With the deposition of Queen Ranavalona III on this day in 1897, the final curtain was drawn on the Merina Kingdom of Madagascar. After more than 350 years, it succumbed to the might of the colonising French forces, and Ranavalona was forced into exile, never again to see her native land.
The Merina Dynasty dated back to 1540, and enjoyed fluctuating fortunes throughout its history. Its heyday came in the early nineteenth century, as a succession of territorial gains saw it gain supremacy over the entire island of Madagascar.
But even while the Merina Kingdom was at its strongest, influences beyond its control threatened its security. The colonising powers of the west had designs on much of Africa, and Madagascar with its fertile climate and strategic position off the east African coast was no exception.
The French had the greatest interest in colonising Madagascar. They had previously annexed nearby Réunion and Mauritius, and were keen to strengthen their position in the Indian Ocean. The British, with their own interests in the region, signed a treaty with the Madagascans aimed at protecting its sovereignty, but in the end the treaty proved more effective on paper than it did in reality. The British opposed French influence in the region, but they were not prepared to risk war for Madagascar’s sake. They were also mindful that they could not take too strict a view of France’s actions, as this would undermine their own colonising pretensions.
When Ranavalona assumed the throne in July 1883, the end was near for the Kingdom. Citing Madagascar’s unilateral reversal of a lucrative trade agreement, the French invaded Madagascar in 1883. This became known as the first Franco-Hova War, and represented the first phase of France’s hostile invasion. The campaign proved hard-going, but the French gradually gained the upper hand, and in 1886 compelled Ranavalona to sign a peace treaty that ceded certain powers to the French.
Hostilities were renewed in 1887, this time the French establishing immediate ascendancy over the ill-equipped Madagascan forces. By 1890, France’s right to colonise the island had been recognised internationally, and throughout the 1890s, control was wrested away from Ranavalona and her husband Rainilaiarivony, who was Prime Minister. In August 1896, France proclaimed Madagascar as its colony.
Ranavalona initially was kept in Madagascar as head of state, but her powers were minimal and her position purely symbolic. The primacy of French rule was briefly threatened by the emergence of an anti-French resistance group, but it was swiftly suppressed, spelling the end of life in Madagascar for Ranavalona. She was considered dangerous as a potential figurehead for further rebellion, and was forced to quit the country.
Ranavalona was escorted from the island and exiled first to Réunion, and then to Algiers, where she died in 1917. During her exile, she frequently begged permission to return to Madagascar, but she would never see it again in her lifetime. In 1938, as a mark of respect, her ashes were exhumed from their Algerian grave, and she was interred in the royal tomb in Antananarivo. Madagascar remained a French colony until gaining independence in 1960.
Photo Credit: Wkimedia Commons
Photo Caption: Portrait of Queen Ranavalona III of Madagascar, date unknown.