Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Ranavalona III: The Last Sovereign of Merina

Ranavalona III
The desire of the French for Madagascar erupted in last month of 1883. Months into the middle of the war, the Queen, Ranavalona II, became ill and died. Upon her death, his husband, the real power in Kingdom, and Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony looked for another Queen. He found it in form of a niece of Ranavalona II who became to be known as Ranavalona III. Her reigned would be the last of the Merina Dynasty and its Kingdom.

Like the Queen before her, Queen Ranavalona III was related to the ruling dynasty and was educated by the missionaries. Born in 1861, she was born as Razafindrahety. She was the niece of Ranavalona II, a distant cousin of Radama II. Her education was provided by schools established by the London Missionary Society. Thus she became also a supporter of Christianity in the island. When she came to age, she was married to an official named Ratrimo. But in 1883, Ratrimo died. Then on July of 1883, Queen Ranavalona II passed away. Her husband, Rainilaiarivony, sought Razafindrahety to become the new Queen and also his wife. Razafindrahety accepted the Prime Minister’s proposal. And in November 1883, she was crowned as Ranavalona III and became married to Rainilaiarivony.

Her coronation was in the middle of a war. France had launched an invasion against the Merina Kingdom. The port of Tamatave had faced bombardment from the French squadron. In the western part of the island, the port of Majunga fell to the French. French troops had also landed and claimed the lands in the coast of the Diego Suarez Bay in the north of the Madagascar Island. Its natural harbor provided good access to French ships carrying reinforcement. The Merina could offer some resistance against the French. During the reign of the previous Queen, the army went into modernization. Its armies had over 300 field guns and over 20,000 rifles, although they were of low quality Also it had a large manpower due to the mandatory military service ordered by the government during the late 1870’s. It also had in its midst military advisers from Great Britain, like a certain Col. Willoughby helped to muster the defense of the Merina Kingdom. The Merina Army came up against a well-trained and experienced army with a powerful navy. The Franco-Malagasy War as it was called lasted for two years.

The Treaty eventually ended the war and also, the independence of the Merina Kingdom.  The French representative, Admiral Miot and Minister Patrimonio met with Col. Willoughby and Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony in order to negotiate the end of the war. The Treaty of 1885 was, according to the French, made the whole Madgascar as its protectorate. All foreign affairs of the Merina Kingdom were to be under the control of the French. In addition, a French resident in the capital would be contact of the government concerning its external affairs. The French consul would also have a military escort of 50 men provided by the French army. France would also continue to occupy the stretch of land at the Diego Suarez Bay. Finally, the Merina Kingdom would pay the France an indemnity worth 10 million Francs. A huge amount that would heavily burden the finances of the Merina Kingdom.

The Treaty ruined the whole nation. In order to pay the huge indemnity, the Merina government contracted the French company Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris for a loan to pay the indemnity, in exchange for customs receipt from different ports in the Kingdom. With the loss of the major customs revenue, the Kingdom had no ways to pay for projects. Thus, forced labor, in form of fanompoana rose significantly. With hard labor with no pay, some resorted to banditry. Banditry became issue as it began to threaten the capital, Antananarivo as well.

As the Treaty concluded, the French assigned its official Resident on the island. Charles Le Myre de Vilers was appointed to the position of Resident-General in 1886. He used his position to leverage for concession in mineral exploitation. Copper and gold were just among the mineral mining concessions that he managed to pass.

The nation began to falter further after the war. Banditry slave labor, debt hampered the reign of Ranavalona III. Divisions within the religious sector also rose. Anger for the destruction of the traditional talismans, the former state religion of the Merina Kingdom, continued their struggle. Some resorted to violence, adding to the already violent atmosphere near the capital. The Kingdom tried to gain allies against the French. In the late 1880’s, they solicited the aid of the British. However, the 1890 Convention of Zanzibar already recognized Madagascar as a protectorate of the French in exchange for French recognition of British protectorate over Zanzibar. In the early 1890’s they tried to ask help to the United States. They sent gift of friendship to the US President Grover Cleveland. The United States, however, was not interested in the East Africa. They were interested in the Pacific and they don’t want to ruin the good friendship between the French and the American with the Statue of Liberty as its symbol.  Merina Kingdom was alone standing against French Imperialism.

In 1890, the issue concerning the exequatur increased the tension. The exequatur was like a letter of appointment of a head of state to a consul. The appointed diplomat would then give this letter to the sovereign of the country he was appointed to. And so, to receive the letter meant control over the nation. The Resident General Le Myre de Vilers demanded Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony to hand over that privilege to him. Doing so, would mean that the Merina Kingdom was indeed under French hegemony. The Prime Minister refused. The tension on the issue led to the eruption of the Second French-Malagasy War in 1894.

The French was the sure victor. French troops, under Jacques Duchesne, in the Diego-Suarez Bay began to advance to the capital. In 1895, the capital fell to the hands of General Duchesne. Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony was sent into exile to French Algeria a broken man. He died a year later in 1896. Meanwhile, Queen Ranavalona III was forced to sign a treaty handing more powers to the French. She became a mere puppet head of the French authorities.

In 1896, a rebellion erupted against the French occupiers.  Locals began to launch a guerilla warfare against the powerful French army. They covered themselves with red soil usual to the surrounding and thus called Melamba (Red Plaids). The Melamba and normal bandits were usually similar. Some Melamba fighters acted like bandits, attacking civilians and stealing crops from farmers. They barbaric acts led to their fall in 1898. The French saw an opportunity to establish a true colony in Madagascar. The French implicated the Queen to the rebellion. The Queen Ranavalona was powerless. Immediately, she was sent to exile to French Algeria. She would stay there and passed away in 1916. As she sailed to Algeria, her Kingdom was made from a protectorate to a truly French colony. Ranavalona III was the last sovereign of the once powerful Merina Kingdom.

See also:
Merina Kingdom
Radama I
Radama II
Ranavalona I
Ranavalona II

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

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

Cousins, W. Madagascar of To-day: A Sketch of the Island, With Chapters on Its Past History and Present Prospects. New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1895.

Laufer, G. Women Rulers Throughout the Ages: An Illustrated Guide. California: ABC CLIO, Inc., 1999.

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