Sunday, May 21, 2023

S4E13: Andrianampoinimerina part 1 - The True Prince

1905 Portrait of Andrianampoinimerina by Philippe-Auguste Ramanankirahina
In the late 18th century, Imerina was still emerging from a period of profoundly devastating civil war. The man who would lift Imerina out of the civil war was born in the Kingdom of Zafumamy, a small offshoot kingdom located to the northeast of Ambohimanga. He was the son of the King of the Zafimamy and the princess of Ambohimanga.
The Rova of Ambohimanga remains one of the best-preserved and most visited Merina historical sites to this day.
At a young age, Andrianampoinimerina, still then known by his birth name Rambosalamarazaka, quickly emerged as the favorite to inherit the kingdom of Ambohimanga. However, the kingdom was instead inherited by his uncle Andrianjafy. Throughout his rule, the king would enact several unpopular policies. His failed wars against the king of Antananarivo led to economic strife, as did growing tribute demands from Ambohimanga's Sakalava overlords. In order to cope with these growing demands, Andrianjafy made the unpopular decision to begin manufacturing criminal accusations against his own subjects to justify selling them into slavery.
The Hill of Ikaloy, the capital of the Zafimamy Kingdom.
This unpopular decision justified a group of nobles in overthrowing Andrianjafy and placing Andrianampoinimerina into power. 

Monday, May 8, 2023

S4E12: The Crisis of the 18th Century part 2: The Merina Civil War

During this period of civil war, the Sakalava Kingdoms of Menabe and Boeny exploited Merina polities for tribute payments of cattle and slaves in exchange for military assistance.
With the collapse of centralized political authority, the 18th century saw Imerina fall into 70 years of bloody civil war.

The 18th century saw an acceleration of an existent, but relatively small slave trade in Madagascar into a large, organized affair. In addition to their own raids on the Merina, Sakalava raiders offered their services as mercenaries to Merina rump states in exchange for assistance in their civil war. Sakalava soldiers were generally larger and healthier due to a more nutritious diet, as well as more experienced in combat and better equipped, but they failed to make a decisive difference in the tangled mess of Merina civil wars. Given how advantageous the situation was for them either way, the raiders likely didn't mind this shortcoming.
The Spanish "Real de a Ocho" or "Piece of Eight", the coins which Rakotomavo sought to mint

The king of Ambohimanga, Rakotomavo, tried to salvage his kingdom's economy with an unsuccessful attempt to counterfeit Spanish pieces of eight to facilitate a competitive advantage in trade with foreigners. The plan failed.

Enslaved man on a sugar plantation in Mauritius
The rising slave trade on Madagascar during the Merina civil war was fueled largely by two growing markets for Malagasy enslaved workers. In the east, French investors planned to transform the once derelict Dutch colony of Mauritius into an enormous sugar plantation. The colony proved enormously profitable for investors, and enormously costly on laborers. The deadly conditions forced the French to constantly purchase new labor to replace losses.

Auction of enslaved people in Zanzibar
In modern Tanzania, the Sultanate of Oman was expanding the spice plantations surrounding Zanzibar. While these plantations had not reached their full potential yet, the 18th century marked the beginning of a period of rapid growth. Throughout the 18th century, the majority of enslaved people exported from Madagascar ended up in this region of East Africa.

Monday, April 24, 2023

S4E11: The Crisis of the 18th Century part 1 - Andriamasinvalona’s Blunder


The old royal residence at Ambohidratrimo, where Andiramasinavalona was held prisoner.

The 18th century will be a painful time for the people of Imerina. The once proud kingdom will devolve into a deadly multilateral civil war, splitting into dozens of smaller kingdoms, each suffering from intermittent famine and domination by foreign enemies. How could the kingdom of Andriamasinavalona, rapidly rising to become a major player in Madagascar, fall so far. The inciting incident lays at the feet of the otherwise great king Andriamasinavalona.

The mpanjaka Imerina had spread his kingdom several times beyond what his predecessors would have even considered possible. Could such a large kingdom survive in highland Madagascar? Andriamasinavalona believed that the answer was "no." Instead, he favored transforming the Merina kingdom into a confederation of four smaller states called Imerina Efa Toko, or "Imerina like the Legs of a Cooking Pot." The king's advisor Andriamampandry repeated warned him against the plan, cautioning that the newly empowered princes would immediately seek to make war with each other. But Andriamasinavalona persisted. 

The public square at the Rova of Antananarivo, where Andriamasinavalona announced the new policy of Imerina Efa Toko

This policy backfired immensely. Almost immediately upon granting his sons sovereign power, they began quarreling. These early disagreements culminated in the prince of Ambohidratrimo luring the father into his fief by intentionally provoking the ire of his subjects, asking his father for assistance against a rebellion, and then locking his father in a basement when he came to assist the prince. The plan worked for several years, with the prince providing commands supposedly based on his father's wishes. However, the other sons soon grew suspicious, and launched a rescue operation for Andrimasinvalona. While the prince of Ambohidratrimo was defeated and the other sons pledged an oath of peace after their father's death not long after his liberation, the kingdom still fell apart into warring duchies soon after. Join us next episode to see how that goes.

Monday, April 10, 2023

S4E10: Andriamasinavalona and the Hova Revolution

Map of Imerina before Andriamasinvalona's rule (dark green) and at the end (light green)
When the king of Imerina, Razakatsitakatrandria, proves too unwilling to listen to the desires of his subjects, they make their opinions known. An important Hova leader, a seer named Andriamampandry, leads a rebellion that overthrows the old king, placing in his stead the younger and more affable royal brother Andriamasinvalona.

As king, Andriamasinavalona would become remembered as the greatest ruler Imerina had yet seen. Through the sheer force of his personality and willingness to compromise with nearby noblemen, Andriamasinavalona managed to incorporate substantial territories into Imerina despite never firing a shot. He would also establish one of the main cities of the Merina kingdom, as well as contribute significantly to evolving the art and architecture of his people.
While his own tomb was demolished in the early 20th century, Andriamasinavalona is widely credited as the force behind the popularization of the inclusion of a small, houselike structure at the peak of Malagasy tombs

Monday, March 27, 2023

S4E9: Betsimitatra and the Wonders of Agricultural Engineering


While population estimates vary wildly, anthropologists and historians agree that highland Madagascar underwent a staggering explosion of population in the 17th and 18th centuries. According to the oldest available censuses, the density of Imerina was 8-16 times higher than other regions of the island. The explanation for this enormous growth can be partially explained with the emergence of extremely efficient wet rice cultivation techniques.
Photograph of the Betsimitatra as viewed from the air. Notice the canals. Photo by Symonette Fanjanarivo
In its natural state, highland Madagascar is entirely unable to support wet rice cultivation. While this technique of rice growth is more efficient, it is limited in its viability due to its high water costs. In Imerina, rainfall is abundant for a brief moment in the wet season, while almost entirely absent for the rest of the year. This means that, naturally, wet rice cultivation was too water intensive to last throughout these long dry spells. 
An example of a dry (aka upland) rice field from Nepal 
Instead, early Merina farmers relied on dry rice cultivation techniques. This technique required less water, but relied on frequent fertilization with slash-and-burn agriculture, struggled to deal with weeds, and were vulnerable to locust swarms. 
Malagasy locusts, one of the island's deadliest pests. Photo by Peter Prokosch

The solution to these problems was wet rice cultivation, which choked out weeds and protected the rice from pests with an aquatic shield. Starting around the end of Andrianjaka's rule, Merina kings began to construct large scale infrastructure projects to make wet rice agriculture possible.

An example of terraced rice paddies and an irrigation canal in Imerina.
Throughout the reigns of Andriantsitakaransria and his successor Andriantsimitoviaminandriandehibe, conscript labor from local hova demes were used to construct large canals, reservoirs, and flood control systems throughout the highlands surrounding Antananarivo. These new measures allowed Merina farmers access to a source of plentiful freshwater which did not rely exclusively on rainfall. The greatest of these achievements were the fields of Betsimitatra. This region, which had once been composed of stagnant wetlands, was transformed with the construction of a series of canals which extended the Ikopa river to run through its valleys. With a new source of agriculturally viable water, the swamps were transformed into Madagascar's most productive rice farms. While the country would remain a secondary power on the island for the coming centuries, the creation of this efficient network of food production was its first step towards becoming Madagascar's pre-eminent state.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

S4E8: Andrianjaka - The Indivisible Sun


Besakana with its original thatched roof 
Today's episode follows the life of Andrianjaka, the Mpanjaka Imerina most famous for his conquest of Analamanga and the subsequent establishment of the Rova of Antananarivo. Additionally, we will discuss the reforms he made to the Merina religious system by canonizing the sampy, as well as his consequential decision to expel the remaining Vazimba population from his kingdom.

Interior of Beskana

Monday, February 27, 2023

S4E7: Ralambo's Wars

One of the few surviving illustrations of Kelimalaza, drawn by one of its guardians in 1828. (Berg, 1998.) While the Tantara provides little detail about Kelimalaza beyond that it was made of metal and wrapped in banana leaf, this illustration depicts it as a trio of statuettes.

In the early 17th century, a raiding party of Sakalava soldiers entered Imerina. King Ralambo, faced with an existential threat, was forced to rely only on a combination of his own wit and divine assistance from the idol Kelimalaza. According to the Tantara, Kelimalaza assisted Ralambo in all of his shocking victories over his larger and better-equipped enemy armies. 

The Tantara also describes Ralambo's increasingly strained relationship with one of his sons during this time. While his younger son, Andrianjaka, proved intelligent, dynamic, and brave on the battlefield, the king's relationship with his elder son was far less positive. Andriantompokoindrindra, the elder son, was better known for his gaming addiction than anything else.

A board of fanorona 

The elder prince was consumed by an intense interest in fanorona, a Malagasy strategic board game. The prince's addiction was so intense that, on multiple occasions, Andriantompokoindrindra refused to assist his father during life-or-death scenarios, instead insisting on finishing his ongoing games of Fanorona. At one point, the prince even chastised the messengers who informed him of his father's precarious situation during an enemy siege by passive-aggressively announcing each move he made in his game in an effort to get the messengers to leave him alone. Ralambo was unhappy with his elder son's behavior and realized that the kingdom was better off in Andrianjaka's hands.