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Radama I

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Subject: Ranavalona I, Andrianampoinimerina, History of Madagascar, Christianity in Madagascar, Betsileo people
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Radama I

Radama I
King of Madagascar
Reign 1810–1828
Coronation 1810
Predecessor Andrianampoinimerina
Successor Ranavalona I
Born 1793
Died 27 July 1828 (age 35)
Rova of Antananarivo
Burial 1828
Tomb of Radama I, Rova of Antananarivo
Spouse Ramavo
Father Andrianampoinimerina
Mother Rambolamasoandro

Radama I "the Great" (1793–1828) was the first Malagasy sovereign to be recognized as King of Madagascar (1810-1828) by a European state. He came to power at the age of 17 following the death of his father, King Andrianampoinimerina. Under Radama's rule and at his invitation, the first Europeans entered his central highland Kingdom of Imerina and its capital at Antananarivo. Radama encouraged these London Missionary Society envoys to establish schools to teach tradecraft and literacy to nobles and potential military and civil service recruits; they also introduced Christianity and taught literacy using the translated Bible. A wide range of political and social reforms were enacted under his rule, including an end to the international slave trade, which had historically been a key source of wealth and armaments for the Merina monarchy. Through aggressive military campaigns he successfully united two-thirds of the island under his rule. Abuse of alcohol weakened his health and he died prematurely at age 32. He was succeeded by his highest-ranking wife, Ranavalona I.


  • Reign 1
  • Death 2
  • Honours 3
    • National honours 3.1
  • References 4
  • External links 5


In 1810, at the age of 17, Radama succeeded his father Andrianampoinimerina as king of Imerina, a growing kingdom in the central plateau of the island around Antananarivo.[1] Several of the principalities conquered by his father revolted upon news of Andrianampoinimerina's death, immediately obliging the young ruler to embark on military campaigns to put down the rebellions and secure his position. He successfully expanded his realm to the Indian Ocean in 1817 after seizing the eastern port town of Antsiranana with an army of 30,000 soldiers.[1]

A shrewd diplomat, he successfully played off competing British and French interests while opening Madagascar to exchanges with foreign powers.[1] The British were interested in securing the passage to India and preventing the French from taking Madagascar. Although the French had been weakened by losing Réunion and Mauritius to the British in 1810, the British at the time did not have enough available resources to possess Madagascar themselves. They settled on an alliance with Radama that supported his rule and ensured a privileged position for the British in regards to trade. British Governor Robert Townsend Farquhar, based in Mauritius, committed to training and supporting Radama's army.[1] The Anglo-Merina treaty of friendship was sealed by a blood oath between Radama and the British envoy Captain Le Sage in 1817. As part of the treaty Radama agreed to put an end to the profitable slave trade; nevertheless slave-dealing continued clandestinely at a reduced level.

a page covered in French script
French language workbook of Radama I

As a result of the treaty social and political changes occurred: Radama organized a cabinet, and invited the Protestant London Missionary Society (LMS) to establish schools and churches. The LMS also brought a printing press and Welshmen David Jones and David Griffiths adapted the Latin alphabet for the Malagasy language, replacing the Arabico-Malagasy script previously in use. It was under Radama's rule that LMS missionaries (with notable contributions from Scottsman James Cameron) set up craft industries in wood, metal, leather, and cotton, transcribed the Malagasy language using the Latin script, introduced the first printing press, translated and printed Bibles in the Malagasy language and oversaw Radama's plan to establish dozens of schools offering compulsory literacy courses and basic education for the nobles of Imerina.

Illustration of Radama reviewing his troops (1825)

During this time and with the help of the British support, Radama’s military became the dominant force allowing him to unify the island by force. Expanding the boundaries of the kingdom, he first took over the area of the Betsileo tribe in the southern part of the island. His army took key eastern territories and several in the west. In 1825 he conquered the French settlement of Fort Dauphin at the southern end of the island, establishing Merina sovereignty over the whole of the island and securing his position as its rightful ruler. In each newly conquered territory, administrative posts were built within fortified garrisons (rova) on the model of the original Rova of Antananarivo. These were staffed with Merina colonists called voanjo ("peanuts"). Marriages of alliance were often contracted between Radama and key female nobles in the territories he brought under his rule. By the time of his death in 1828, the only parts of the island not under his control were the southern lands of the Mahafaly, Antandroy and Bara.[1]


Radama was a conqueror. He was a drunkard. Andrianampoinimerina, the Prince Worthy of the Highland People Under the Sun, made his son into an alcoholic and, in effect, cut the young man's throat.

The Great Red Island, Arthur Stratton[2]

Radama died prematurely on July 27, 1828, at his residence (the Tranovola).[3] Historical sources provide conflicting accounts regarding his cause of death. Radama was prone to drinking heavily, and shortly before his death he displayed symptoms of advanced alcoholism as his health rapidly declined. Explanations include the emotional strain caused by years of warfare[1] and pressure to live up to his celebrated father, King Andrianampoinimerina.[2] He may have simply fallen victim to the disease. However, the king had recently struggled with an acute affliction of the throat, and it was rumored that his corpse had been discovered with its throat slashed by a dagger. This in turn gave rise to speculation whether he had inadvertently or deliberately killed himself in a drunken fit of delerium tremens, or whether his own wife and future queen Ranavalona I may have arranged or even committed the murder of the king herself.[4] While the exact circumstances of his death remain unclear, his death was officially declared to be the consequence of heavy intoxication.[1]

Tomb of King Radama I (right), 1885

Radama was buried in a stone tomb on the grounds of the Rova of Antananarivo. Per Malagasy architectural norms, his tomb was topped with a trano masina ("sacred house") symbolic of royalty. Like his father Andrianampoinimerina and other Merina sovereigns that would follow him, he was laid to rest in a silver coffin, and it is said the funerary goods buried with him were the most extensive and richest of any tomb in Madagascar. These included a deep red silk lamba mena, imported paintings of European royalty, thousands of coins, eighty articles of clothing, swords, jewels, gold vases, containers of silver and so forth. Alongside each interior wall of the trano masina were a mirror, bed, several chairs and a table upon which were placed two porcelain water vessels and one bottle each of water and rum that were replenished annually during the fandroana (festival of the royal bath).[5] Most of these items were lost when a 1995 fire destroyed the Rova of Antananarivo where the tomb was located.[5]


National honours

  • Sovereign Grand Master of the Order of the Royal Hawk (1823).[6]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^ Royal Ark

External links

  • Precolonial Madagascar history
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