Female Caligula: Ranavalona, the Mad Queen of Madagaascar

Female Caligula: Ranavalona, the Mad Queen of Madagaascar

1.0 1
by Keith Laidler
     
 

'The seven christians stood together in the bright sunlight, bound with ropes singing a hyme to their foreign saviour as the spearmen advanced. Around them a croud of jostling men, women and children, more than sixty thousand strong...cheered enthusiastically as the spears were driven home and, one by one, the men and women fell and writhed on the sandy ground,

See more details below

Overview

'The seven christians stood together in the bright sunlight, bound with ropes singing a hyme to their foreign saviour as the spearmen advanced. Around them a croud of jostling men, women and children, more than sixty thousand strong...cheered enthusiastically as the spears were driven home and, one by one, the men and women fell and writhed on the sandy ground, their hymn fading slowly into silence...above the still writhing bodies, on a ridge, a score of crosses stood in mute witness, carrying their ghastly burdens, some of whom still lived despite the day and a half they had hung upon the wood.

As European colonists scrambled for control of Africa, a leader arose in the red island of Madagascar who, through ruthless determination thwarted the combined ambitions of all the major world powers. That leader and the author of this holocaust was no warrior but a diminutive woman of middle years, Ranavalona-Manjaka Queen of Madagascar, know to her subjects more simply as Ma Dieu. Under Ranavalona's despotic rule, hundreds of thousands of her people, possibly one-half of Madagascar's entire population, were murdered, starved or simply worked to death by her express command, while she enjoyed an eccentric and debauched lifestyle. For these characteristics, European history has remembered her reign as that of the Female Caligula.

Read More

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...jaw-dropping..." (Conde Nast Traveller, November 2005)

"...a new book reveals the extraordinary excesses of the woman whose enemies met the most unspeakable fates..." (Daily Express, 7th November 2005)

Laidler, an anthropologist, filmmaker and author (The Last Empress), uncovers the fascinating story of the early 19th-century queen of Madagascar, Ranavalona, who seized power after her husband's death and ruled ruthlessly but effectively for 33 years. Unfortunately, much of it reads like a European's shocked appraisal of native culture rather than the analysis of an anthropologist. The author seems trapped by his title—derived from a European commentator—and, obliged to prove his subject unusually bloodthirsty, he emphasizes the queen's oppression of Christians and trials by ordeal rather than fleshing out the tantalizing glimpses of native religions, social structures and matrilineal royal descent that kept her in power. His most sympathetic characters are a few extraordinary Europeans who lived in or visited Madagascar during her reign. Laidler briefly asserts that Ranavalona actually descended into insanity, but nowhere does he seriously address the issue or give evidence beyond the violence of her tenure. In fact, the narrative suggests that her plans were effective rather than mad: after her death, a series of somewhat less violent and more open-minded rulers gave way under foreign imperial pressures and Madagascar became a French colony. B&w illus., map. (Dec.) (Publishers Weekly, October 24, 2005)

Publishers Weekly
Laidler, an anthropologist, filmmaker and author (The Last Empress), uncovers the fascinating story of the early 19th-century queen of Madagascar, Ranavalona, who seized power after her husband's death and ruled ruthlessly but effectively for 33 years. Unfortunately, much of it reads like a European's shocked appraisal of native culture rather than the analysis of an anthropologist. The author seems trapped by his title-derived from a European commentator-and, obliged to prove his subject unusually bloodthirsty, he emphasizes the queen's oppression of Christians and trials by ordeal rather than fleshing out the tantalizing glimpses of native religions, social structures and matrilineal royal descent that kept her in power. His most sympathetic characters are a few extraordinary Europeans who lived in or visited Madagascar during her reign. Laidler briefly asserts that Ranavalona actually descended into insanity, but nowhere does he seriously address the issue or give evidence beyond the violence of her tenure. In fact, the narrative suggests that her plans were effective rather than mad: after her death, a series of somewhat less violent and more open-minded rulers gave way under foreign imperial pressures and Madagascar became a French colony. B&w illus., map. (Dec.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The story of an African queen whose megalomania reached intergalactic proportions as she sought to protect her island against imperial designs. By the reckoning of anthropologist and filmmaker Laidler (The Last Empress, not reviewed), Ranavalona killed at least one-third and perhaps one-half of Madagascar's population during her reign (1833-61). She took them out with a Gorgon's imagination: flaying, crucifying and the slow crushing of testicles were common methods, while other victims were "bound, then sewn into buffalo hides, with only their heads protruding, and hung on poles and left to die slowly from the sun, starvation and dehydration." Her savage repression was partly an attempt to consolidate power. Madagascar's population was an ethnic/cultural mosaic that ranged from Malay-Polynesian to European pirate, with each angling to gain supremacy. Ranavalona's claim to the throne as the "Great Wife" of King Radama was countered by traditionalists, who believed the dead king's nephew should succeed, as was customary. But the new queen had a second motive: to rid her island of colonial domination and the insidious threat of missionaries. The French and the British both sought to control the Indian Ocean trade, and Madagascar was a jewel in that crown. Credit Ranavalona with keeping European interests at bay as she terrorized her citizenry, seeing both as threats to her crown. In one brilliant move, as she endeavored to thwart French pretensions without incurring the wrath of their government, she worked a stratagem that drew the invaders into a notoriously pestilential swamp, where fevers withered their ranks. While Laidler's biography gives much jaw-dropping space to the sadistic,Saturnalian side of Ranavalona's rule, he never loses sight of the canny anti-colonial tactics she deployed to keep Madagascar independent; the island would remain so until years after her death. An impressive, politically shrewd portrait of 19th-century skullduggery.

Read More

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780470022238
Publisher:
Wiley
Publication date:
11/04/2005
Pages:
232
Product dimensions:
5.59(w) x 8.66(h) x 0.75(d)

Related Subjects

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >