Sunday, September 28, 2014

Merina Kingdom: Development, Progress, and Fall

May of 1863 – King Radama II of the Malagasy Kingdom of Merina lay dead, strangled by his officials. Two leaders of the plot, Prime Minister Rainivoninahitriniony and his brother, Rainilaiarivony, looked for a new monarch. Their searched led to them to the closest royal relative of the deceased King – her widow. Unlike previous rulers, succeeding monarchs of King Radama II would not enjoy the same absolute rule that previous monarch did. Three queens of the kingdom would become puppets to their Prime Minister and husband. Ultimately, the cause of the failure of the kingdom would not be wholly due to internal strife but rather brought by foreign entities far more powerful than they were.

With the assassination of the King Radama II, Prime Minister Rainivoninahitriniony and his brother made themselves the most powerful men in the kingdom. They had displayed their determination and ruthlessness. And then with their hands, they had the power to choose the new ruler of the island kingdom. They knew that they could not became monarchs as it would cause civil war which could weaken the Kingdom and open it for attacks. Thus, they saw fit to find a front ruler. They saw it on the widow of the previous King. And so, the widow of the king, Rasoherina became the new monarch of the Malagasy kingdom of Merina.

Rasoherina, however, would not be the absolute power in the land. She had to share power with the two brothers. The power sharing was cemented when Rasoherina married Prime Minister Rainivoninahitriniony. Also, before taking the throne, the two cunning brothers made Rasoherina sign an agreement. Within it they laid out conditions to Rasoherina. This included the institution of trial by jury, outlaw of the ordeal of tangena, as well as freedom of religion. Rasoherina agreed to this conditions which led to her coronation as the new ruler.

But the partnership of Rainivoninahitriniony would not last long. A year into the reign of Rasoherina, Rainivoninahitriniony was becoming a liability. His attitude became arrogant and cruel. Ultimately, a plot was brewed to depose the Prime Minister. The main leader of the plot was the Prime Minister’s own brother, Rainilaiarivony. Rainilaiarivony sought the support the Queen, which he received. And in a swift move, Rainivoninahitriniony was removed from his post, divorced from being the husband of the Queen, and sent to exile. The reins of power was then transferred to Rainilaiarivony. He became Prime Minister and would be Prime Minister until 1895.

Upon her enthronement, some agreements and policies of her departed husband. The most controversial was concerning the Lambert Charter which allowed the Frenchman Joseph Francois Lambert to exploit the natural resources of the kingdom. The Queen and her husband revoked the charter. The move enraged the French which resulted to protest. Eventually, negotiations for compensation underwent. The negotiations led in 1865 to the payment of the Merina Kingdom of $240,000 to France.

Other improvement under her reign were in the fields of law and diplomacy. In 1866, the code of the lands were codified. Also Treaties of Friendship and Commerce were signed with Great Britain and the United States in 1865 and 1867 respectively. A treaty with France was not signed mainly due to the diplomatic row caused by the revocation of the Lambert Charter.

Queen Rasoherina reigned briefly as well, passing away in 1868. Her husband, Rainilaiarivony looked for another puppet ruler. He decided to place in the throne the cousin of the previous queen. Her name was Ramoma. A Christian educated woman, she would change the face of the Kingdom.

Queen Ramoma took the name of Ranavalona. Missionaries feared the name Ranavalona as it was thought to represent anti-Christian as well as xenophobic reign of the previous Queen that bear the name. But their fears were to a no avail. In a momentous and historical coronation, traditions were modified and the Bible and Bible verses appeared at the ceremony. The move meant that the Queen was a pro-Christian ruler. In addition to symbolism, she and her new husband, the Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony underwent baptism on February of 1869. The state then began to support the proselytizing of the Christian fate throughout the Kingdom.

The reign of Ranavalona II saw many developments in various field. In law and judiciary, a code of law, called the Code of 101 was promulgated in 1868. In 1881, it was expanded to become the Code of 305. Also, the Prime Minister along with Ranavalona II also establish an organize judiciary. Also, the military was also modernize with the importation of weapons and advisers from Great Britain. For education, attendance was made mandatory. Emancipation of slaves also began when slaves from Mozambique in Madagascar were freed.  Lastly, the government also began to provide medical services by establishing a hospital. 

But the reign of Ranavalona II would not end well. The French used the revocation of the Lambert Charter as an excuse to attack the Merina Kingdom. And in 1883, the Franco-Malagasy War begun. French troops and warships began to flow into the Kingdom. Within few months into the start of the war, the Queen suddenly died.

Once more, Rainilaiarivony sought another Queen and another wife. She then took an educated long distant relatives of Ranavalona II to become Queen. Her name was Razafindrahety. She took the throne, took the name Ranavalona III, and took Rainilaiarivony as her husband.

On the initial part of her reign, the Kingdom faced a formidable challenge of fighting the French. The war lasted for two years. It drained the resources and vigor of the Kingdom.

In 1885, the war ended with a treaty negotiated by Rainilaiarivony. Under the treaty, the Malagasy Merina government loss its sovereignty to conduct external affairs. All foreign relations of the Kingdom would from then be controlled by the French. Furthermore, a consul-general would also be appointed to the capital, Antananarivo, with a small detachment of 50 French soldiers for security’s sake. In addition, the French were to occupy the small stretch of land surrounding the Diego Suarez Bay. Lastly, the Merina Kingdom must pay France an indemnity of 10 million Francs. 

The kingdom was bankrupt by the treaty. The indemnity payment led to borrowing of money to a French bank. The bank provided a loan in exchange for all customs payment made within the country. The loan agreement drained the government its vital source of revenue. Administration and order then began to deteriorate. The countryside then succumb to banditry and chaos.  

But the most pressing issue after the treaty was about the exequatur. The French insisted that because all external affairs were handled by them, all letters of appointment of diplomats must be given to the French Consul-General and not to Queen Ranavalona III and the Prime Minister. Later on, the issue spread and erupted into another war in 1894.

The Second French-Malagasy War was disastrous for the Merina Kingdom. French troops from the Diego Suarez Bay advanced and marched towards the capital, Antananarivo. French naval warships performed bombardments along the coast of Madagascar. By 1895, French troops marched triumphantly and victoriously in Antananarivo. The Queen was forced to sign a treaty which handed over much of the state affairs to the French. Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony was sent into exile Algeria in disgraced. He died a year later.

The total collapse of the Merina Dynasty came in 1896. Resistance against the French were intense. Locals covered themselves with red soil and launch guerilla attacks against the French. They were called the Melamba or Red Plaids. The resistance became powerful for a year until 1898 when the French were able to subdue them. The French also used the rebellion as an excuse to finally annex Madagascar completely.  Queen Ranavalona III was stripped of all her powers and was sent to exile where his husband was sent, in French Algeria. She lived in exile until her death in 1916.

Upon her exile, a once great kingdom disappeared into oblivion under the French. The Merina Kingdom was born from division and grew to a united powerful entity in the island of Madagascar. It struggled in maintaining its independence in the middle of a contest between European powers. It used various ways, from the ultra-conservative, to the most liberal. But its efforts were in vain. As determination to maintain independence was not enough to fend of the ambitions and military might of a bullying European imperialist. The whole of Madagascar succumbed and would remain under French domination until the middle of the 20th century.

See also:
Ghana Empire
Great Zimbabwe
Lunda Empire
Merina Kingdom: Unification and Rise
Songhai Empire 

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