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Madagascar - History

The written history of Madagascar began in the seventh century AD, when Arabs established trading posts along the northwest coast. European contact began in the 1500s, when Portuguese sea captain Diego Dias sighted the island after his ship became separated from a fleet bound for India. In the late 17th century, the French established trading posts along the east coast. From about 1774 to 1824, it was a favorite haunt for pirates, including Americans. The Portuguese colonies of 200 years' standing, constantly strengthened by men from Portugal, whose object was not to live by hard labor, but to enrich themselves by supplying the world with slaves.

Madagascar - Pre-Colonial

Madagascar MapResearch suggests that the island was uninhabited until the first Malayo-Indonesian seafarers arrived some 1800 years ago. One migration theory asserts that these migrants reached the island after a long journey with stops along the coasts of India, the Arabian peninsula and Eastern Africa. Research also suggests that the Malagasy people evolved from successive waves of immigration over several centuries, a fact that accounts for the diversity of racial, ethnic and cultural features in the population of the island today.

Madagascar appears on Arabian charts of the twelfth century and it is probable that Arab traders visited the country as early as the eighth or ninth century. Marco Polo used the name Madeigascar, but apparently applied it to what is now Mozambique, on the mainland of Africa.

A Portuguese seaman, Diego Diaz, was the first of the European explorers to sight Madagascar on his way to India in 1500. Over the next few centuries the Portuguese, the English and the French all tried and failed to dominate and colonize Madagascar, though the French did establish colonies as early as 1642. They had to contend with several Malagasy kingdoms, including those of the Sakalava in the West, the Merina in the Central Highlands, the Betsileo to the South of the Merina, and the Antemoro in the Southeast.

Beginning in the 1790s, Merina rulers succeeded in establishing hegemony over the majority of the island, including the coast. By the end of the 18th century, the Merina were united under King Andrianampoinimerina, who reigned from 1787 until 1810, and his thrust to unify the island was continued under his successor Radama I.

In 1817, the Merina ruler and the British governor of Mauritius concluded a treaty abolishing the slave trade, which had been important in Madagascar's economy. In return, the island received British military and financial assistance. British influence remained strong for several decades, during which the Merina court was converted to Presbyterianism, Congregationalism, and Anglicanism.

With Radama I came a new era in Madagascar that saw the modernization of the army, the establishment of schools, and the arrival of the first Christian missionaries. The Merina expanded their rule over the country during the reign of Radama I, as he led the resistance to the continuing French attempts at colonization. By the end of the 19th century, the Merina kingdom ruled all Madagascar except the South and part of the West.

Madagascar - Colonial Period

The discovery of the island by the Portuguese occurred in 1500, when, according to Grandidier and Reclus, Diego Diaz sighted the land and named it Sao Lourenco. Attempts at settlement made before 1540 by the Dutch, English, and Portuguese failed, but in the seventeenth century the French set up a claim to Madagascar, or Dauphing, as they called it, and in 1642 Louis XIV granted it to the Compagnie de l'Orient. Stations were established at SainteMarie and Fort Dauphin.

The rule of the French was so cruel that the natives rose in 1672 and massacred them. France regained Sainte-Marie in 1750, lost it to Great Britain during the Napoleonic wars (1814), and reoccupied it after 1815, together with Tamatave, Fort Dauphin, and Sainte-Luce. French influence, however, made little progress owing to the rise of the powerful monarchy of the Hovas, a people of the central plateau, who, under the leadership of Andriananimpoina, had subjugated the greater part of the island.

Opposition by the Malagasy culminated in the revolt of the “Menalamba” (literally the “Red Shawls”) in the Merina region. Renewed hostility on the part of the Hovas was followed in 1895 by the dispatch of a French expedition under Duchesne, which occupied Antananarivo and forced Queen Rftnavalona III to confirm the Treaty of 1885.

The British accepted the imposition of a French protectorate over Madagascar in 1885 in return for eventual control over Zanzibar (now part of Tanzania) and as part of an overall definition of spheres of influence in the area.

In 1896 Madagascar was declared a colony of France, though the native government was retained, and a proclamation was issued abolishing slavery. The French defeated the Merina resistance, exiled Queen Ranavalona III, abolished the monarchy, and claimed Madagascar as a colony. The same year the outbreak of a rebellion in which the court was found concerned led to the deposition of the Queen and the institution of a military government. The former Queen was exiled to Reunion, and afterward to Algeria. Absolute French control over Madagascar was established by military force in 1895-96, and the Merina monarchy was abolished.

By 1904, the French had full control of the island. In 1907 almost all the native churches on the island were abolished. Governor Albert Picquie' (appointed 1910) has paid particular attention to internal improvements, and the resources of the country were rapidly opened up.

Malagasy troops fought in France, Morocco, and Syria during the Great War. After France fell to the Germans in World War II, the Vichy government administered Madagascar. British troops occupied the strategic island in 1942 to preclude its seizure by the Japanese. The Free French received the island from the United Kingdom in 1943.

Madagascar - Independence

In 1947, with French prestige at a low ebb, a nationalist uprising was suppressed after several months of bitter fighting. French troops eventually crushed the rebellion, killing between 11,000 and 90,000 people in the process. The date of the biggest massacre, March 29, is commemorated to this day in memory of the victims of the fight for liberty and independence. In the decade following the end of World War II, the world slowly came to the realization that colonialism had to end.

The French subsequently established reformed institutions in 1956 under the Loi Cadre (Overseas Reform Act), and Madagascar moved peacefully toward independence. The Madagascar – renamed the Malagasy Republic – was proclaimed on October 14, 1958, as an autonomous state within the French Community, and Philibert Tsiranana was elected president. A period of provisional government ended with the adoption of a constitution in 1959.

Finally, on June 26, 1960, Madagascar became a fully independent State, retaining a friendly association with France. In September of that year, Madagascar was admitted to the United Nations.

In 1972, months after his third re-election, Mr. Tsiranana, leader of the Social Democratic Party, was forced to step down and turn over power to the army led by General Gabriel Ramanantsoa. Three years later, a military leader, Didier Ratsiraka, became Head of State. Mr. Ratsiraka renamed the country the Democratic Republic of Madagascar and in early 1976, he began a seven year term as president. He was re-elected in 1982.

A new President, Albert Zafy, was elected in 1992. After his impeachment in 1996, Mr. Ratsiraka was re-elected president in 1997. He was challenged by the mayor of the capital, Marc Ravalomanana, in the election of December 16, 2001. The results were contested by both candidates, resulting in a political and social crisis that lasted several months and ended with Mr. Ratsiraka’s exile to France. Once in office, Mr. Ravalomanana and his administration set out to reach the ambitious goal of reducing poverty in Madagascar by half by 2013. He was re-elected for a second 5-year term in December 2006 with over 54% of the vote in the first round of the poll.

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Page last modified: 14-10-2016 19:40:19 ZULU