Thursday, March 17, 2011

If he was to buy her off with a shiny rock, he was already headed for trouble.

Ranavalona I (1828-1861)Image via Wikipedia
Queen Ranavalona I of Madagascar wasn't known by the warm-and-cuddly nickname "Ranavalona the Cruel" for nothing.  In fact, according to most of the (admittedly somewhat-unreliable) sources we have on this powerful African ruler, she generally tends to fall somewhere in the "Vlad the Impaler" quadrant of the spectrum between "benevolent dictator" and "bloodthirsty oppressive tyrant who would be more likely to jam a sharpened toothpick in your eye than grant you one sentence's worth of freedom of speech".  Ruling a country that's nowadays more known for delicious vanilla beans and delightfully-wacky dancing CGI Disney characters than it is for vicious public executions and coastlines adorned with severed heads mounted on spiked poles, this exceedingly-violent Queen carved out a gruesome, badass reputation that would have many people today referring to her as the "Female Caligula".

Ranavalona's birth name was Rabodoandrianampoinimerina, which is a ludicrously-long name that literally translates into roughly a paragraph of English text.  She was daughter of a poor peasant, and illiterate for her entire life, but that last part is understandable considering that Madagascar didn't actually have a written language until a few years before she ascended to the throne so let's cut the lady a break.  With little more than a life of poverty and hard, back-breaking labor ahead of her, Ranavalona caught kind of a sweet break when her father somehow managed to uncover a murder conspiracy aimed at assassinating King Andrianampoinimerinandriantsimitoviaminandriampanjaka (!!) and managed to warn the regent before his impending doom.  The King was so happy that he wasn't going to die a bloody, premature death that he adopted Ranvalona into the royal family, marrying her off to the incredibly-boringly-named Prince Radama (only three syllables -- what a loser!).  She was to be the first of his twelve wives, which I guess is the sort of honor that made a girl feel really good about herself back then. {Read on}