In ancient times, the island of Madagascar was divided into eighteen tribes, each with its own kingdom. The Merina are easily the largest amongst them, accounting for about a quarter of the entire population. Consequently, the unification of the island was accomplished by the ruling dynasty of the Merinas. Significantly, this was not achieved until after the arrival of the Europeans, when guns and ammunition from Western allies enabled the Merina King Radama I, to complete the task of consolidation begun by his father. He sought to modernise his kingdom through an alliance with the British, learning English and French, modernising the government, administration and army, and forbidding the export of slaves. However, he had failed to ensure a peaceful succession after his death.

King Radama I's principal widow was proclaimed Queen, with the help of the senior commanders of the army. King Radama's grandson and appointed heir were murdered, as were his parents. The choice of Queen Ranavalona I proved to be a backward step, as far as the advancement of the country was concerned. She reversed most of King Radama's reforms, including his more humane judicial punishments, in favour of traditional barbaric practices. The Christian missionaries were expelled from the country and their educational and medical institutions closed. In the style of Catherine the Great, she maintained a string of lovers and husbands, mothering a son some fourteen months after the King's death. She died after a reign of thirty-three years.

Providence surprisingly cast the new King in the same mould as his putative father. Radama II reinstated most of the reforms of Radama I, extending and modernising the kingdom still further. Education became a priority and missionaries from all denominations were encouraged to return. The King, Queen and other members of the Royal family became Christians and close diplomatic relations established with both France and Britain. His reforms were not popular with the aristocracy and a military revolt resulted in his murder after a brief reign of two years.

The leaders of the military revolt were two brothers. Rainivoninahitriniony, the elder brother proclaimed Radama's widow as Queen, married her and assumed the reigns of government as Prime Minister. After his death, Rainilairovony, the younger brother, also married the widowed Queen and added his brother's offices to his own. He was to remain the chief power in the land until for the remaining years of the monarchy. He ensured his grip on the reins of power by placing compliant princesses of the house on the throne and then marrying them shortly after their accession. Members of his family and connections filled virtually all the major governmental and military appointments.

The last years of the nineteenth century saw increasing tensions between France and Madagascar. The British had gradually withdrawn and French power was in the ascendant. Eventually France invaded and a year-long war ensued. The defeat of the Madagascan forces in the field culminated in the declaration of a French protectorate on 16th January 1896. Just over a year later, General Gallieni deposed and exiled the Queen and Prime Minister on 28th February 1897. Madagascar became a French colony until it achieved independence as a republic, on 26th June 1960.
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Until the death of Radama I, succession was by nomination by the reigning King, who usually appointed one of his sons by a Royal wife as his Heir Apparent. After that date, succession was basically by coup d'état. The Prime Minister and C-in-C of the day choosing a member of the family most amenable to him.

Queen Ranavalona I asserted that King AndrianaAmpoinimerina had established the rules of succession based on female descent from his maternal grandmother, Rasoherina. However, this was supposedly applicable only after the death of his son, King Radama I. The crown to be elective amongst such descendants in the female line. Although this "rule" was also used to choose her successors, it was merely a convenient device employed by the Prime Ministers to retain power in their hands. This makes it almost impossible to identify the current head of the family and potential claimant to the throne.
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Please see link marked Titles below.
Andrian: prince, noble.
Andriamanitra hita maso: "the visible God", one of the titles for the sovereign.
Andriambaventy: the nobility.
Atinandriana: the Royal family.
Bodo: small.
Fanjakana: kingdom, government.
Fantaka: one of the most important Royal idols in the ancient religion.
: civil police.
Filanjana: the Royal palanquin.
Kabary: great council or public assembly.
Lahi: prefix to proper name, interchangeable with Ra.
Malagasy: adjective used for the people and language of Madagascar.
Mpanjaka: sovereign, ruler.
Mpanjakana: kingdom.
Mpanjakany: King.
Manjakatsiroa: one of the most important Royal idols in the ancient religion.
Marakely: Sovereign's Escort.
Maroserana: military officers.
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Masoandro: i.e. the sun, the building in which the sovereign is placed immediately after succession.
Menakely: feudal estate.
Mpitaiza Andrian-a: the Queen's Guardian, a post created after the accession of Queen Ranavalona and usually borne by the CommanderinChief and Prime Minister, usually also the Queen's official lover.
Ny Masina: "the sacred thing", a term of address for a deceased sovereign.
Prinstsy: Prince.
: Princess.
Ra: prefix to the proper names of nobles, interchangeable with Lahi.
Raini: "father of", adopted as part of a name after the birth of the eldest son.
Reni: "mother of", adopted as part of a name after the birth of the eldest son.
: idol.
Taniravo: "joyful earth", the white clay used to mark the forehead of the Sovereign.
The Right Honourable: a style adopted for the senior Ministers and Secretaries of State, during the reign of King Radama II.
Tsiarondahy: the Royal Bodyguard.
Vadikely: lesser wife.
Vadintany: Royal messengers.
Voninahitra: "the flower of the grass", honours of dignity.
Voromahery: Royal Sparrow Hawk, also the name of the Hova clan or Royal tribe.
: "sons of the above" or, "sons of high rank", a title bestowed on the descendants of those who accompanied King Andrian-jaka in his conquest of Antananarivo.
Zanatompoindriana: "sons of the master" or, "descendants of the sovereign", a title used for the descendants of King Ralambo.

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Morris Bierbrier, FSA.
I would be grateful to hear from anyone who may have changes, corrections or additions to contribute. If you do, please be kind enough to send me an e-mail using the contact details at: Copyright© Christopher Buyers

Copyright© Christopher Buyers, December 2001 - July 2008