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Writing Ideology: Ranavalona, The Ancestral Bureaucrat

  • Gerald M. Berg (a1)

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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1. See Berg, “Ideology and Innovation in Radama's Army,” forthcoming.

2. See, for example, Freeman, J. J. and Johns, David, A Narrative of the Persecution of the Christians in Madagascar (London, 1840); and Anon., “Detailed and Painfully Interesting Account for the Renewed Measures of Proscription…,” Missionary Chronicle (Dec. 1851). Freeman and Johns' work, available in manuscript before 1840, formed the basis of the LMS General Secretary's own work. See Ellis, William, History of Madagascar (2 vols.: London, 1838), perhaps the most influential work ever published on Madagascar.

3. Some recent studies suggest continuity between the policies of Radama and Ranavalona. See Ayache, Simon, “Equisse pour le portrait d'une reine: Ranavalona Iere,” Omaly sy Anio 1/2(1975), 251–70; Brown, Mervyn, “Ranavalona I and the Missionaries, 1828-1840,” Omaly sy Anio 5/6 (1977), 107–39; Esoavelomandroso, M., “Note sur l'enseignement sous Ranavalona I: l'instruction reservée à unite élite,” Ambario 2/3 (1978), 281–90; and Campbell, G., “The Adoption of Autarky in Imperial Madagascar, 1820-1835,” JAH 28 (1987), 395409. Most studies focus upon ‘religious’ themes. The crisis of succession is still cast as a reversion to the past. For this reason there is virtually no attention given to Ranavalona's career as a pragmatic administrator, and she is seen only in terms of the saga of Christianity or its later permutations within Merina society. A thoughtful example of this approach is Raison-Jourde, Françoise, Bible et pouvoir à Madagascar au XIXe siècle. Invention d'une identité chrétienne et construction de l'état (Paris, 1991), 126–65.

4. For historical ethnographies of hasina see Delivré, André, L'histoire des rois d'Imerina. Interprétation d'une tradition orale (Paris, 1974), 140–62; Bloch, Maurice, “The Disconnection Between Power and Rank as a Process,” Archives européennes de Sociologie 28 (1977), 124–29; and Berg, Gerald, “Religion and Authority in Early Nineteenth Century Imerina” in Kent, Raymond K., ed., Madagascar in History (Albany, CA, 1980), 211–28.

5. A good example of the process is Andrianampoinimerina's unification of Avaradrano, a northern province of Imerina, when the Tsimahafotsy declared the conqueror their ancestor: “Be sanctified [masina hianao] for you are the successor of Andriambelomasina”. See Callet, François, ed. Tantara ny Andriana eto Madagascar [4 vols.: Antananarivo, 18731902], reference edition (2 vols.: Antananarivo, 1908) (henceforth TA), 425-26, 429, 939; Rainandriamampandry, Tantarany Madagascar, first redaction (1885-90), Archives de la République malgache (henceforth ARM); SS 24 fols. 25r-27v; and Rainitovo, , Tantaran'ny Mallagasy Manontolo (2 vols.: Antananarivo, 1931), 2: 365–68.

6. TA, 493: “…ary izao tsy lafintany intsony fa efa lafinkavana.”

7. TA, 425-26.

8. Berg, Gerald M., “The Sacred Musket: Tactics, Technology, and Power in Eighteenth-Century Imerina,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 27 (1985), 278; Sibree to Mullens (21 October 1870), LMS-LI, IX/2/C; Vig, Manuscripts …, 52 J 123, 44 J 89; and Kelimalaza,” Firaketana, no. 186 (1957), 6267.

9. Sahlins, Marshall D., Islands of History (Chicago, 1985), xiii.Thompson, John B., Studies in the Theory of Ideology (Berkeley, 1984), 56, 131; and Bloch, Maurice, From Blessings to Violence. History and Ideology in the Circumcision Ritual of the Merina of Madagascar (Cambridge, 1986), 191–92, share the idea, rejected in my argument, that ideology expressed through symbols entails a “collective deception without a deceiver” in which the reality of domination is “hidden” by “ambiguity” in symbolic language.

10. Sahlins, , Islands, ix

11. Berg, “Religion and Authority.” See also Françoise Raison-Jourde, “De la restauration des talismans royaux au baptême de 1869 en Imerina” in idem., ed. Les souverains de Madagascar (Paris, 1983), 337-69.

12. See Berg, “Ideology and Innovation.”

13. Bloch, , Blessings, 4245.

14. Farquhar to Radama (15 December 1821), British Library (henceforth BL), Add. Ms. 41265, f. 58v; Jeffreys to Arundel (8 May 1822), London Missionary Society—Letters Incoming [henceforth LMS-LI], I/3/C; Griffiths, Journal (19 July 1822), London Missionary Society—Journals [henceforth LMS-J], 1/4, entry of 15 April; Canham to Burder (2 May 1823), LMS-LI, I/5/A; James Hastie to Southern Committee (17 March 1825), LMS-LI, II/2/A; TA, 1078-80, 1102; Hilsenberg, Charles Theodore and Bojer, Wenceslaus, “A Sketch of the Province of Emerina” [1823] in Hooker's Botanical Miscellany, 3 (1832/1833), 246–75, ed. Valette, Jean, Bulletin de Madagascar, no. 227 (avr-mai 1965), 310; Tyerman, Daniel and Bennet, George, Journal of Voyages and Travels by the Rev. Daniel Tyerman and George Bennet, ed. Montgomery, James (2 vols.: London, 1831), 2:502–03; Ayache, Simon, “La découverte de l'Europe par les Malgaches au XIXe siècle,” Revue française d'histoire d'Outre-Mer, 73 (1986), 1112; Valette, Jean, “Le voyage de Rafaralahy-Andriantiana à Maurice (1821-1822),” Bulletin de l'Académie malgache 42/1 (1964). See the analysis in Gerald M. Berg, “Ideology and Power in the Merina Empire Under Radama I, 1816-1828,” forthcoming.

15. Cameron to Ellis (25 September 1835), LMS-LI, V/2/C. See also Ellis', William synthesis in his Three Visits to Madagascar during the Years 1853, 1854, 1856 (Philadelphia, 1859), 153–56; and his Faithful unto Death (London, 1876), passim.

16. This paper draws heavily on Ranavalona's correspondence with provincial governors, the earliest corpus of Merina bureaucratic documentation, preserved in the Archives de la République malgache as sub-series BB, dossiers 1 through 14 beginning in 1829. Three pagination systems are used irregularly throughout the original documents which are bound together in registers and include a series of fair copies only roughly arranged in chronological order. The first pagination system comprises the round printed seal of “Madagascar archives” placed in the upper left corner on each side of a page indicating folio number and recto or verso. The second system comprises the imprints of a mechanical enumerator placed at the top center of each page indicating the page number in three digits. The third system comprises the imprints of a five-digit mechanical enumerator placed at the bottom center or the upper third of each page. None of these pagination systems run throughout the entire series of documents, and many pages have more than one system applied to them. Documents used in this study will be cited according to which of the three systems appear on the page in question. In cases where more than one system appears, the page will be cited in the order of pagination systems described above: system one will be cited as “fol.,” and systems two and three, the mechanically enumerated pages, as “p.”

17. Johns and Freeman to Ellis (10 March 1835), LMS-LI, V/2/A.

18. TA, 1159: “izaho tsy vavaka amin'ny razambazaha, fa ny Andriamanitra sy ny razako, fa samy manana ny razany …”

19. Ranavalona to Louis-Philippe (1 Adaoro 1838), Archives nationales de France, Centre des Archives d'outre-mer, Madagascar-Géographique [henceforth CAOM] 14/28. Compare this formulation with Andrianampoinimerina's promise to the envoys from northern Imamo (TA, 518): “I change nothing in the land in which you reside [=tsy ova'ko amy ny izay ipetraha'nao];” and his exhortation to the Zanakandrianato (TA 489): “You have changed nothing of ancestral custom and so I will not change any of it [=Tsy anova'nareo ny nentindrazana, ka tsy ova'ko kosa…].” On Merina tolerance of cultural diversity see Ayache, , “Découverte,” 16.

20. The written word was not guarantee against “misunderstanding.” The diplomatic exchanges, including bungling on both sides of the 1829 Franco-Merina war, serve to highlight the fact that writing per se did not place Madagascar in a universal culture shared only by other scribal nations. One can even suggest that there is little universal “logic” in writing as such. As a tool, like a musket, all depends on the organization of its use and the values of its users. Whatever universal culture did exist between the French and Malagasy was not a matter of writing or lack thereof. As Clanchy has indicated, “orality and literacy are not necessarily differing mentalities.” See Clanchy, M. T., review of “Listening for the Text,” Times Literary Supplement (13-19 July 1990), 757.

21. Ranavalona any Raibenijafy (28 Adaoro 1832), ARM, BB2, fol. 64r; Ranavalona any 11vtra A. Corroller (14 Asorotany 1832), ARM, BB2, fol. 82r; and Ranavalona any qvtra Ranivo (17 Asorotany 1832), ARM, BB2, fol. 80v.

22. See Hewlett, A.M., “Mantasoa and its Workshops: a Page in the History of Industrial Progress in Madagascar,” Antananarivo Annual 3/3, no.11 (1887), 295300; Chauvin, J., “Jean Laborde, 1805-1878,” Mémoires de l'Académie Malgache 29 (1939); Decary, R., “Mantasoa et l'oeuvre de Jean Laborde,” Révue de Madagascar, no. 9(1935), 6772; idem., “Les canons de Jean Laborde,” La Grande Ile Militaire, no. 21(1954), 6-7. For contemporary accounts see TA, 71, and 1158; Garnot, Rapport (27 mars 1837), CAOM 15/30; Romain-Desfossés (22 févr. 1846), CAOM 151/208; and Ranavalona any 9vtr Rafaralahindraini (24 Adalo 1832), ARM, BB2, fol. 22v.

23. Ranavalona any manam-boninahitra isany Seranana (6 Alahasaty 1830), ARM, BB1, fols. 8r-9r. The directive went out to ports on both east and west coasts, including Toamasina, Majunga, Mahavelona, and Fenoarivo.

24. Ranavalona any Seranana rehetra (13 Adalo 1832), ARM, BB2, fol.12r.

25. For the conventions of kabary discourse see Delivré, , Histoire, 163–71; E. Keenan, “A Sliding Sense of Obligatoriness,” and Bloch, M., “Merina Oratory,” in Bloch, Maurice, ed., Political Language and Oratory in Traditional Societies (London, 1975), 5-12 and 93112, respectively.

26. Ranavalona's letters (4 Adizaoza 1832), ARM, BB2, fol. 67r; (10 Adizaoza 1832), ARM, BB2, fol. 68r; and regarding the land grant (2 Alakaosy 1839), ARM, BB6, fols. 9r-9v.

27. See Gerald Berg, “The Tithe That Binds: The Ideology and Practice of Taxation in the Early Merina Kingdom,” forthcoming.

28. Ranavalona any 11vtra Raibenijafy (25 Alahotsy 1830), ARM, BB1, fol. 13v; and Ranavalona any 9vtr Rafaralahidraini (24 Adalo 1832), ARM, BB2, fol. 22v.

29. Ranavalona any Razafimbelo (27 Adijady 1829), ARM, BB1, p. 16: “Aza mikabary olona foana hianareo fa ny lalana fodiana no atreho fa zaho mandre ny anareo hoe manao kabary aty koa atsaharo izany fa aza atao.

30. See Richardson, James, A New Malagasy-English Dictionary (London, 1885), 370–71 (lalana); 372 (laloana); 194-95 (fody); 71 (atrika), 672 (trahanana); and Abinal, Antoine and Malzac, Victorin, Dictionnaire malgache-française [1888], éd. maritimes(1899), 21 (alalana); 66 (atrika); and 376 (làlana and lalàna).

31. traditional requirements of kabary discourse to make the presence of the monarch palpable.

32. Aujas, L., “Notes sur l'histoire de Betsimisaraka,” Bulletin de l'Académie Malgache, 4/1 (1905/1906), 92; Ellis, , History, 2:140–43; Hastie, , “Journal” (14 November 1817-26 May 1818), Arch. col. Maurice, , ed. Telfair, , Bulletin de l'Académie Malgache, n.s. 4(1918/1919), 148; TA, 1074; and Valette, Jean, “Rainandriamampandry, historien de Jean René,” Bulletin de l'Académie Malgache, 48/(1970), 17.

33. Corroller quoted in Ellis, , History, 2:124–25.

34. Thornton, John K., “The Art of War in Angola, 1575-1680,” Comparative Studies in Society and History, 30(1988), 363–64; idem., “Legitimacy and Political Power: Queen Njinga, 1624-1663,” JAH 32(1991), 38-39.

35. Rbe burned alive. See TA, 1100-01.

36. Quoted in Larevanchère, Lt., “Souvenirs de l'expédition de Madagascar en 1829 et 1830,” Journal de l'Armée [Paris] (1834), 4546.

37. Colonial Office (March 1830), LMS-LI, III/3/B; and Jones to Hankey (24 July 1829), LMS-LI, III/2/A.

38. Finlay, Ran R., “The Refashioning of Martin Guerre,” American Historical Review 93 (1988), 553–71; and Davis, , “On the Lame,” American Historical Review, 93 (1988), 572603.

39. Bloch, , Blessings, 45.

40. See October 1817), Bulletin de l'Académie Malgache, 2(1903), 250.

41. See Berg, “Ideology and Innovation.”

42. Ellis, Stephen, The Rising of the Red Shawls (Cambridge, 1985).

43. See Ranger, T. O., “Connexions Between ‘Primary Resistance’ Movements and Modern Mass Nationalismin East and Central Africa,” JAH 9 (1968), 437-53, 631–41. Ranger discredits an earlier view that saw precolonial resistance movements as “romantic” and “impulsive negative retorts” in contrast to later movements of “the defter nationalisms.” Although he finds many political connections between the “primary” and “secondary” ideologies.

44. Lan, David, Guns and Rain. Guerrillas and Spririt Mediums in Zimbabwe (Berkeley, 1985); Golan, Daphna, “Inkatha and Its Use of the Past,” HA 18(1991), 113–26.

45. Thompson, , Studies, 131.

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