The Madagascan Kingdom of Imerina was a sizable African Kingdom that spanned from the 16th century to the 19th century. It is named so, as it had control over the majority of what is now modern-day Madagascar. It started from Imerina and spread outwards. It had two capitals, one spiritual at Ambohimanga and one political at Antananarivo, which is also the capital of modern day Madagascar as well. The architecture of Kingdom of Imerina is evidence that African achievements are poorly understood and incorrectly portrayed.
While the Kingdom of Imerina came into being in the 16th Century, the area has a vast and rich history. The highlands of Madagascar were inhabited by the Vazimba around 200 BCE, who created villages among the trees of the island’s dense forests.
This would not change until the 15th century, when the Hova immigrated from the coast towards the highlands. For some time, both people coexisted, and there was even a marriage between a Vazimba Queen, queen Rafohy (1530 AD – 1540 AD) and a Hova man. However, their oldest son would change this. Andrimanelo (1540 AD – 1575 AD) would declare war on the Vazimba.
He was largely successful in his endeavors and managed to control the Vazimba who had to submit to his rule or leave.
On his death, Andriamanelo, who could be called the founder of the Kingdom of Imerina, was succeeded by his son, Ralambo. Ralambo was in many ways, the most iconic ruler of the Kingdom. He would name the Kingdom as the Imerina Kingdom. He not only defended the Kingdom, but also notably expanded it, using a mixture of diplomacy and military force, which was aided by him procuring firearms via trade. This gave him a huge advantage over surrounding armies, as he was able to establish a Royal Army, something not previously seen in the region. He would also be the first person to establish tax in the region, and would also resist an invasion attempt.
After his death, he was succeeded by his son Andrianjaka in 1612. During his reign, Andrianjaka launched a campaign to increase the influence of the Hova dynasty on the island and capture the final stronghold of the Vazimba, which he then promptly fortified to create the capital of Antananarivo. These were fortified buildings, built with a solid foundation, and which would last right up to a major fire in 1995. He too acquired firearms and gunpowder through trade, and like his father, he too expanded his Kingdom, and his rule stretched farther than it had before.
The next major ruler was King Andriamasinavalona (1675 AD – 1710 AD), notable for his rule and his “succession plan” upon his death. He was responsible for expanding this Kingdom to its largest size before the 19th century. However, it was his decision to leave his Kingdom quartered between his four sons which caused the most ramifications. This action would lead to Civil War, and in the end, one of the nephews of his sons would reunite the four Kingdoms under one King once again.
Prince Ramboasalama tried to unite the Kingdoms, but it was his son Radama who would re-unite the bulk of the Kingdom back. King Radama however, would make one fatal mistake for the dynasty, by entertaining French diplomats, and allowing the French settlements in Madagascar. In the end, his son, who succeeded his widow, Queen Ranavalona, would be strangled by a coup, led by the French. Thus, ended a great Kingdom, with many achievements that had led to many changes in Madagascar.
The kings of Merina were polygamous and also often had many children.
Society in Imerina had three historical classes: Andriana (nobles), the Hova (citizens or free commoners) and Andrevo (slaves).
At the start under Andrianjaka, the Kingdom contained what would be called the twelve sacred hills of Imerina. This would later expand and would include the land south of Avaradno, which would form the new capital under Andriamasinavalona. He would also add Inamo to the West, and Valalafotsy to the Northwest. This would comprise all of modern Day Madagascar
Twelve Sacred Hills of Imerina
The Kingdom of Imerina gave great spiritual significance to Twelve Hills which would become part of their Kingdom. Twelve is a very sacred number for the Merina, and it is said that Andriamasinavalona had twelve wives, and each wife was placed on each hill. The first hill to become part of the Kingdom was the Hill of Alasora, which was also one of the oldest villages of the Kingdom.
Another hill was the Hill of Ambohidrabiby, where King Ralambo was buried. Ambohidratrimo is named after the King who conquered it. The fourth hill was the Hill of Ambohimanga, which was made the capital. The other capital – the political capital Antananarivo – was on Analamanga hill. Another Royal Hill was the Hill of Antsahadinta, where the royal tombs were kept. Another place that was considered sacred was the birthplace of King Andrianampoinimerina atop the Hills of Ikaloy. The stone gate of the town is still perfectly preserved.
The Hill of Ilafy housed the first arms manufacturers of Madagascar. It was also the capital of a previous Kingdom. Another sacred hill, the Hill of Imerimanjaka, would house the tombs of the two Queens who had ruled the Kingdom. The last two hills were the hills of Imerimandroso and Namehana, sites of a few awesome battles.
The Kingdom was truly innovative in agriculture. Once again, it was King Andriamanelo who led the way. He was the first in the highlands to transform lowland swamps into irrigated rice paddies. He achieved this via the construction of dikes (Which he used for his defensive structures as well) in the valleys arounds his. This turned the plain into rice producing fields, which yielded a giant surplus that could be used in trade. A large number of subjects were employed for this task, and he would also trade in slaves, to exchange for gunpowder to equip his armies.
The King Andriamanelo would also introduce astrology, also known as Sikidy.
In the field of technology, it is once again King Andriamanelo who is said to have discovered the technique of silversmithing, iron-smithing and the construction and use of pirogues. While he may not have been responsible for discovering all of these, there is no doubt that they became hugely popularized during his reign and were used widely throughout the Kingdom.
It was in terms of building that some of the achievements of this Kingdom really stand out. As mentioned before, it was the King Andriamanelo who established the first fortified royal compounds in his capital. The Palace had dry moats, defensive trenches and town gates that could be pulled up to make the castle irresistible to attack. It was a defensive structure that was not very common in Africa at the time. This would be the foundation for many such forts to be built in the Kingdom.
The Rova of Antananarivo, is a royal palace complex in Antananarivo, former home of the monarchs of Madagascar. Seven monuments originally occupied the site including the Manjakamiadana (‘Queen’s Palace’ and main structure), Tranovola, Manampisoa, Besakana , Mahitsielafanjaka, a Protestant temple and royal tombs. Queen Ranavalona I commissioned the construction of the Manjakamiadana, which was completed in 1839 by Jean Laborde.
There were many such architectural feats achieved by the Merina Kingdom. We check out a few of them below, showcasing the different castles that would be created.
Next, we see the Private Residences made for the Queen Rasoherina.
Monarchs of Imerina
Line of succession
- Andrianerinerina* (Son of God incarnate. According to popular belief, descended from the skies and established his kingdom at Anerinerina)
- Andrianamponga I*
- Andriandranolava (Andranolava)*
- Andrianampandrandrandava (Rafandrandrava)*
- Andrianmasinidohafandrana (Ramasindohafandrana)*
- Andrianmpandramanenitra (Rafandramanenitra)*
- Queen Rangita (Rangitamanjakatrimovavy) (1520–1530)
- Queen Rafohy (1530–1540)
- King Andriamanelo (1540–1575)
- King Ralambo (1575–1612)
- King Andrianjaka (1612–1630)
- King Andriantsitakatrandriana (1630–1650)
- King Andriantsimitoviaminandriandehibe (1650–1670)
- King Andrianjaka Razakatsitakatrandriana (1670–1675)
- King Andriamasinavalona (Andrianjakanavalondambo) (1675–1710)
- King Andriantsimitoviaminiandriana Andriandrazaka (Andriantsimitoviaminandriandrazaka) (1710–1730)
- King Andriambelomasina (1730–1770)
- King Andrianjafynandriamanitra (Andrianjafinjanahary or Andrianjafy) (1770–1787)
- King Andrianampoinimerina (1787–1810)
* Names derived from oral tradition
Pictures of Imerina monarchs
A good portion of the people of Madagascar are the current day descendants of this great Kingdom. They have shaped the world in many ways, including playing a vital part in World Wars I and II, in helping the allies gain decisive victory over their enemy. It is also a very biodiverse region, with 90% of species found there, which are not found anywhere else. Sadly, the effects of French Colonization can still be seen on the Malagasy people.
Some of the customs of the Kingdom can still be seen among the Malagasy people. Vodiondry is a marriage custom that involved the King Andriamanelo sending the meat of the hindquarters of a sheep to his betrothed. This is still seen in modern day Madagascar today.
In conclusion, the Kingdom of Imerina was a powerful Kingdom that shaped history in its own way.
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Campbell, Gwyn (1993). “The Structure of Trade in Madagascar, 1750–1810”. The International Journal of African Historical Studies. 26 (1): 111–148. doi:10.2307/219188.