Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Ranavalona II: Beginning of the end

Ranavalona II
After the death of King Radama II, the Merina or Malagasy monarchy began to wane in its authority.  Officials from the freemen class or Hova, led by the then Prime Minister Rainivoninahitriniony, placed Queen Rasoherina to the throne. Shortly, just years after coming to the throne, the Queen replaced Rainivoninahitriniony with his brother, Rainilaiarivony. In 1868, Queen Rasoherina passed away. Rainilaiarivony then took a cousin of the Queen, Ramoma, to succeed her under the title Ranavalona II. Her reign would be marked by dramatic changes in religion and society of the Merina Kingdom.

Princess Ramoma, the future Queen Ranavalona II, came from the family of high social standing. She was the daughter of Prince Razakaratrino and Princess Rafarasoa, both were related to the Merina Dynasty. Her mother in particular was the sister of bloody Queen Ranavalona. In 1846, she was chosen to be one of the wives of Prince Rakoto, following the footsteps of her cousin, the later Queen Rasoherina. In 1861, Queen Ranavalona passed away. A small power struggle in succession ensued. Ramoma’s older brother, Ramboasalama, was chosen by the conservatives to be their candidate to the throne. However, the power of the Prime Minister, Rainivoninahitriniony, was great enough to push for the succession of Prince Rakoto as King Radama II.

Two monarchs would come after the fall of Ranavalona I before another Ranvalona came to power. King Radama II’s reign was tumultuous but brief. Within two years in the throne, he opened the Madagascar island too the Christianity and political influence of the French and the British. His westernized views became, however, to much for even the most liberal in the government. In 1863, a group of men, called the Andafiavaratra, led by the brothers, Rainivoninahitriniony (the Prime Minister) and Rainilaiarivony (commander of the army), launched a coup and strangled the King to death. Afterwards, they elevated his widow, Rabodo, to reign as Queen Rasoherina. Her reign lasted for five years. It saw moderate openness and reform. Christian missionaries continued to flourished and grow. The deadly tangea ordeal was abolished. In 1845, he supported the ousting his husband and Prime Minister, Rainivoninahitriniony, and replaced him with Rainilaiarivony. He became the new power behind the throne and the new husband of the Queen. In 1868, the Queen died of illness. His husband looked for another Queen to place in the throne. Rainilaiarivony saw it in for of Princess Ramoma. He did not just asked him to seat on the throne but also her hand in marriage. Princess Ramoma accepted and crowned as Queen Ranavalona II.

Missionaries feared when they knew that reign name of the new Queen was Ranavalona. They could still remember the expulsions and persecutions of Christians under Queen Ranavalona I’s reign. It remained dark and bloody in their memories. But their fear about the new Queen Ranavalona eventually disappeared. She was not like the first Ranavalona, in fact, she was the complete opposite.

Ranavalona II was close to Christianity ever since her childhood. She was educated by schools of the London Missionary Society. Her brother, Ramonjamanana, Malagasy Christian after his baptism in 1846. Then during her coronation, in her podium, symbols of Christianity were placed. A copy of the code of law and a Malagasy Bible could be seen. And on the coverings that shaded the Queen, Bible verses could be seen written as well. Then, the most shocking event to the Malagasy Christians, missionaries, officials, and traditional talisman holders was the baptism of Queen Ranavalona II and his Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony to the Anglican fate on February 21, 1869. It brought the acceptance of Christianity in a new level. Christianity would not just be a tolerable religion, it was the new norm.

With Ranavalona II’s baptism, the Merina Kingdom underwent Christianization. Within a year, church goers increased. From just 37,000 up to 153,000 church goers and new Christians, encouraged by the Queens sudden conversion. As a sign of belief to Christianity, Ranavalona II ordered the construction of a church inside the Rova or the Palace. Malagasy Christian martyrs were also venerated and remembered.

His conversion to Christianity was a victory for Christianity, but holders of traditional talismans or sampy was angered. In September of 1869, sampy holders launched a protest against the Queen and her pro-Christian policy. The holders were also concerned by the alterations made by the queen to royal rituals in order to make it more Christians. But the Queen was not persuaded by the protesters. Instead, it engulf her with anger. After the protest, the Queen ordered the destruction of all talismans within the Kingdom. After which, Christianity became the official religion of the Kingdom.

In other matters, the Queen along with her Prime Minister initiated reforms in administration, judiciary, and the military. In 1868, a new code of law, known as the Code of 101 was promulgated. The law became universal but local customs and laws were still respected. For instance in 1873, the royals went to Fianaratsoa in order to oversee the implementation of a code of law specialized on the customs of the inhabitants. In 1881, the Code of 101 was extended and became known as the Code of 305, with 305 articles. With the code of law in place, a judiciary was established. Three branches of high courts with 13 judges for each were commissioned. In the government, with the Queen’s approval and the Prime Minister’s implementation, a cabinet with eight ministries was established. They hoped that it would create a more efficient government.

Meanwhile, the military saw rejuvenation under Ranavalona II’s reign. Prime Minister Rainiliarivony, a former military commander, knew the needs of the military. In 1872, a modernization program began, weapons from Britain and the United States were imported to rearm the ailing Merina military. The troops then received training from hired British military advisers. Aging soldiers were then sent to the countryside and became known as sakaizambhitra or friends of the village. They would serve in local government offices, working easy jobs. In return they received salaries. It was considered a pension program for its old soldiers. Then in order to replenish the military’s manpower with strong and young soldiers, a mandatory military service of 5 years was implemented to all 18 years old. But in order not to drain farms of needed manpower, alterations were made. Recruits would receive training for months after which they could return to their homes under the condition they would come when the government called them upon to fight.

The government also initiated other programs and new laws. Liquor was ban throughout the Kingdom. Education was made compulsory. In 1877, the Merina Kingdom saw what could appear, the start of abolishing of slavery. Slaves that were proven to be from Mozambique were freed from bondage. 150,000 as a result became freemen. But Slaves that were Madagascar in origin remained enslaved.  In 1875, the government began to provide medical services to the people. Before, it was only provided by witch doctors and missionaries. With the creation of its own hospital, within 5 years, Merina produced its very own qualified doctors.

All else went well until 1883. Britain’s influence increased dramatically during the reign of Ranavalona II. The French, however, wanted to get their hands in Madagascar. And so, they used the revoked Lambert Charter as pretext to launch an invasion of the Merina Kingdom. The Franco-Malagasy War erupted. The Queen was heavily weakened by the conflict. And in July 1883, she passed away. Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony then chose a distant relative of Ranavalona II to become Queen Ranavalona III.

The reign of Ranavalona II saw a shift in the Merina Kingdom. Her government saw a long lasting stability. Small problems only appeared due to her conversion. But the end of her reign also marked the continuous decline of the Merina monarchy and the Kingdom itself. Her country was embroiled in a war which would left it vulnerable until it would finally fall in the hands of the foreigners.

See also:
Andrianampoinimerina
Merina Kingdom
Radama I
Radama II
Ranavalona I
Ranavalona III
Rasoherina

Bibliography: 
Ajayi, J. F. A. General History of Africa: Africa in the Nineteenth Century until 1880'sCalifornia: University of California Press, 1998.

Akyeampong, E. & H. Gates (eds.). Dictionary of African Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Fage, J. & R. Oliver (eds.). The Cambridge History of Africa, 1905 - 1940. New York: Cambridge University Press. 

Halpern, G. The Healing Trail: Essential Oils of Madagascar. New Jersey: Basic Health Publications, Inc., 2003.

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