Ranavalona, Mada

1788–1861
Queen of Madagascar

Mada Ranavalona was the wife of MADAGASCAR’s King RADAMA I, who unified most of the island under the rule of the Merina clan. When Radama died in 1828 without naming an heir, Ranavalona assumed power. She secured her position by negotiating with Merina nobles and military leaders, and by executing all potential rivals.

A fierce defender of Malagasy traditions, Ranavalona reversed her husband’s pro-Western policies. Radama had negotiated with the British to protect Madagascar from interference by other nations. He also welcomed European traders and adopted many European customs. Ranavalona terminated the agreement with Britain. She would allow foreign traders to do business only at ports controlled by Malagasy governors, where the foreigners were sometimes subjected to forced labor and ordeal by poison.

Ranavalona, Mada

Ranavalona suppressed CHRISTIANITY because it undermined support for traditional religious practices and because it opposed slavery, an important feature of Malagasy society. In 1835 she declared it illegal for a Malagasy person to convert to Christianity. Throughout her reign, she tortured and killed many Christians and exiled missionaries.

While she added no new territory to the Merina kingdom, Ranavalona strengthened royal control over the lands conquered by Radama. She ruthlessly defended the kingdom against attacks by the British and French navies, displaying the heads of those who died in battle. In the late 1850s when she uncovered a plot to bring Madagascar under French rule, she imprisoned and killed over 1,000 of her subjects and banished all Europeans from the island. Upon her death in 1861, Ranavalona’s son Prince Rakoto succeeded her, becoming Radama II.