In the late eighteenth century, Imerina was checkered with a myriad of tiny principalities, each ruled from hilltop fortresses. In just fifty years from 1780 to 1830, it was unified under a single ruler, drawing Merina into increasingly wider systems of obedience and creating a vast imperium that held sway over most of the Island of Madagascar, a landmass the size of France, Belgium, and Holland combined.
And yet, the half century of tumultuous change that characterized the empire's rise brought no revolution in the Merina's own understanding of the world of power, a view which I have termed hasina ideology. Merina saw historical reality not as the product of human agency, but of ancestral beneficence, hasina, which flowed downwards on obedient Merina from long-dead ancestors in a sacred stream that connected all living Merina. For obedient Merina, politics consisted in nothing more nor less than a lifelong quest to position one's self favorably in that sacred stream as close as possible to ancestors and then to reap the benefits of that cherished association. With the passage of time, the hasina stream flowed into new generations and so generated new social relations expressed in terms of kinship. The vast transformation of the Merina political landscape only enhanced Imerina's devotion to ancestral hasina.
The origins of hasina ideology are not known, though by the time Andrianampoinimerina began to unify Imerina in the closing decades of the eighteenth century, its character is clearly perceptible. Andrianampoinimerina's son Radama built on his father's legacy. In the 1820s he transformed Imerina from a small and isolated kingdom into an empire capable of projecting its power over the length and breadth of Madagascar.
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