Thursday, August 14, 2014

Andrianampoinimerina: Founder of a New Merina Kingdom

A lone big island stand in the East Coast of Africa. The island of Madagascar is the largest island in the African continent. And here a story of Kingdom would begin. Once a small divided Kingdom at the center of the island, a king would rise up to unite once more this kingdom. King Andrianampoinimerina would take challenges by battle or by diplomacy to unite the divided Merina Kingdom and enlarge it to dominate the whole island.

In the large, mountainous and jungle forest of central Madagascar, the Kingdom of the Imerina stand divided during the 18th century. Before this division the Imerina, later Merina Kingdom, was united and formed during the 16th century. However, during the early 18th century, it was divided into four principalities and given to the King’s four sons. These four principalities with centers at: Antananarivo, Ambohidratrimo, Ambohimanga, and Ambohidrabiby. These four Kingdoms fought each other for supremacy and dominance. In this chaotic time, that the future King Andrianampoinimerina would be born.

Born as Rambosalama, the later King Andrianampoinimerina was born to royalty. He was in 1745 in Ikaloy at the northern part of Madagascar. His parents were both of royal descent. His father, Andriamiaramanjaka was a member of the Zafimamy family, which ruled the Kingdom of Alahamadintany. Meanwhile, his mother, Ranavalonandriambelomasina, was the daughter of the Merina king in Ambohimanga, King Andriambelomasina (ruling: 1730 – 1770). Until 12 years old, he lived with his father in Ikaloy. But afterwards, he then moved with his mother to Ambohimanga and faced the prospects of becoming a Merina King. After he moved to Ambohimanga, Rambosalamaa took interest in being merchant, making himself fabulously wealthy with slave trade. He also took interest on the Merina people, defending their welfare and rights.

Then in 1770, Rambosalama’s life became chaotic. King Andriambelomasina died, leaving his throne to Rambosalama’s uncle, Andrianjafy. But before he passed away, King Andriambelomasina left an order of succession. After Andrianjafy, Ramboslama was to succeed him. When Andrianjafy took the throne, he had another thing on his mind when it comes to succession. He did not want his nephew to succeed him, he wants his own flesh and blood to take it after his eventual passing away. And so 1784, a murder attempt was orchestrated by the King to single out Rambosalama. Luckily for Rambosalama, he was warned and allowed him to escape back to the north, to Ikaloy. There he plotted his return. Rambosalama received support from many Merina nobles. This allowed him to fight his uncle. For three years, civil war rattled the Ambohimanga principality. By 1787, Ramboslama’s forces marched triumphantly to Ambohimanga. His uncle was said to have been either exiled or killed, various sources tell different story.

After his enthronement as King, he set out to unify the Merina Kingdom once more. Through skirmishes and diplomacy he succeeded by the early 1790’s. In 1795, in order to remove the threat of Andrianjafy loyalist in Ambohimanga, he moved the capital to Antananarivo (the city of thousands). There he took the name of Andrianampoinimerina or the Prince in the Heart of Imerina.

As the King of the newly unified Merina Kingdom, the King set out to dominate the whole island. Through political marriages, negotiations, and through constant wars, the borders of the Merina Kingdom expanded. The Kingdoms of Betsileo, Sihanaka, and Bezanozano fell to his forces. He attempted as well to conquer the Kingdom of Saklara, but resistance was intense and the war dragged on for decades.

In other business, he showed the same vigor the same way in war. He set out to have diplomatic relations with the French in the nearby island of Mauritius and Reunion Island. He also launched wide range of irrigation projects that would strengthen Merina’s food supply. His numerous irrigation projects helped to cultivate rice twice a year. And as a result, rice production rose in order to feed both the civilian populace, as well as the army. To increase manpower for public works, the King utilized the fanampoana, or mandatory providing of service for free. This served, however, as force labor to the people. He also ban all private slave trade enterprises. He monopolized the slave trade in order to block access of rivals to money in form of lucrative slave trade. He did not just have the kingdom’s coffers filled but also rooted out threats. Another work of King Andrianampoinimerina was the Zoma Market. It was a weekly market place that where people could sell their products every Fridays.

Throughout his reign, his people saw him as a benevolent ruler. He acted out against abuses of officials to the people. They respected him for this and called him the People’s King. His reign marked the rise of Merina dominance of the Madagascar Island. However, he did not saw the further advances of his country, he passed this duty to his son upon his deathbed. In 1810, after catching a cold and dying, his last words to his son, future King Radama I, “the sea is my last frontier.”

King Andrianampoinimerina was born from a chaotic time. But from this, he used his mind and his energy to take the throne that was rightly for him and achieved the reunification of once divided Kingdom. From unification he went out for expansion, conquering his neighbors through diplomacy or through war. He set out to improve his nation economy and cementing his dynasty’s rule. He passed the throne to his son, with a path towards new heights, and a start of a roller coaster ride for the history of the Merina Kingdom.

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.

Appiah, K. & Henry Gates ed. Encyclopedia of Africa. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. 

Green, R. Merina. New York: Rosen Publishing Group, Inc., 1997.

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