Queen Ranavalona I: The Intensely Cruel Monarch of Madagascar

Queen Ranavalona I of Madagascar

Madagascar is an island that is located off the south-east side of Africa. Due to many civil wars in the country and European invaders, King Andrianampoinimernia united as many tribes as possible to form the kingdom of Merina. As wars and the generations succeeded, the son of the king, Radama, came into power.

After a bloody war where the already sick Radama died, one of his wives by the name of Ranavalona took the news as her chance to rule. She spread rumors from one village to another that the religious icons were telling her that she should be the next ruler of Merina. In the end, she achieved her goal, and ruled with a bloody, iron fist.

Born a Commoner, but Won a Royal Life

In approximately the 1780s, Ranavalona was born into a humble family of tribesmen who were supporters of the kingdom of Merina. During her childhood, Ranavalona lived under the rule of a king that owned the west side of the island of Madagascar, where there were many wars against King Andrianampoinimernia who attempted to unite the whole island.

After years of turmoil, Ranavalona’s father informed the king of a plot to kill him, and the king, to show his gratitude to his servant, decided to adopt Ranavalona and teach her court life. Everyone thought she was quite imposing as a figure, and many feared her. All who saw her believed that there was something evil about her.

Queen Ranavalona I

Ranavalona was married to Andrianampoinimernia’s son, Radama, but he showed little interest in her. Radama, like his father, wished to use European missionaries as modernizers of their country. Ranavalona loathed the invaders, and as time went on, became increasingly outspoken of her hatred.

Once Ranavalona became queen, she started to express her ideas. Due to the fact that she severed ties with Britain, Ranavalona looked for an internal source for weapons, and found one in a ship wrecked survivor Frenchman Jean Laborde. He was able to equip the kingdom with countless weapons and he also was appointed tutor to her son, Prince Rakoto.

Ranavalona was obsessed with hygiene; when she was young she discovered that the French came to the country with soap, and thought it was a glorious invention she had to have. Once she procured the recipe for soap making from the missionaries, Ranavalona banned certain Christian ceremonies from her kingdom, and then years later ordered the exile of all Europeans from Madagascar.

This time period was filled with enslavement and death sentences of missionaries and Christians. Because of the soap, Ranavalona would take public baths from her balcony. This showed her love of cleanliness, of herself, her love of ancient rituals, and the fact she was queen. This bath was a reinvention of an ancient custom of washing away sins in the river, but this was a way to rise herself to godly status.

To boost the economy, Ranavalona sold slaves and her subjects into slavery to other countries. Sold subjects where ones that were arrested for being ‘traitors’ or Christians that were caught practicing the religion in secret. Those who were not killed were sold. Those that were killed were first tortured; burned at the stake, boiled in water, poisoned, flung off cliffs, and beheaded as fellow villagers were made to watch. This continued until one third of the population was killed off in many gruesome ways.

Any remaining Europeans were banished from the island instead of killed, and eventually the majority of them died from island illnesses on their way to the port to leave the country. With the Europeans gone, Ranavalona continued to torture her subjects. She finally died after a thirty year reign, and the future generations of Madagascar claimed Ranavalona was insane and believed that instead of saving her culture, Ranavalona almost was the demise of it.


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  2. Stradling, Jan. (2008). Bad Girls: The Most Powerful, Shocking, Amazing, Thrilling & Dangerous Women of all Time. New York, New York: Metro Books.