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The Fascinating History of Madagascar

The Fascinating History of Madagascar: From Obscure Centuries to the Present

The history of Madagascar begins around the 5th century BC when Indonesian and Malayo-Polynesian immigrants arrived in the west and northwest regions of the island. They brought with them the cultivation of rice and various other plants from Southeast Asia, such as sugarcane, bananas, coconuts, and yams. These early settlers also introduced silk weaving to Madagascar.

Following the Indonesian and Malayo-Polynesian immigrations, African and Arab Islamic people settled in all parts of the island’s periphery. Later on, European explorers arrived in 1500. Diego Dias, a Portuguese navigator was the first European to visit the island, giving rise to the name “Diego Suarez” for a region located in northern Madagascar.

Early Period: Dark Ages (up to 1500)

Chapter 1 – The Beginnings

Mysterious Settlers

Madagascar was settled by immigrants from Africa and Southeast Asia over 2000 years ago. The exact identity of these early settlers remains a mystery, with some theories suggesting they were Austronesian sailors or Arab and Indian merchants. Regardless of their origins, their influence can be seen in the language, customs, and traditions of the Malagasy people. Their legacy is an integral part of Madagascar’s rich cultural heritage.

The deserted island and the creation of the Malagasy people

The diverse ethnic and linguistic roots of the people in Madagascar combined to form a unique Malagasy culture. The island was initially uninhabited, lacking domesticated animals or cultivated plants. Settlers had to adapt to the environment and natural resources, leading them to develop various agricultural systems such as slash-and-burn farming and irrigation. They also domesticated animals like zebus and chickens, forming social groups based on kinship, territory, or occupation. Additionally, they developed religious beliefs centered around ancestor worship and nature spirits.

Chapter II: The New Arrivals

Navigating the Indian Ocean

The maritime trade between Africa, Asia, and Madagascar led to migrations and cultural expansion. The Indian Ocean was a hub for trade and interaction among different civilizations. The strategic position of the Malagasy allowed them to participate in these exchanges by exporting local products like gold, ivory, spices, and slaves while importing foreign goods such as iron, copper, fabric, and rice. They also welcomed travelers from diverse backgrounds including Arabs, Persians, Indians, and Chinese.

Arrivals on the West Coast and East Coast

New peoples from different parts of the world continued to arrive on the shores of Madagascar, adding to the island’s cultural diversity. Bantu populations from East Africa settled gradually on the west coast starting from the 10th century, bringing their language, pastoral way of life, and hierarchical social organization. On the east coast, Swahili populations from the African coast established themselves from the 12th century onward, introducing their Muslim religion, maritime trade, and stone architecture.

Infiltrations and contributions

The newcomers brought new technologies, farming methods, and religious beliefs that shaped Malagasy society. These included iron metallurgy, pottery making, and shipbuilding. Farming practices involved irrigated rice cultivation, cassava, and coffee growing. Religious beliefs ranged from Islam and Christianity to local cults. These contributions allowed the Malagasy people to diversify their economic activities, improve their living conditions, and enrich their cultural heritage.

The Ancestors’ Era (1500-1810)

Chapter III – Europeans around the Island

Portuguese, Dutch, English, and French settlements (1642-1674)

European nations explored and established colonies in Madagascar to expand their trade and political influence. The Portuguese were the first to reach Madagascar in 1500 on their way to India, setting up some trading posts and religious missions but not establishing a lasting presence. The Dutch arrived in 1642, drawn by the island’s wealth of rosewood and ebony, founding the colony of Fort-Dauphin before being expelled by the Malagasy in 1674. English attempts to settle in Madagascar during the 17th century were unsuccessful. The French were the most proactive, establishing several settlements on both the east and west coasts during the 17th century.

The Age of Pirates (1684-1724)

Madagascar was a haven for pirates who sailed the Indian Ocean to steal from merchant ships. These pirates were former European sailors who had deserted or been captured by other pirates. They created a diverse and free-spirited community, living by their own rules and traditions. They often partnered with local kings who provided protection and supplies in exchange for a share of the loot. Through mixed marriages, they helped spread European culture in Madagascar.

The Mascarene Islands and the Madagascar coast from 1724 to 1811

The Europeans kept expanding on the coast of Madagascar, often competing for control of resources. The Mascarene Islands, including La Réunion, Mauritius, and Rodrigues, were colonized by the French in the 18th century. They used these islands as a trading base with Madagascar and India. Unfortunately, they also played a role in the slave trade by deporting thousands of Malagasy people to work on sugar plantations in nearby islands or the Caribbean. Meanwhile, there were conflicts between the French and English along the Malagasy coast as they fought for control of trade and territories.

European Activities and Their Outcomes

The history of Madagascar saw the rise of powerful kingdoms that resisted or used European influence to dominate their neighbors. The island’s economy became part of the global colonial trade system, focusing on exporting tropical products at the expense of local development. A cultural blend between Malagasy and Europeans led to the emergence of a new mixed social class known as Karana. These activities had a lasting impact on Malagasy politics, economy, and society, causing internal tensions and enduring transformations.

Chapter IV – Ancestors’ Civilization

Material Life

Malagasy ancestors are descendants of a mix between African and Southeast Asian populations. They settled on the island about 2000 years ago, adapting to the diverse geographic and climatic conditions of Madagascar by utilizing natural resources. Their material life involves building houses using wood, bamboo, or earth, crafting tools and weapons from iron, wood, or bone, practicing slash-and-burn agriculture, raising zebus (a type of cattle), and fishing.

Spiritual Life

The Sakalava people base their spiritual beliefs on the idea of a supreme God called Zanahary or Andriamanitra. They also believe in ancestral spirits known as Razana, who are thought to influence the lives of the living. The Sakalava perform elaborate funeral rituals aimed at guiding the deceased into the world of ancestors and maintaining connections between generations. Additionally, they hold reverence for nature spirits referred to as Tody or Zazavavy, which are believed to dwell within trees, rocks, and springs.

Society and political institutions

Their society is based on family principles, solidarity, and hierarchy. They form clans called Foko, which share a common origin and territory. They acknowledge leaders known as Andriana or Mpanjaka, who hold political and religious power. They adhere to customs and laws called Fomba or Dina that govern social relations and conflicts.

Madagascar Kingdoms: 15th to 17th Century

Madagascar’s history is marked by the emergence of different kingdoms, including the Antemoro in the East, Betsimisaraka in the north, Sakalava in the west, and Mahafaly and Masikoro to the north of Toliary. The Betsileo kingdom was initially centralized but later gave rise to the Merina monarchy. These kingdoms took shape over various centuries, reflecting a rich and diverse historical tapestry on the island.

Third Period: The New Era (since 1810)

Chapter VI – The Kingdom of Madagascar

Madagascar under King Radama I

Madagascar’s kingdom was founded by Radama I, the king of the Merina kingdom in the central highlands of the island. With help from the British, he built a modern army with guns and brought most of Madagascar under his rule. He made friends with European powers like France and England and encouraged Western education, Protestant Christianity, and the use of Latin-based Malagasy writing.

The oppressive rule of Queen Ranavalona I

After Radama I’s death in 1828, his widow Ranavalona I took over as the ruler. She followed a strict and isolated policy, banning Christianity and persecuting missionaries and converts. She limited interactions with foreigners and imposed forced labor on her people. Additionally, she resisted French invasion attempts in the northwest of the island. Her reign was characterized by closed-off policies and authoritarian measures.

Radama II’s reform attempts and the coup d’etat

When Ranavalona I died in 1861, her son Radama II became king. He wanted to improve relations with Europeans and make the government more liberal. But he was killed in a coup two years later. His prime minister Rainivoninahitriniony and cousin Rasoherina plotted the coup and Rasoherina took over as queen. This time was full of political plots and power struggles at the royal court.

Ranavalona II and Rainilaiarivony’s Reign

Ranavalona II, the niece of Ranavalona I, became queen in 1868 after Rasoherina. She embraced Protestant Christianity and made the kingdom a Christian nation. Her husband, Rainilaiarivony, served as prime minister from 1864 to 1895 and implemented various reforms to modernize the country and strengthen its independence against French colonial interests. He also suppressed uprisings by coastal peoples who opposed Merina rule.

Under Ranavalona II’s rule:
– The kingdom was transformed into a Christian nation
– Rainilaiarivony served as prime minister and implemented administrative, judicial, economic, and military reforms
– Efforts were made to modernize the country and resist French colonial ambitions.

The end of Madagascar’s kingdom

Despite Rainilaiarivony’s efforts, the French invasion of 1895 brought an end to Madagascar’s kingdom and established a nominal protectorate. This invasion had major consequences for Madagascar, as it signaled the start of French colonization and the loss of the country’s political independence.

Chapter VII – Madagascar History Before 1895

Regional history, political institutions of the kingdom, economy and people

Before Madagascar was unified by King Radama I in the early 19th century, it was divided into several independent kingdoms or principalities. These included the Sakalava kingdom in the west and northwest, Betsileo kingdom in the south-central region, Betsimisaraka kingdom in the east, Antemoro kingdom in the southeast, Antanosy kingdom in the south, Antandroy kingdom in the extreme south, Bara kingdom in the southwest, Mahafaly kingdom also in the southwest, Tsihombe kingdom in the south, Antankarana kingdom in the north, Bemihisatra kingdom in the northeast and Sambirano Kingdominthe northwest.

Each of these kingdoms had its own political institutions based on hereditary or elective monarchy. They also had their own legal and religious customs as well as unique Malagasy dialects. Additionally, they had distinct economic and social lifestyles along with various relationships with foreign powers such as Arabs, Portuguese,French,and English. The kingdoms experienced periods of peace and war among themselves or with centralizing Merina power.

Chapter VIII – From the French Regime to the Malagasy Republic

The attempt of actual protectorate (1895-1896)

The real protectorate trial (1895-1896) marked the start of French colonial expansion in Madagascar. During this time, the French tried to gain political and economic control over the island.

Gallieni’s Tenure as Governor of Madagascar

In 1896, Gallieni became the governor general of Madagascar. He worked on implementing French colonial policy and reorganizing the country’s administration and infrastructure during his term from 1896 to 1905.

The Era of Successors (1905-1939)

During the time of the successors (1905-1939) after Gallieni’s mandate, several governors-general took charge in Madagascar. They continued the efforts to colonize and develop the island. Despite some progress, Madagascar still faced political and economic instability during this period.

Toward the Malagasy Nation (1940-1960)

– Madagascar started moving towards independence with the rise of nationalist movements and claims for sovereignty.
– Eventually, the island gained independence from France in 1960.

Chapter 9: Power Succession

First Republic and Popular Uprising

Since gaining independence in 1960, Madagascar has seen four republics and twelve heads of state. The first president, Philibert Tsiranana, led the country from 1958 to 1972 with support from France. However, his rule was marked by tensions and increasing economic problems. In 1972, a popular uprising led to Tsiranana’s downfall and a change in government.

Implementation of a military regime

After a rebellion, General Gabriel Ramanantsoa took control and set up a military regime. This time had lots of political and economic uncertainty, which got worse after Colonel Richard Ratsimandrava was killed in 1975. General Gilles Andriamahazo then became the head of the national military committee, but things stayed unsettled.

The Second Malagasy Democratic Republic

In 1975, power was given to Captain Didier Ratsiraka, who declared the second democratic republic of Madagascar. He followed a socialist policy and aimed to strengthen relations with Soviet bloc countries. Ratsiraka was re-elected in 1982 and 1989, but his rule faced serious economic and social crises. This led to protests and strikes as people expressed their discontent with the situation.

Political transition and the third Republic

In 1991, due to growing public pressure, Ratsiraka agreed to share power with Albert Zafy, the opposition leader. This marked the beginning of a political transition towards a third Republic when Zafy became president of the national committee for economic and social recovery. A new constitution was adopted in 1992, paving the way for presidential elections.

The presidency of Albert Zafy and his removal

Albert Zafy won the 1992 presidential election, becoming Madagascar’s third president. His liberal and decentralized policies faced challenges from the Parliament and the Prime Minister. In 1996, he was impeached for violating the constitution and temporarily replaced by Norbert Ratsirahonana, the president of the Constitutional Council.

Didier Ratsiraka’s return and political crisis

In 1996, Didier Ratsiraka returned to power by winning the presidential election against Albert Zafy. Initially, he pursued socialist policies but later shifted to a more moderate approach, seeking negotiations with international financial backers to address the country’s economic challenges. However, his leadership faced renewed opposition due to escalating political tensions.

During the 1996 presidential election, Didier Ratsiraka defeated Albert Zafy and resumed office. He transitioned from socialist policies to a more moderate stance and engaged in talks with international financial supporters to tackle the country’s economic issues. Despite these efforts, his leadership encountered renewed resistance amid increasing political unrest.

Political crisis and result dispute protests

In 2001, during the presidential elections, there was a dispute between Marc Ravalomanana and Ratsiraka. This led to a prolonged political crisis that lasted for several months, causing the country to face a political deadlock. The election results were contested by Ravalomanana, who declared himself as the president of the Republic. As a result, the country went through a challenging and uncertain period due to this disagreement between the two candidates.

Ratsiraka’s Departure and Ravalomanana’s Arrival

The political crisis reached its peak in July 2002 when Didier Ratsiraka left the country for France under pressure from the international community. Marc Ravalomanana then became recognized as the fourth president of the Republic by the international community. He pursued an ambitious program for economic and social development, but his rule was marred by accusations of authoritarianism and corruption.

Conflict with Rajoelina and overthrow

In December 2008, there was a conflict between Marc Ravalomanana and Andry Rajoelina. This happened because Rajoelina, who was the mayor of Antananarivo and a former disc jockey, disagreed with Ravalomanana’s leadership. Rajoelina organized protests against Ravalomanana’s policies which led to increased tensions.

By March 2009, the situation escalated as Rajoelina gained support from the military and took control of the presidential palace. He then declared himself as the president of the High Transitional Authority. Consequently, Ravalomanana left the country and sought refuge in South Africa.

The conflict between these two leaders resulted in political turmoil and power struggle within Madagascar.

International condemnation and aid suspension

The international community condemned Rajoelina’s coup in Madagascar and stopped giving aid to the country. This had a big impact on the economy and people’s lives, making things even harder for Madagascar.

Andry Rajoelina’s government lacks democratic legitimacy

Andry Rajoelina led the country without democratic legitimacy for four years following a coup d’état. Despite regional and international mediation efforts, he faced political, economic, and social challenges during his contested governance. Madagascar grappled with numerous difficulties during this period.

Issuing of the new Constitution

In November 2010, Andry Rajoelina introduced a new Constitution to create the fourth Republic of Madagascar. The Constitution aimed to set up the country’s political and institutional framework but faced controversy due to its adoption without a fully legitimate democratic process.

2013 Presidential Election and Political Agreement

In December 2013, there was a presidential election organized by the United Nations. However, two former presidents, Andry Rajoelina and Marc Ravalomanana, were not allowed to run for office due to a political agreement aimed at resolving a crisis. This decision sparked debates and controversies about the fairness and legitimacy of the electoral process.

Challenges Remain Despite Hery Rajaonarimampianina’s Election

Hery Rajaonarimampianina, backed by Andry Rajoelina, won the presidential election in January 2014 with 53% of the votes. He became the fifth president of the country, forming a broad government and working to mend international relationships. Despite these efforts, Madagascar faced ongoing economic difficulties and internal political tensions.

Rajaonarimampianina resigns and Rajoelina elected

In September 2018, Hery Rajaonarimampianina resigned as president to run for the early presidential election scheduled for November-December of the same year. During the interim period, the President of the Senate, Rivo Rakotovao, took on the role of head of state. The presidential election saw three former presidents competing: Andry Rajoelina, Marc Ravalomanana, and Hery Rajaonarimampianina. In the second round, Andry Rajoelina won the election with 55% of the votes and became the sixth president of Madagascar since January 2019.

Chapter 10 – Changes in the Country and People

Madagascar’s Economy

Madagascar’s economy relied heavily on agriculture and natural resources, with a strong dependence on local labor. French colonial leaders brought in new farming techniques and basic products to boost economic growth. However, the country’s post-independence economic policies often led to ongoing economic challenges.

Madagascar’s Population

The population of Madagascar has continued to grow over the years, despite economic and political challenges. The people of the island have maintained their cultural and linguistic traditions while gradually adapting to French influence and changing political dynamics. This adaptation reflects both resilience and the ability to embrace new ideas. Despite difficulties, Madagascar’s diverse population holds fast to its heritage while evolving with the times.

Malagasy Society

The Malagasy society has been influenced by French colonialism and the struggle for independence. This has brought new ideas, techniques, and values from abroad that have transformed local cultures and traditions. Despite this influence, the population has maintained a strong sense of national identity and pride through the preservation of their cultural traditions.

Sources and References: Their Importance in Academic Writing

Madagascar’s history from 700 to 1905 is documented in various sources, including writings by Arnaud LEONARD, M. Désiré Charnay, M. Le Dr H. Lacaze, and others. These accounts cover a range of topics including the population, customs, institutions, colonization under Louis XV, and the affairs of Madagascar from 1885-1895. The diverse perspectives provided by these sources offer valuable insights into different aspects of Madagascar’s history.

The historical timeline spans over centuries and encompasses significant events such as colonization efforts under Louis XV and developments in the late 19th century. The writings shed light on the population, customs, and institutions prevalent during those times.

Insights into Madagascar’s geography are also available through works like “Madagascar à vol d’oiseau” by M. Désiré Charnay and “Histoire et géographie de Madagascar” by M. Henry d’ Escamps (Nouvelle Edition). These resources provide valuable information about the geographical features of the island alongside its historical significance.

Overall, these texts collectively contribute to a comprehensive understanding of Madagascar’s history spanning several centuries up to 1905, offering diverse viewpoints on colonization efforts, societal structures, geographical characteristics, and significant events shaping the island’s trajectory over time.

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