Located in the Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of Africa, Madagascar is the world's fourth largest island. The Malagasy people are of mainly African and Asian descent.
The 13th century European traveler Marco Polo mentioned Madagascar in his book The Travels of Marco Polo, calling it "one of the biggest and best [islands] in the whole world." According to Marco Polo's account, in his day Madagascar was already a center of trade. By the late 17th century, it had also become a haven for European pirates.
Originally Madagascar was divided into small kingdoms. Later, empires arose. And in the early 19th century, with the help of the British, King Radama I of the royal Merina dynasty (the kingdom of Imerina) conquered most of the island. The British recognized him as the ruler of all Madagascar. He did much to modernize Madagascar.
After Radama I's death, the throne passed to his ruthless wife Ranavalona I, who was herself of royal birth. She persecuted Christians and drove many foreigners out of the country, but her son and successor, Radama II, welcomed them back.
King Radama II's openness to outsiders angered members of his own government, and in 1862 he was strangled to death. His widow, Queen Rasoherina, succeeded him as monarch, but the power behind the throne was a man named Rainilaiarivony, who had helped plot the murder of Radama II. He became the queen's prime minister -- and also her husband.
Rasoherina died in 1868 and was succeeded by a royal relative, Queen Ranavalona II. Rainilaiarivony married her, too, and continued to rule Madagascar in the queen's name. To strengthen his power, he and the queen converted to Christianity.
After the death of Ranavalona II in 1883, another royal woman ascended the throne as Queen Ranavalona III. And -- you guessed it -- Rainilaiarivony married her, too.
In 1890 Madagascar became a French protectorate. Rainilaiarivony, who opposed the French, was sent into exile in Algeria. The queen accepted the protectorate and was allowed to remain on the throne, but in 1897 she too was exiled. She was Madagascar's last monarch. Today Madagascar is an independent republic.
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Historical Dictionary of Madagascar by Maureen Covell. The introduction summarizes the history of the island, while entries cover the histories of major ethnic groups and important pre-colonial political units. Includes a detailed chronology and a bibliography of works in English and French.
A History of Madagascar by Mervyn Brown. Examines the origins of the Malagasy, the early contacts with Europeans, the colonial period, and more recent history.
Lonely Planet Madagascar & Comoros by Gemma Pitcher. This travel guide includes historical information.
Lords and Lemurs: Mad Scientists, Kings With Spears, and the Survival of Diversity in Madagascar by Alison Jolly. In southern Madagascar is a place called Berenty, where Tandroy tribesmen live in traditional villages surrounded by walls of thorns. Forty years ago, scientist Alison Jolly was the first outsider to attend a Tandroy funeral. In this book she tells the story of Berenty, its people, and its animals.
Female Caligula: Ranavalona, the Mad Queen of Madagascar by Keith Laidler. Queen Ranavalona I reigned for 35 years, beginning in 1828. She had a million of her subjects ritually executed. This book tells the true story of her bizarre court, outrageous costumes, and extravagances.
Rituals of Royalty: Power and Ceremonial in Traditional Societies edited by David Cannadine, Simon Price, and Lyndal Roper. Includes a chapter on the ritual of the royal bath in Madagascar.
The Weight of the Past: Living With History in Mahajanga, Madagascar by Michael Lambek. Anthropology book about the Sakalava people of western Madagascar, who ruled almost half of Madagascar in the 18th century. Includes information on royal genealogy, major royal capitals and rulers in the northwest, and royal cemeteries.
An Economic History of Imperial Madagascar, 1750-1895: The Rise and Fall of an Island Empire by Gwynn Campbell. Challenging conventional portrayals of 19th century Madagascar as a unified and progressive kingdom, this study reveals that the Merina attempted to found an island empire and exploit its human and natural resources. Scheduled to be published in December 2004.
Flashman's Lady by George MacDonald Fraser. Humorous novel from the Flashman series about an "unblushing cad" who in this book is forced to become the lover of Queen Ranavalona I. Includes a brief appendix about Ranavalona.
Enchantment of the World: Madagascar by Ettagale Blauer and Jason Laure. Describes the geography, plants and animals, history, economy, language, religions, culture, sports and arts, and people of Madagascar. For children ages 9 to 12.
Cultures of the World: Madagascar by Jay Heale. For children ages 9 to 12.
The DVDs listed below are formatted for North American audiences and may not work in other regions.
The Marvels of Madagascar. Discover the unique cultures, places, landscapes and critters that make Madagascar marvelous.