Ranavalona III, last queen of Madagascar

28 February 1897, the almost 500 years old Merina Kingdom in Madagascar ended, when the French general Joseph Gallieni forced the last queen Ranavalona III to abdicate.

“Whether France will demand satisfaction, and show the insolent rulers of Madagascar the might of a European people, or whether she will let the opportunity pass by as she has done on former occasions, I can not take upon myself to conjecture. Time will show.“ (Ida Pfeiffer, “Trip to Madagascar”, 1862)


A contemporary allegory of the French annexation of the Merina Kingdom in  1896/97 by Louis Bombled (1862 – 1927), part of a  series of illustrations that covered the  “Guerre à Madagascar“.
A contemporary allegory of the French annexation of the Merina Kingdom in
1896/97 by Louis Bombled (1862 – 1927), part of a
series of illustrations that covered the
“Guerre à Madagascar“.

The sea is now the border of my rice paddy, ny ranomasina no valapariako, King Andrianampoinimerina proudly proclaimed after he had expanded his kingdom in the highlands of Madagascar across of most of the world’s fourth largest island, about half the size of the Midwestern US. Back then in 1794, Antananarivo became the island’s capital and the Merina people, of Austronesian descend and one of the at least 18 local ethnic groups, finally had carved out the top position in the struggle of factions that lasted for centuries. Interestingly enough, neither the Arabs nor, later, the Portuguese played any significant role in the local history of the rather conspicuous landmark on the trade routes of the Indian Ocean. Later colonial powers, the Dutch, French and British somehow ignored the place as well outside of a few insignificant trade posts. In the meanwhile, Andrianampoinimerina’s son and successor King Radama managed to play the French against the British during the Napoleonic Wars and it was not until the 1820s that the British put out the feelers from Mauritius, their new base in the Indian Ocean, in earnest towards the Malagasy East Coast, established a few sugar cane factories, suppressed slavery and slave trade, had the Bible translated into the local language and began to spread the Gospel. Queen Ranavalona, Radama’s wife who succeeded him in 1828, put an end to that, though.


"The Queen's Ordinary Style of Appearing in Public" from William Ellis' "History of Madagascar" (1838)


Over 
the more than 30 years of her reign, Ranavalona pursued an ambiguous policy of embracing European technology, military tactics and court customs, taking up the lead from her late husband to modernise her kingdom while keeping it out of European colonial designs, on the other hand she pursued a rigorous policy of purging Madagascar of any foreign influence that ended in a veritable terror regime and the death of 20% of the island’s population, a Queen of Hearts in a grim, weird Wonderland. Her son Prince Radama, later King Radama II, had already tried to conspire with the French towards an invasion, the base of the later French claims, but Ranavalona’s successor managed to keep all of the European powers out of Madagascar with a quite sophisticated alliance policy until the Berlin Conference of 1884/85 rang in the New Imperialism period and the division of the world in earnest. President Grévy negotiated that Madagascar became part of the French sphere of interest while the first invasion began already in 1883. 


The French Foreign Legion in Madagascar, around 1895
The French Foreign Legion in Madagascar, around 1895


In the same year, the 22-years old Ranavalona III ascended the throne of the Merina Kingdom of Madagascar. She was the niece of Radama II’s queen, had received a European education and tried, as all of her predecessors did, to play British against French interest. The Empire, however, was positively unwilling to intercede on behalf of Madagascar and anger the French into something of at least a global Cold War, let alone open conflict. Trying to turn to Bismarck, who had not the least interest in foreign adventures, and the US, who were far from ready to embark on one in the late 1880s, France openly annexed Madagascar in 1896 after another invasion that had begun a year earlier. General Joseph Gallieni forced Queen Ranavalona III to abdicate after the French Foreign Legion had quelled the last pocket of resistance on the large island and the legionnaires had died by the thousands of malaria. Ranavalona was, in modest luxury, interned in Algiers where she died in 1917 of a severe embolism at the age of 55. Madagascar remained a French colony until 1960.

Ranavalona III with her niece and successor Marie-Louise in 1905
Ranavalona III with her niece and successor Marie-Louise in 1905  


And more about Queen Ranavalona III and the last days of the Malagassy Merina Kingdom on:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ranavalona_III