Queen Ranavalona I of Madagascar was the dictatorial sovereign of an island caught in the cross hairs of 19th century European exploration and colonization. Known in history as both the "Mad Queen of Madagascar" and "Ranavalona the Cruel," the sovereign queen rivals some of the most cruel female leaders to have ever lived with her ruthlessness and shrewd behavior.
Much like China's Wu Zetian, Ranavalona didn't shy away from killing anyone that got in her way during her long tenure as queen. She had the poisonous tangena tree at her disposal too, and used it to determine the guilt or innocence of her perceived foes. Her reign may be long over but it is hardly forgotten.
To Prove Loyalty, She Had Her Subjects Eat Chicken Skins And Barf Them Back Up
One way to determine innocence in Madagascar, before and during Ranavalona's reign was the "trial by tangena." The trial involved eating the skin of three chickens followed by a poisonous tangena nut or kernel. Then vomiting was induced. If all three skins came up, the person was innocent. If not, the person was guilty.
Ranavalona used this method to test the loyalty of her subjects. She also used it on Christian martyrs and supposedly killed thousands of her own people with the trial. The queen became increasingly paranoid and used it for even minor offenses as her reign progressed.
She Ordered 50,000 Of Her Subjects To Go On A Hunt That Left A Fifth Of Them Dead
In 1845, Ranavalona ordered her court and thousands of her subjects to go on a buffalo hunt. The group, some 50,000 large, took a small amount of supplies and had to build a road as they went. The hunt lasted four months, during which time 10,000 people died of exhaustion and starvation. No buffalo was ever killed.
After Her Death, There Was A Nine Month Mourning Period In Madagascar
Ranavalona eventually had a child after the king's death, a son named Rakoto. Rakota was opposed to his mother's isolationist policies and may have been involved in the failed coup of 1857 meant to end his mother's reign. Nevertheless, when his mother died in 1861, Rakoto became King Radama II of Madagascar. To honor Ranavalona and her 33-year reign, thousands of animals were slaughtered and the meat was given to her subjects. The country mourned for nine months. She was remembered as a queen that fought to maintain the traditional culture of Madagascar, policies from which her son quickly retreated.
In an ironic twist for the anti-imperialist queen, a barrel of gunpowder blew up at her funeral, killing several people and destroying nearby buildings. Even in death, her death toll continued to rise.
Anyone Who Crossed The Queen Met A Gruesome End
Ranavalona wasn't opposed to using torture or physical punishment against criminals and enemies and was known to cut off limbs, saw people in half, force marches, and throw boiling water on people. One of her lovers, Andrianamihaja, actually refused to take the tangena test. Andrianamihaja had been linked to another woman and when Ranavalona found out, she ordered him to prove his innocence. Instead, he instructed his executioner to spear him in the throat and died instantly.