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African Kingdoms

South Africa



For a long time, the first human settlers were thought to have arrived on the African island of Madagascar between AD 200 and 500 from South-East Asia, long before written records began on the island. However, the discovery in 2018 of the fossilised bones of a giant emu-like bird were discovered to contain tell-tale cut marks. This seemed to confirm that they had been hunted and, having been dated to around 8000 BC, they were hunted by modern humans a long time prior to any previously estimated permanent settlement of the island. These human hunters, though, lived alongside the birds on the island. The extinction of these birds may well have been caused by later arrivals.

A South-East Asian origin for the modern population of the island would explain the range of Malagasy phenotypic features, which form a mixture of Asian (Austronesian) and African racial types, whilst also including elements from the Arabs, Indians and Europeans who came later. Linguists have long recognised that the languages that were spoken by the people of Madagascar were not African in origin, although the reverse might be expected to be true given the proximity of Madagascar to Africa. Instead the linguistic links are also from South-East Asia (along with the aforementioned phenotypic features). Genetic studies support the theory that this South-East Asian ancestry co-mingled with African ancestry, although there has been little archaeological evidence, such as pottery, to clearly link these early populations to South-East Asia.

A more recent theory is linked to DNA evidence. This propounds that a colony of about thirty women along with an unknown quantity of men, mostly of Indonesian descent, landed on the island around AD 800, perhaps after sailing off course. The theory paints a picture of accidental settlement, negating the prior view that a large, planned settlement process took place. DNA evidence suggests that most of today's native Madagascars, the Malagasy, can trace their ancestry back to this founding population of thirty mothers. They either mated with other Indonesians, or Africans, or more probably a mixture of either. The small number of Indonesian women is consistent with a single boatload of arrivals. The distance between Indonesia and Madagascar is close to 7,500 kilometres (5,000 miles), so the women and their travelling companions must have had quite a journey, especially if it was unintended. Modern Malagasy are roughly a fifty-fifty mix of Indonesians and East Africans.

(Additional information by Dave Sheldon, and from External Links: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, and Elephant birds: Who killed the largest birds that ever lived? (BBC).)


The Austronesian settlement of the remote island of Madagascar remains one of the great puzzles of Indo-Pacific prehistory. Although linguistic, ethnographic, and genetic evidence points clearly to a colonisation of Madagascar by Austronesian language-speaking people from Islands of South-East Asia, decades of archaeological research has generally failed to locate evidence for a South-East Asian signature in the island's early material record.

In 2016 research involving new archaeobotanical data shows that South-East Asian settlers bring with them Asian crops - notably rice and mung beans. These crops provide the first known reliable archaeological window into the South-East Asian colonisation of Madagascar. They additionally suggest that initial settlement in Africa is not limited to Madagascar, but also extends to the Comoros.

Researchers on Madagascar
The researchers studied a total of eighteen sites on Madagascar, along the East African coast, and on offshore islands such as Pemba to discover the presence of South-East Asian food crops - but initially on the Comoros Islands rather than Madagascar

The proposed dates for the settlement of the island have varied over the years, from an initial window of AD 200-500 to more recent dates of AD 700-900. The latest research fits with a time window in the later date range - but only on the nearby Comoros Islands. South-East Asian food crops apparently arrive on Madagascar only in the eleventh century, a century later than even the least-generous previous dating. This points to a settlement route of South-East Asia to the Comoros and then to Madagascar, with the Comoros population later being subsumed by an African-speaking population or ruling elite.

900s - 1100s

A trading port is established at Mahilaka in north-western Madagascar in the tenth century. Given the recent research that has discovered that South-East Asian crops only arrive on the island in the 1000s but that they exist on the nearby Comoros Islands by around AD 800, it seems a safe assumption to say that trading has begun between the South-East Asian settlers of the Comoros and the occupants of north-western Madagascar. Such trading often leads to the creation of permanent trading posts for the importers (the same is often true in ancient Mesopotamia and Anatolia).

More permanent settlement and occupation of Madagascar by the Comoros people certainly follows this, but so too does the extinction of the elephant birds, Aepyornis and Mullerornis. They are giant emu-like creatures which have existed alongside humans on the island for at least nine thousand years. Such a length of time with human hunting clearly taking place from at least 8000 BC but no extinction even until now is puzzling - unless it is the new arrivals who actively pursue the birds to extinction.


The Ambohidratrimo kingdom emerges on Madagascar.


Pedro Alvares Cabral leads a thirteen-vessel fleet from Portugal to introduce Christianity wherever he goes, by force if necessary. Following directions given to him by Vasco de Gama and with one of his vessels captained by Vasco de Gama's companion, Nicolau Coelho, he sails to Brazil and then on round the Cape of Good Hope towards Mozambique and Madagascar, before returning to Portugal.


The Betsileo state of Imamo emerges on Madagascar.


The Menabe kingdom on the River Sakalava emerges.

Madagascan plains
The broad plains of western Madagascar dominate the landscape and provide prime farming resources for the island, in contrast to the south which is much more dessicated


The Boina kingdom emerges.

Merina (Imernia / Ambohimanga) State of Madagascar
c.AD 1675 - 1896

The Merina clan in the central highlands of Madagascar had lived in relative isolation from the rest of Madagascar for several centuries, but by 1824 they had conquered nearly all the various clans in Madagascar - thanks to the leadership of two shrewd kings, Andrianampoinimerina and his son, Radama I.

Personal names used before individuals ascended the throne are shown in parenthesis.

(Additional information from Country Studies - Area Handbook, US Department of the Army at the US Library of Congress, and from External Links: Women in African History (UNESCO), and Lost relics telling story of Madagascar's last queen (The Guardian).)

c.1675 - c.1710


King of the Imerina clan.

c.1710 - c.1730



The Tananarive kingdom emerges. At an unknown point in the same century, the Betsileo states of Anrindrano, Antakarana, Bara, Fisakana, Isandra, Lalangina, and Mananddriana also emerge.


The Betsimisaraka kingdom is formed.

c.1730 - c.1770


c.1770 - 1787

Andrianjafy (Andrianjafinandriamanitra)

1774 - 1786

The short-lived kingdom of Antogil is formed by a European adventurer.

1787 - 1810

Andrianampoinimerina (Ramboasalama)

United much of Madagascar.


Andrianampoinimerina conquers the Tananarive kingdom.


Imernia conquers Ambohidratrimo.

1810 - 1828

Radama I the Great (Lehidama)



The British governor of Mauritius concludes a treaty with Radama to abolish the slave trade in Madagascar. In return for the loss of a considerable part of the clan's revenue, Britain supplies military and financial assistance so that Radama can conquer the island's eastern coast and create a largely unified kingdom. This allows Christian missionaries to penetrate deeper into the island's territory and also spread the Latin alphabet.


The Boina kingdom becomes tributary to Imernia.


The Tanibe kingdom is formed.

1824 - 1828

With British support, Radama completes the Merina conquest of the Madagascan clans. He is recognised as king of Madagascar by Britain. The Menabe clan in the west, the Betsimisaraka clan on the east coast, and the kingdom of Tanibe are amongst the last to be subdued.

1828 - 1861

Ranavalona I the Cruel

Wife of Radama and now queen in her own right.


The queen repudiates the treaties that her husband had signed with the British, and murders the king's heir and other relatives. In 1835 she prohibits Christianity and expels British missionaries while executing other Christians. The queen's actions isolates the island and ruins its trade with other nations.


The Boina kingdom is annexed by Imernia. In the same decade the Sakalava sign treaties with the French which the latter use as a basis of establishing a protectorate over north-western Madagascar in 1882.

1861 - 1863

Radama II

Son. Created new ties with France. Killed by PM.


On 12 September 1862 a Franco-Malagasy treaty of friendship is signed, recognising the kingdom's sovereignty. However, certain clauses that authorise the takeover of land, natural resources, and the use of the labour force, put this sovereignty at risk.


Following his murder of the king, the prime minister and his cunning brother rule the kingdom from behind the throne for the remaining years of the Merina monarchy.

1863 - 1868

Rasoaherina (Rabodo)

Wife of Radama II and now queen in her own right.

1868 - 1883

Ranavalona II

Queen. Made Anglican faith the official religion.


The kingdom of Bemihisatra is formed on the island.


Based on treaties signed with the Sakalava in the 1840s, the French establish a protectorate over north-western Madagascar.

1883 - 1897

Ranavalona III (Razafindrahety)

Queen. Exiled. Monarchy abolished.


Using the excuse of a cancelled treaty and the loss of French property, France invades Madagascar in the First Franco-Hova War and conquers the island in the face of local resistance.

French ships at Tamatave
French vessels are shown in this woodcut at Tamatave, prior to the colonial period but during the build up to that period which would see Madagascar dominated by the French

1894 - 1895

Agreements in Europe mean that France can attack the Malagasy again without any interference from Britain. Queen Ranavalona III refuses to recognise the latest French effort to subordinate her kingdom so a French expeditionary force lands on the island, sparking the Second Frano-Hova War. In September 1895 the French capture the country's seventeenth century highland capital, Antananarivo (formerly known as Tananarivo). A wave of anti-foreign, anti-Christian rioting ensues.

1896 - 1897

The French parliament votes to annexe Madagascar. The Merina monarchy comes to an end, with the royal family being sent into exile to Algeria (via Reunion) along with the prime minister. A collection by Clara Herbert of ephemera that is related to the queen is put together during Herbert's employment by the royal family between 1890 and the 1920s. It includes an archive of fashion, photographs, and letters, along with one of the queen's dresses. The collection is returned to Madagascar in 2020 via auction. In 1896 French governors are appointed to control the island as a colony.

French Madagascar Colony
AD 1896 - 1960

After creating ties with France during much of the nineteenth century, the Merina kings of Madagascar were rather upset to find that the French parliament had unilaterally voted to annexe the island as a colonial appendage. This was despite the Second Franco-Hova War of 1895 and subsequent anti-colonial riots proving to the French that they were not wanted. The royal family and the governing structure was discarded or dismantled, with the queen and her family and also the prime minister being safely exiled to Algeria (the former in 1897 following an uprising). Now the French could concentrate on running Madagascar without royal interference. They brought the entire island under a single government. Malagasy troops fought alongside French troops in the Second World War, both before the fall of France and afterwards, in Morocco and Syria. Following the conclusion of the war, it was realised that the age of empires was clearly over, and Madagascar soon gained its independence.

Part of this realisation was borne of nationalist sentiment against the French. This eventually emerged through a small group of Merina intellectuals who had been educated by Europeans and exposed to Western intellectual thought. The group was based in Antananarivo and was led by a Malagasy Protestant clergyman named Pastor Ravelojoana. He was especially inspired by the Japanese model of modernisation. A secret society dedicated to affirming Malagasy cultural identity was formed in 1913, calling itself 'Iron and Stone Ramification' (in Malagasy this was the 'Vy Vato Sakelika', which was usually abbreviated to VVS). Although the VVS was brutally suppressed, its actions eventually led French authorities to provide the Malagasy with their first representative voice in government.

(Additional information from Country Studies - Area Handbook, US Department of the Army at the US Library of Congress, from Hommes et destins: dictionnaire biographique d'Outre-mer, Académie des sciences d'outre-mer (Paris 1981), from Stars and Keys: Folktales and Creolization in the Indian Ocean, Lee Haring, and from External Links: Madagascar, and the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Kings College London.)

1896 - 1905

Joseph Simon Galliéni

French military governor. Promoted to governor-general in 1897.

1896 - 1898

Joseph Simon Galliéni has already been responsible for establishing a French military presence within the Tukulor empire in western Africa in 1879, and exiling Madagascar's Queen Ranavalona to abolish the island's monarchy, From the moment he gains command of Madagascar, Galliéni institutes the foundation of French schools and products and helps to develop the island's economy through increased trade by creating roads and railways. Most of the island's external trade is with France, and the main language soon becomes French.

French troops on Madagascar in 1895
French troops entered the island's seventeenth century highland capital, Antananarivo (formerly known as Tananarivo) in 1895 and the Marina kingdom fell

A rebellion is already taking place in Imerina itself, with armed guerrilla bands called the Menalamba, or 'Red Togas', resisting modernisation and French rule. Galliéni puts down the insurrection, subdues the monarchy (by sending the queen into exile in 1897), and abolishes slavery. By 1898 the Merina kingdom is fully pacified, leaving the French the lesser task of subduing the few areas that had been outside the control of Merina.

1905 - 1906

Charles Louis Lépreux

Acting governor-general.

1906 - 1909

Victor Augagneur


1909 - 1910

Hubert Auguste Garbit

Acting governor-general.


Henri François Charles Cor

Acting governor-general.

1910 - 1914

Albert Jean George Marie Louis Picquié



A secret society that is dedicated to affirming Malagasy cultural identity is formed. It calls itself 'Iron and Stone Ramification' (in Malagasy this is the 'Vy Vato Sakelika', which is usually abbreviated to VVS). Although the VVS is brutally suppressed, its actions eventually lead French authorities to provide the Malagasy with their first representative voice in government.

1914 - 1917

Hubert Auguste Garbit

Second term of office.

1917 - 1918

Martial Henri Merlin


The first of several uprisings begins in the cities, led by opposition movements to French rule. In Mauritius a similar uprising is triggered by self-determination implications in the Treaty of Versailles which has recently been signed as the concluding act to the First World War. In that case it is a return to French rule from British rule that is desired rather than the Malagasy requirement to remove French rule altogether.

1918 - 1919

Abraham Schrameck

1919 - 1920

Marie Casimir Joseph Guyon

Acting governor-general.

1920 - 1923

Hubert Auguste Garbit

Third term of office.

1923 - 1924

Auguste Charles Désiré Emmanuel Brunet

Acting governor-general.


Amongst the first concessions to Malagasy equality is the formation of two economic and financial delegations. One is composed of French settlers, the other of twenty-four Malagasy representatives who are elected by the 'Council of Notables' for each of the twenty-four districts. The two sections never meet together, and neither have real decision-making authority.

1924 - 1929

Marcel Achille Olivier

1929 - 1930

Hugues Jean Berthier

Acting governor-general.

1930 - 1939

Léon Henri Charles Cayla


Léon Maurice Valentin Réallon

Acting governor-general.

1939 - 1940

Jules Marcel de Coppet

Also governor of Dahomey, French Somaliland, West Africa.

1940 - 1941

Léon Henri Charles Cayla

Second term of office.

1941 - 1942

Armand Léon Annet

Also governor of French Somaliland, & Dahomey.

1942 - 1943

Due to France being occupied by Nazi Germany during the Second World War, and to prevent Japan from occupying Madagascar, Britain takes control of the island following success at the Battle of Madagascar which begins on 5 May 1942. Vichy supporter Governor Annet defends the island with 8,000 troops but is forced to surrender on 5 November. Governance of the island is initially handled by British army staff before being handed over to Free French governors-general.

Battle of Madagascar 1942
This photo shows British or allied troops establishing a beachhead during the Battle of Madagascar - Vichy French control of the island was about to be replaced by British and then Free French control, heralding a seeming return to the status quo


Robert Grice Sturges

British Occupied Territories Administrator. CO of British forces.

1942 - 1943

Anthony Sillery

British Occupied Territories Administrator.

1942 - 1943

Victor Marius Bech

French acting governor-general.


Paul Louis Victor Marie Legentilhomme

1943 - 1946

Pierre de Saint-Mart


Robert Boudry

Acting governor-general.

1945 - 1947

In the aftermath of the war, France is finally willing to accept a form of Malagasy self-rule under its own guidance. In autumn 1945, separate French and Malagasy electoral colleges vote to elect representatives from Madagascar to the Constituent Assembly of the Fourth Republic in Paris. The two delegates chosen by the Malagasy, Joseph Raseta and Joseph Ravoahangy, both campaign to implement the ideal of the self-determination of peoples that had been affirmed by the Atlantic Charter of 1941 and by the historic Brazzaville Conference of 1944.

In 1946 Madagascar becomes an 'Overseas Territory' of France, but in the following year the French suppress an armed nationalist rebellion in the east known alternatively as the Malagasy Uprising or the Revolt of 1947. This is lead by Jean Ralaimongo and up to eighty thousand Malagasy are killed when the rebellion is put down. French military courts try those military leaders of the revolt that they can find, and twenty of them are executed.

1946 - 1947

Jules Marcel de Coppet

French High Commissioner.

1948 - 1950

Pierre Gabriel de Chevigné

French High Commissioner.

1950 - 1954

Robert Isaac Bargues

French High Commissioner.

1954 - 1959

Jean Louis Marie André Soucadaux

French High Commissioner.


France's socialist government renews the French commitment to greater autonomy in Madagascar and other colonial possessions by enacting the loi-cadre (the enabling law). The loi-cadre provides for universal suffrage and is the basis for parliamentary government in each colony. In the case of Madagascar, the law establishes executive councils that will function alongside provincial and national assemblies, and the separate electoral colleges for French and Malagasy groups are dissolved.

Two major political parties emerge. The newly created Democratic Social Party of Madagascar (Parti Social Démocrate de Madagascar or PSD) favours self-rule while maintaining close ties with France. The PSD is led by Philibert Tsiranana, a well-educated Tsimihety from the northern coastal region who is one of three Malagasy deputies elected in 1956 to the National Assembly in Paris. In sharp contrast, those advocating complete independence from France come together under the auspices of the Congress Party for the Independence of Madagascar (Antokon'ny Kongresy Fanafahana an'i Madagasikara or AKFM). Primarily based in Antananarivo and Antsiranana, party support centres amongst the Merina under the leadership of Richard Andriamanjato, himself a Merina and a member of the Protestant clergy.


Following the adoption of a constitution in 1959, Madagascar achieves independence as a republic on 26 June 1960, with Philibert Tsiranana of the PSD being elected to the post of president. Unfortunately what becomes an unpopular period in office is a sign of things to come for modern Madagascar.

Modern Madagascar
AD 1960 - Present Day

Madagascar is a large island off the African east coast, one that has been isolated by the sea for several million years. This has produced a largely unique array of mammals, along with half its birds and most of its plants being found here and nowhere else. Sitting in the Indian Ocean and separated from mainland Africa by the Mozambique Channel, its closest neighbours on the mainland are Tanzania, Mozambique, Swaziland, and South Africa, with Mauritius and Saint-Denis some way distant from the island's own eastern coast.

Two main theories provide for the arrival of the first Malagasy - either that they reached the island between AD 200 and 500 from South-East Asia, or that a wayward Indonesian vessel made landfall around AD 800 and a ship's compliment that included thirty largely Indonesian women provided the core of the original population. The latter theory is provided by DNA evidence. Modern Malagasy are roughly a fifty-fifty mix of Indonesians and East Africans. The island's history is largely obscure before around AD 1300, when a series of kingdoms or states began to emerge. Of these, the Merina state was the strongest, and it almost completely saw out the nineteenth century before the French took control.

As with many colonised states around the world, Madagascar gained independence following the Second World War, in this case in 1960. A new republic was declared on 26 June 1960 with a president being elected to the post - Philibert Tsiranana of the Democratic Social Party of Madagascar (Parti Social Démocrate de Madagascar in French). Since that time the republic has seen coups, power struggles and assassinations mar its history. Poverty is not far from the doors of many ordinary Malagasy while the island's unique flora and fauna is being placed under great strain by competition for agricultural land.

(Additional information from External Links: BBC Country Profiles, and the US Library of Congress Country Studies: Madagascar, Helen Chapin Metz, and the Institute for Security Studies.)


Madagascar has achieved independence as a republic and Philibert Tsiranana becomes the island's first president as the leader of the Democratic Social Party of Madagascar (Parti Social Démocrate de Madagascar or PSD) which had always favoured self-rule while maintaining close ties with France.

President Phillibert Tsiranana
Philibert Tsiranana was Madagascar's first independent president, albeit one who was elected under French rule, but his eventually unpopular period in office was a sign of things to come


Amid popular unrest, Tsiranana dissolves government and hands power to army chief General Gabriel Ramanantsoa as head of a provisional government. Ramanantsoa takes steps to reduce the country's ties with France in favour of links with the Soviet Union. This ends the period of the 'First Republic'.

1972 - 1975

Gabriel Ramanantsoa

Army major-general. Stepped down due to unpopularity.


Richard Ratsimandrava

Army colonel. Assassinated after six days.


Gilles Andriamahazo

Army general. Replaced after four months.

1975 - 1976

A military coup sees Lieutenant-Commander Didier Ratsiraka seize power with the aim of achieving a socialist paradise - the country's 'Second Republic'. The country is renamed the 'Democratic Republic of Madagascar' and Ratsiraka is 'elected' president for a seven-year term. The following year, Ratsiraka nationalises large parts of the economy and forms the Arema party. Over the years he increases state control over the economy until 1986 when he changes tack and promotes a market economy.

1975 - 1991

Didier Ratsiraka

Naval vice-admiral.


The hoped-for socialist paradise has failed to materialise. Instead the country has seen its economy go into decline and in the 1980s the authorities had been forced to adopt a structural adjustment programme imposed by the International Monetary Fund. Didier Ratsiraka establishes a transitional government and loses the resulting elections (although he subsequently returns as elected president in 1997-2002). This is the start of the third republic.

2000 - 2001

Thousands are made homeless after two cyclones hit the island and also Mozambique in March 2000. In December of the same year Arema wins provincial elections in most of the cities, apart from Antananarivo. The elections are for a new system of local government but some seventy percent of voters stay away after the opposition call for a boycott. They claim that voters had not been properly informed about the reforms.

In February 2001, an opposition parliamentary group, the 'Crisis Unit for the Defence of Democracy', is established following the jailing of MP Jean-Eugene Voninahitsy for insulting the president and also for cheque fraud. In May the senate reopens after a gap of twenty-nine years, completing the government framework provided for in the 1992 constitution, which had replaced the socialist revolutionary system. The new framework comprises the presidency, national assembly, senate and constitutional high court.


Claiming victory in 2001's late presidential elections, opposition candidate Marc Ravalomanana and his supporters mount a general strike and mass protests after being prevented from taking office. Violence breaks out between rival protesters before the High Constitutional Court declares Ravalomanana to be the election winner. This decision is recognised by the USA and the previous incumbent, Ratsiraka, goes into exile.


Madagascar experiences an attempted coup during the lead-up to a presidential election. On 18 November, General Andrianafidisoa declares military rule and uses a site near the capital's airport as his base. However, the coup soon peters out and is disguised as an attempt to declare the unconstitutional nature of the government. The general is eventually arrested and sentenced to four years in jail.


Andrianafidisoa / Fidy

Retired army general. Attempted coup leader.


Riots follow the forced closure of opposition television and radio stations. Opposition leader Andry Rajoelina forces the current president, Marc Ravalomanana, to step down, and assumes the role of acting president. He promises elections in 2011, but his government is not recognised internationally.

Andry Rajoelina
Andry Rajoelina, former mayor of Antananarivo and leader of the opposition in 2009, effectively seized power that year but was not recognised by the rest of the world as a legitimate leader

2009 - 2014

Andry Rajoelina

Seized power by force. Allowed elections in 2014.

2014 - 2015

The regime of Andry Rajoelina has not been recognised internationally. Instead the country has been isolated and deprived of foreign aid until the election of a new president in 2014, Hery Rajaonarimampianina. His failure to improve the country's economic plight leads parliament to vote for his impeachment in May 2015, threatening Madagascar with a return to constitutional uncertainty.

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