Friday, September 12, 2014

Merina Kingdom: Unification and Rise

First Four Rulers of the Merina Kingdom
In the east of Africa, the largest island of the continent Madagascar was the site of a great kingdom. The Merina Kingdom flourished from late 1790’s up to the end of the 19th century. It saw a history of greatness, openness, and bloodiness. It very much moved to all sides of the political spectrum, from the liberal to conservatism, to moderate. Ambition and religion ran the course of the kingdom for a century before finally succumbing to the domination of the French.

The story of the Imerina or Merina or Malagasy Kingdom began in the heart of Madagascar. In the highland jungles of the island, the people of Imerina inhabited the area and became unified as a kingdom during the 16th century. But in early stages of the 18th century, the Kingdom was divided into four principalities to prevent rivalry and bloodshed. Nevertheless, it did not prevent each of the principalities in fighting each other for dominance.

Imerina people fought each other for supremacy until a unifier emerged from one of its principalities. Rambosalama was born in 1745 in the principality of Rambohinga. By 1784, he was the first line in throne to succeed his uncle Andrianjafy. King Andrianjafy, however, did not welcome Rambosalama to be his successor. And son in the night of the same year, an attempt on Rambosalama’s life was made. Thankfully, it was a failure. He managed to escape the palace and sought refuge to the north. There he amassed an army to take on Andrianjafy. In 1787, he succeeded in capturing the Kingdom, Andrianjafy was captured and exiled. Becoming king of the principality was not enough for Rambosalama. He went further by capturing the three other principalities. By 1795, he succeeded and moved his capital to Antananarivo. A new Merina Dynasty was established. Rambosalama took the reign name of Andrianampoinemerina or the Prince in the Heart of Imerina.

Under Andrianampoinemerina, the kingdom began to establish itself a power in the island. He expanded his Kingdom, devouring the neighboring kingdoms of Betsileo, Sihanaka, and Bezanozano. He also extended diplomatic relations with foreigners, especially with the French who resided in the nearby islands of Mauritius and Reunion Islands. As a King, he strengthened his Kingdoms economic footing by constructing irrigations in order to increase rice production and provide food for the people and the military. To build irrigations, he instituted the fanmpoana or mandatory public service for males. He also established a royal monopoly in slave trade in order to fill his government’s coffers. It was also to prevent others to profit and threaten his rule with slave money.

In 1810, Andrianampoinemerina passed away, leaving a legacy of strong foundations to his son, Radama. Radama must continue to strengthen the Kingdom whatever the mean, whether militarily, diplomatically, or economically.

Foreigners were key to Radama’s ambition in creating a powerful military. The French had its base in Reunion Island. The British, on the other hand, took hold in the Mauritius Island. The two European powers were battling each other for dominance in the Indian Ocean. And Madagascar was a good place to secure the western side of the Ocean. The French then sought alliance with Kingdoms in the east coast of the Madagascar Island. The British then sought for their own allies in the island. Radama saw this as an opportunity to cement his authority and to upgrade his military for expansionist purposes.

Radama presented himself as an ally to the British. The British, in turn, saw it fit to establish relation with Radama. As an act of solidifying the alliance between the African and the European countries, a treaty of friendship was signed between the two. It recognized Radama as the King of Madagascar and provided Radama with military aids. Radama received new weapons, uniforms, and military advisors from the British. In exchange, slave trade was to be outlawed in the Kingdom.

With a powerful and modern army in his disposal, Radama then began a war of expansion. He occupied the Kingdoms of Boina and Betsmiskara. It allowed Merina to control much of the eastern coast of Madagascar.

Another consequence of the treaty was the free entry of Christian missionaries into the island. The London Missionary Society, a group of Anglican, flooded the new Kingdom and began proselytizing. The missionaries, however, brought new knowledge to the Malagasy people. It brought education, the Latin alphabet, as well as new skills to the people. James Cameroon, a missionary, thought new skills such as carpentry and tanning to the Malagasy people. Weaving and dressmaking also flourished. But in 1828, the King died due to his alcoholism.

His moderate openness to the foreigners was succeeded by the far right conservatism and xenophobic reign of his successor. Radama I’s wife, Ramavo, fought her enemies and succeeded to become the new monarch of the Kingdom. From obscurity, she took the name of Ranavalona I and ushered in the period of extreme love of tradition with blood of her people as the price. Initially, her reign saw glory and progress. In 1828, she ordered the codification of laws. She also ordered the invasion of the neighboring kingdom of Ihosy and founded a port city of Fianavantsoa. She welcomed Jean Laborde who would later help her to attain economic independence. All change after she became suddenly ill in 1835. She contracted a fever and seemed to be dying. But then, after religious rituals based on the Sampy, or talismans, she became well. In order to show reverence and gratitude, she wanted to promote the religion by destroying a threat to its existence – Christianity. In 1835, he outlawed Christianity and expelled its missionaries. The expulsion was then followed by a purge of Malagasy Christians. Her Christian subjects were subjugated into deadly types of death, from poisoning to falling. More than a thousand died due to her persecution. To make her dedication to local tradition stronger, she ordered an end to foreign trade. In order sustain self-reliance, she supported Laborde his efforts to established factories of soap, bricks, and other light materials.

Ranavalona’s isolationist and xenophobic policy led to a coup plot. In 1857, Prince Rakoto, Ranavalona’s alledge son to Radama I’s, became involved in a coup planned by few foreigners, mostly French. It aimed in deposing the Queen and ascending the European taught Prince Rakoto to the throne. This plot, however, was discovered. The foreigners, including Laborde, were expelled and Rakoto was spared from death but was under the close watch of the Queen.

In 1861, the gory reign of Ranavalona I came to an end. Ranavalona passed away and Rakoto ascended as King Radama II. From the ultra-conservative Ranavalona, the Kingdom saw an ultra-liberal King. Educated by westerners, he became obsessed with everything that was European and listened to what Europeans told him. In 1855, he was either cohered or just ignorant to have allowed a Frenchman, Joseph-Francois Lambert to attain a charter that would allow him to exploit the natural resources of the Kingdom. This charter would became a subject of issue between the French and the Merina.

In 1861, after Ranavalona I died, the liberal Rainivoninahitriony, the Prime Minster, helped to ascend Radama II into the throne.  The King would reversed the late ruler’s policies. He allowed once again the entry of missionaries into the Merina Kingdom. British London Missionary Society and French Jesuit missionaries returned to the Kingdom and restarted their proselytizing. He also wanted to reestablish diplomatic relations with the British and the French. With the help of Lambert, the French and the British recognized his sovereignty and sent their consuls to the Merina capital, Antananarivo. The French, in particular, sent a close friend of the King as consul, Jean Laborde. In 1862, treaties of friendship and commerce were signed between the British, the French, and the Merina Kingdom. Alongside the friendship treaty, Radama II also approved the Lambert Charter signed in 1855.

Foreign influence rose significantly under Radama II. Free trade brought huge problems to local industries. Missionaries converting Malagasy people led to the falling practice of local traditions like the sampy. Rumors of charter that sell the Kingdoms natural resources to the exploitation of foreigners also spread.

Malagasy people and officials were concern over the increasing foreign influence. In 1862, a festive disease called the Ramanenjama spread. The said “infected” danced and sang around the streets, chanting names of previous rulers like Ranavalona I. It appeared to have been a protest against the increasing openness and worship of Radama II to European influences. Officials, on the other hand, were equally concerned. Rainivoninahitriniony, in particular, was worried about the king’s decision provided charter to foreigners to exploit resources within the Kingdom. Also, he was worried about the lost revenue caused by the sudden surge of tax free imported goods. Other than economic reasons, the Prime Minister was alarmed by the King’s decision in appointing several foreigners to the position of external relations. Moreover, the King also began to create a group of royal nobles called the Red Eyes or menamaso, which aimed in deposing Hova or freemen within the government where Rainivoninahitriniony belonged.

The final straw came in May 7, 1863. The King’s obsession with western culture led to his decision to legalized dueling, a common practice of Europeans. Rainivoninanhitriniony saw the chaotic consequence of the legalization. Gun fights would erupt across the Kingdom if it was to be imposed. Thus, a sign of protest, he did not announced or released the law to the public. In addition, the King saw it as a weakness of the King to anything western and ultimately a threat to the independence of the country. Along with his brother, Rainilaiarivony who was a military commander launched a coup against the King and his allies, the menamaso. Some of them were executed. Some of them sought refuge to the King’s palace. Troops of the brothers then surrounded the Palace and demanded the surrender of the remaining menamaso. The King refused. And so, on May 12, 1863, officers who supported the Prime Minister stormed the Palace; and, as a sign of last respect to the King, they followed the tradition that no royal blood should ever be shed. The King was strangled to death in front of his wife, Raboda.

With King Radama II out of the way, the brothers sought a new monarch. They saw this in form of Radama II’s widow, Queen Raboda. Rainivoninanhitriniony married Raboda and made her Queen under the reign name of Rasoherina. And under Rasoherina was beginning of the decline of the absolute authority of monarchs and rise of the power of the Prime Minister under the two brothers Rainivoninanhitriniony and Rainilaiarivony.

See also:
Almohads
Almoravids
Ghana Empire
Great Zimbabwe
Kilwa
Lunda Empire
Merina Kingdom: Development, Progress, and Fall
Songhai Empire 

1 comment:

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