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King of Imerina
Idealized portrait painted around 1905 by Ramanankirahina
Reign ca. 1787–1810
Born 1745
Birthplace Ambohimanga
Died 1810 (aged 64–65)
Place of death Antananarivo
Buried Ambohimanga, 1810
Predecessor Andrianjafy
Successor Radama I
Dynasty Merina
Father Andriamiaramanjaka
Mother Ranavalonanandriambelomasina

Ruling between 1787–1810, Andrianampoinimerina (Andriana ampoin'Imerina, "The-King-Wished-by-Imerina"), born Ramboasalama or Ramboasalamarazaka at Ambohimanga around 1745 (later, also known as Nampoina, Imboasalama, and Ny Ombalehibemaso - The Big-Eyed Bull), initiated the unification of Madagascar under Merina rule and is considered one of the greatest military and political leaders in the history of Madagascar.

Andrianampoinimerina deposed his uncle, King Andrianjafy (1770–1787) of Imerina Avarandrano (Northern Imerina), one of four continually warring principalities that emerged upon the division of the historically unified Imerina kingdom by King Andriamasinavalona a century before. Andrianampoinimerina established his capital at the fortified town of Ambohimanga, a site of great spiritual, cultural and political significance that was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 and where the king's original royal lodgings can still be visited today. From this position, he progressively extended his domain first over all Imerina, then over the greater Highlands, absorbing the Betsileo, Sihanaka, Bezanozano and Bara territories. He died after reigning for 23 years.[1] His reign formed the basis for the unification of Madagascar, which was almost achieved under his son Radama I.[2]

Early life[edit]


Andrianampoinimerina was born in Ikaloy, in Imerina Avaradrano, during the first quarter of the moon (tsinambolana) of the month Alahamady, the sign of a highly auspicious birth according to popular belief. Following the Merina customs of the time, his parents temporarily gave him the humble name Ramboasalama (Ra-amboa-salama, "The healthy dog") to protect him from attracting the undesirable attention of jealous rivals or evil spirits, before being changed in childhood to Ramboasalamarazaka. He grew up during a period when conflict and famine were afflicting Imerina.[1]

Family and lineage[edit]

Andrianampoinimerina was descended from two royal lines. He was the third son of Andriamiaramanjaka, the King of Ikaloy and Anjafy in Imerina and a Zafimamy Prince of Alahamadintany, a Highlands kingdom that had retained political and cultural independence from Imerina. His mother, Ranavalonandriambelomasina, was sister to Andrianjafy (1770–1787), King of Avaradrano (northern Imerina), making him a Merina Prince.[3]

In response to the threat of invasions by the Sakalava to the West and the Alahamadintany-Zafimamy alliance to the North, Andrianampoinimerina's grandfather Andriambelomasina concluded a strategic alliance with the bordering Alahamadintany-Zafimamy principality of Ikaloy by marrying his daughter, Ranavalonandriambelomasina, to King Andriamiaramanjaka. This deal stipulated that after the reign of Andriambelomasina's son, Andrianjafy, the throne of Ambohimanga would be given to one of his daughter's sons. For the people of Ambohimanga, this alliance seemed to fulfill a famous prophecy attributed to Andriamasinavalona who said: "One day, Imerina will be unified and ruled by a light-skinned man from Alahamadintany". Andriamasinavalona's prophecy suggest that the Merina Kings had long intended to extend their kingdom to the North by absorbing the Zafimamy kingdom of Alahamadintany. At the same time, the Zafimamy Kings of Alahamadintany had also wished to extend their land to the South by absorbing the Merina Kingdom. Thus, the wedding of Andrianampoinimerina's parents represented a fair and peaceful compromise for both parties: the Prince born of this union would at last rule over both states and unify these two great kingdoms without bloodshed.[1]

Andrianampoinimerina's Zafimamy ancestors practised endogamy and therefore rarely mixed with the descendants of the legendary first inhabitants of Madagascar, the Vazimba. However, he had partial Vazimba ancestry on his mother's side through her antecedent, King Andriamanelo (1540–1575), son of Vazimba Queen Rafohy (1530–1540) and her Merina husband Manelo.[4]

Childhood and education[edit]

Andrianampoinimerina spent his early childhood in his father's Zafimamy court at Ikaloy.[1] There he received a Zafimamy education and culture, which probably included Indonesian, Indo-Aryan and Arabic forms of knowledge, including cosmology, astronomy and literacy in the Arabic-based sorabe script, as well as Malagasy mythology such as the myth of Ibonia, an origin myth that communicates the Malay-Javanese concept of andriambahoaka afovoanitany ("A King must be at the center of his territory").[5] In addition, he most likely studied medicine, military strategy (including the traditional strategic board game of fanorona) and weaponry) basic economics, and music,[citation needed] perhaps learning to play the valiha, a bamboo tube zither then reserved for Merina and Zafimamy princes and noblemen.[6] After concluding this Zafimamy education at the age of 12, his Merina grandfather, King Andriambelomasina, oversaw his Merina education at Amboatany and later at court in Ambohimanga, where he learned political leadership (including the Merina oratory arts of hainteny and kabary) and continued his studies in military strategy and economics.[1]

Beginnings as a "Self-Made Prince"[edit]

Andrianampoinimerina's house at Ambohimanga

Starting with the meager proceeds of his own business, Andrianampoinimerina managed by intelligence and hard work to amass a sizable property, including rice fields and herds of zebu. Thus, by the age of 30, he had become one of the richest princes of Ambohimanga.[1] Regarded as a "self-made man" who didn't rely on his privileges as a prince, his independence, temperament, tenacity and sense of justice made him popular among the commoners and the slaves of Ambohimanga. His popularity stood in contrast to public discontentment with his uncle, King Andrianjafy, who was viewed as a despotic and incompetent ruler.


Historical context[edit]

For almost a century, from the end of the reign of King Ralambo (1575–1600) to King Andriamasinavalona (1675–1710), the Highlands territory controlled by the Merina generally enjoyed prosperity, expansion and civil peace. This stability and the unity of Imerina collapsed after Andriamasinavalona divided Imerina amongst his four favorite sons, leading to frequent wars that weakened the ability of subsequent princes to respond effectively to the pressures of slave trading and a growing population.[1][7]

Coup against King Andrianjafy[edit]

In 1787, at 42 years old, Andrianampoinimerina incited a rebellion against Andrianjafy, with the help of the elders of Ambohimanga. After the success of the coup, the new king adopted his ruling name, Andrianampoinimerina.[8] Following his ouster from the town of Ambohimanga, Andrianjafy continued fighting his nephew from his stronghold in the town of Ilafy. Andrianampoinimerina reached a treaty with the rival Merina town of Antananarivo in 1786, which allowed him to fully concentrate on reuniting Imerina. The conflict between Andrianampoinimerina and Andrianjafy finally ended in 1790 when the former king was either killed in Ilafy or died in exile in Antananarivo. Andrianampoinimerina conquered Antananarivo in 1792,[1][8] and subsequently, he moved the capital of the Merina empire there. Ambohimanga nonetheless remains among the most important spiritual and cultural sites in Madagascar, and was recognized as Madagascar's only cultural UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.[9]

Reunification of Imerina[edit]

Continuing his conquests in the 1790s, Andrianampoinimerina began establishing control over a comparatively large part of the highlands of Madagascar including the twelve sacred hills of Imerina. He soon proclaimed his ambition to become the sole King of Madagascar, using the Merina hainteny metaphoric style to announce to the people of Ambohimanga: "The sea is the limit of my rice field" (Ny ranomasina no valam-parihiko).[1] Andrianampoinimerina centralized the kingdom's political authority and amassed European firearms for its growing army.[10] This allowed him to gradually conquer neighboring Merina principalities before moving on to those of the Vakinankaratra and Betsileo.

Territorial expansion[edit]

Andrianampoinimerina achieved many of his victories by relying on treaties of alliance, only resorting to military conquest when diplomatic alliances had failed. He often reminded his officers of the traditional proverb, "Force is weaker than the spirit" (Ny hery tsy mahaleo ny fanahy).[1] The extension of his rule allowed Andrianampoinimerina to stop paying tribute to the Sakalava kingdom, the western clan whose slave hunting in the Highlands had continuously disrupted life in Imerina.[10]

The gradual conquest of surrounding lands by Andrianampoinimerina and his Merina army was opposed by the Sakalava and other clans, who made several attempt to end Andrianampoinimerina's reign.[1] He also faced opposition from certain Merina nobles and from his own family. Early in Andrianampoinimerina's rule, an attempt on King's life by his uncle, the deposed King Andrianjafy, was foiled by an informant who had learned about the conspiracy by chance. Later the king rewarded the informant by marrying his daughter to the Crown Prince, future King Radama I.[1] After Radama's death in 1828, this royal wife would rule Madagascar for 33 years as Queen Ranavalona I.

Ramavolahy, Andrianampoinimerina's eldest son, was killed on his orders near Imahazoarivo after an attempted coup, and the appointed heir apparent Rakotovahiny was killed for conspiracy against the King in May 1808.[citation needed]

Management of the kingdom[edit]

Andrianampoinimerina was the first Merina king to establish formal civil and penal codes, the latter ameliorated and transcribed by his son Radama. He distributed land according to a rigorous land code, established a fiscal code and collected various taxes such as the hetra a portion of the rice crop that citizens were required to pay to the sovereign. Andrianampoinimerina regulated commerce and the economy by creating official markets (tsena) and standardizing market scales (fandanjana) and other units of measurement (including length and volume). Additionally, the use of money (vola) was standardized and regularized. Finally, he established a citizen army called the foloalindahy (the "100,000 soldiers").[1] One of the well-known slogans of Andrianampoinimerina was "Starvation is my sole enemy",[1] and in the fight against it Imerina gained a surplus in rice and cattle production during his reign. This surplus allowed the kingdom to consolidate its economic and military supremacy under his successor, Radama I.

Death and succession[edit]

Andrianampoinimerina died in the Mahitsielafanjaka house on the compound of the Rova of Antananarivo on 6 July 1810 at the age of 65, having fathered eleven sons and thirteen daughters by his many wives.[11] He designated his 17-year-old son Radama I to succeed him upon his death. The king's body was interred in a tomb at Ambohimanga in 1810. In an effort to desacralize the holy city of Ambohimanga, the French colonial authority transferred all the royal remains from their original tombs to those at the Rova of Antananarivo originally built for Radama I and Rasoherina; Andrianampoinimerina's remains were placed within the tomb of his son, Radama.[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Callet (1908), p.
  2. ^ Délivré (1974), p.
  3. ^ Genea. Aviavy: Genealogy of Andrianampoinimerina. 
  4. ^ Dahl (1991), p.
  5. ^ Noiret (2008), p.
  6. ^ Schmidhoffer, August. "Some Remarks on the Austronesian Background of Malagasy music" (PDF). Working Paper. 
  7. ^ Kent, Raymond K. (1970). Early Kingdoms in Madagascar, 1500-1700. Holt, Rinehart and Winston. ISBN 0-03-084171-2. 
  8. ^ a b Berg, Gerald M. (1988). "Sacred Acquisition: Andrianampoinimerina at Ambohimanga, 1777-1790". The Journal of African History 29 (2): 191–211. doi:10.1017/S002185370002363X. JSTOR 182380. 
  9. ^ Royal Malagasy Hills declared World Heritage
  10. ^ a b Ratsivalaka (2001), p.
  11. ^ Buyers, Christopher. "Royal Ark: the Merina (or Hova) dynasty". Archived from the original on 7 January 2011. Retrieved 3 February 2011. 
  12. ^ Frémigacci (1999), p. 427