the leadership of Pére Jouen. They were then followed by the London Missionary Society that returned on April 1862 under their leader, William Ellis. The highlight of Radama II opening was signing treaties of Friendship and Commerce with European countries. The French signed with Radama II on September 12, 1862; while the British signed with the Merina Kingdom on December 4, 1862. The signing of treaty of friendship allowed Europeans to get charters for business. The Lambert Charter of 1855 was approved on September 1862. Meanwhile, the British, in form of J. Caldwell of Mauritius, to get a charter to exploit natural resources in the coastal town of Vohemar. A controversy, however, surfaced that King Radama II signed a charter forwarded by a Commodore Dupre. The charter placed French right over all the islands. But this was disclaimed by the French and the King.

Reaction over the rapid opening to the Europeans received concerns, not just from the conservatives, but also his progressive allies. The people of Merina feared the massive influx of foreigners and their influence. They feared for their independence. They fear for their own rights within their nation. In 1862, as the King opened the nation for exploitation by westerners, an epidemic spread. It was a very unusual “disease” called Ramanenjama. The disease was a dancing and singing disease. People in the capital infected by the Ramanenjama danced and chanted in the streets, calling the spirits of previous rulers like Queen Ranavalona. On the same time, protest within the government was stirring. Prime Minister Rainivoninahitriniony, the man that pushed for the accession of Radama II to the throne, felt concern over the increasing influence of the Europeans. In particular, he saw problems about the charters for exploitation of natural resources and the issue of free trade. The free trade, especially, was the main concern for the government. Most of the source of government revenues came from import duties. The free trade would cause reduction on government income. He saw the King’s policy as the cause of their Kingdom’s demise.

The conflict between the Prime Minister and the King was exacerbated during the late 1862 and 1863. The King wanted to reduce if not remove the Hova (freemen) officials in the government under the Prime Minister. The King began to place foreign allies to critical positions and began to align with the group called the menamaso or Red Eye. The menamaso, under Vakinisinaony were noble allies of the King who intended to remove the Hova officials in the government. In November of 1862, the King placed the American William Marks and the French Clement Laborde (the son of the French Consul Jean Laborde) in charge of the state’s foreign affairs. King started to move against the Prime Minister.

However, what truly sparked the explosion for confrontation was an act that was in no relation to politics, diplomacy, or economics; and, this would lead to the demise of the King. In May 7, 1863, King Radama II wanted to legalize duels. The Prime Minister were alarmed over its repercussions to public safety. He thought it would bring anarchy and chaos throughout the country. Most in the government also were opposed. The Prime Minister saw this as an opportunity to gain the momentum for the removal of the King. In the following day, he refused to proclaim the new edict of the King in the Zoma (Friday) Market. On the following day, the brother of the Prime Minister, Rainilaiarivony, who was in the military arrested and executed the allies of the King, the menamaso. Some menamaso hid in the royal palace of King Radama II. Troops loyal to the Prime Minister surrounded the palace, the Rova. On May 10, an ultimatum was sent to the King: surrender the rest of menamaso or die. The King chosen the former. He surrendered the last remaining menamaso under the condition they were also to be spared. However, on the next day, they were too executed.  But the Prime Minister break his word. On the night of May 12, 1863, officers of the army stormed the Rova and captured King Radama II and his Queen Raboda. The officers then killed the King. As final respect for the King they followed the tradition of executing a royal without spilling blood. They tied the royal sash in the neck of the King and strangled him to death.

His assassination caused a sensation to many. Rumors of his survival of the assassination spread. According to rumors, the King survived the strangulation. And during the transportation of his body, he became conscious and ran and made his way to Lake Kinkony in the Sakalava. He was said to have stayed there and lived in hiding. But no sufficient evidence proved this argument.

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister place Queen Raboda to the throne. Queen Raboda took the reign name of Rasoherina. But the Prime Minister placed a condition that she would rule with lesser powers. As Rasoherina took the crown, the influence and power of the Prime Minister Rainivoninahitriniony rose tremendously.

The reign of Radama II was brief but eventful. Within just three short years, the Kingdom of Merina became an open and foreign-friendly country. Too open that those who helped him to take the throne opposed him. It was to the extent that they launch a coup and killed the King. And finally, the rise of the power of the brothers Rainivoninahitriniony and Rainilaiarivony.

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Bradt, H. Madagascar. Connecticut: The Globe Pequot Press, Inc., 2011.

Newton, M. Famous Assassinations in World History: An Encyclopedia. California: ABC-CLIO, LLC, 2014. 

Tyson, P. Madagascar - The Eight Continent: Life, Death, and Discovery in a Lost World. Connecticut: The Globe Pequot Press, Inc., 2013.

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