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Queen Ranavalona: The First Queen of Madagascar

Queen Ranavalona: The First Queen of Madagascar

Queen Ranavalona, also known as Ramavo, was one of the most forward-thinking queens in Africa. As the first queen of Madagascar, she aimed to make her nation self sufficient from European powers. During her 33 year reign, the Queen Ranavalona faced many challenges. She also made significant moves to forward Madagascar's economy and politics.

Born Princess Ramavo in 1778, she was the daughter of Prince Andriantsalamanjaka and Princess Rabodonandriantompo. As a young girl, her father alerted the king at the time — King Andrianampoinimerina — of a plot to kill him. The king felt so indebted to Prince Andriantsalamanjaka for saving his life that he promised his heir, Prince Radama, would marry Ramavo. He also declared that any child that came from the marriage would be first in line of succession after Radama. Radama and Ramavo married, but the marriage remained childless and loveless. When his father passed away, Prince Radama became king and, as per royal custom, executed several potential opponents, including some of his wife's relatives. This caused even more strain on the marriage and led Ramavo to David Griffiths — a Welsh missionary — who she had a deep friendship with for over 30 years.


Becoming Queen Ranavalona

When King Radama died on 27 July 1828, the heir to the thrown was Rakotobe, who was Radama's nephew. Radama's death was kept a secret for several days. Still, once a high-ranking military officer found out, he collaborated to help Ramavo take the throne along with other influential officers. The officers hid Ramavo in a safe location until they could gain the support of several prominent people, including judges and the army. On 11 August 1828, Ramavo declared herself as the successor of her husband, stating that Radama decreed it.  When Ramavo became queen, she took the name Ranavalona, which mean folded or kept aside. Like her husband, Queen Ranavalona executed several potential opponents, including members of Radama's family. She officially became queen on 12 June 1829.


The Reign Of Queen Ranavalona

Queen Ranavalona reigned for 33-years and was known for her effort to strengthen Madagascar's political and cultural sovereignty. Early on in her reign, she distanced Madagascar from the influence of the French and British who aimed to colonize the island. She did this by ending a friendship treaty with the British and forbid the practice of Christianity amongst the Malagasy population. Additionally, she placed restrictions on missionaries of the London Missionary Society, who provided basic education and trade skills to locals.

By 1835, all her efforts paid off as nearly all foreigners had left her territory. With almost no foreign trade relationships, Queen Ranavalona began putting in policies to make Madagascar self-reliant. This could only be done by the long-standing tradition of fanompoana, which is forced labor instead of tax payments. During her time as queen, she named her son, Radama II, as her successor. On 16 August 1861, Queen Ranavalona died in her sleep at the Manjakamiadana palace.

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