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Antananarivo the place of a thousand warriors

Antananarivo the place of a thousand warriors

February 16
19:08 2017
Emmanuel Mwamba in Madagascar

Emmanuel Mwamba in Madagascar

Travelogue by Emmanuel Mwamba

Antananarivo- 15th February 2017

“You cannot point using your fingers, claw it or fold it to point at anything” advised the guide.

Wooden structures represented life while stone buildings and bricks were for the dead.

“When entering the palace you step with your right foot first.” He demonstrated.

“And when coming out kindly exit walking backwards”.

A young lad acting as our tour guide from the tourism office had nuggets of frequent advice when he led us on a tour of the Queen’s Palace in the topmost hill of Antananarivo.

“And eggs were forbidden to eat as their oval shape represented the figure zero and was symbolic of fruitlessness or barrenness.”

He was showing us advanced methods of building applied to some palace buildings.

“The egg white was instead used an ingredient in making local form of cement”.

“To date although eggs are now eaten, when buying eggs, a woman cannot hand over the eggs directly to you. It’s placed on a table for one to pick it.” He explained.

“Pigs and dogs are still not allowed at the Palace as it remains a sacred palace since it houses burial sites and musoleums of the six last reigning members of the royal families.”


My visit to the Rova of Antananarivo, a royal palace complex in the middle of modern Antananarivo seems to hold the summary history and heritage of Madagascar and the history of its last matrilineal nobles.

The Rova (Queen’s Palace)was the administrative and political place of significance while its counterpart (the King’s Palace)the Ambohimanga was the spiritual seat with fortified villages around it.

The current buildings are stone building but the earliest ones were built completely out of wood and made without a single nail as is traditional in the construction of royal palaces.

Madagascar was a royal matrileanial kingdom until the late 19th century when it was colonized by France.

The Rova is situated at the highest hill in Antananarivo and is 1480 meters above sea level.

It is part of the 12 sacred hills of palaces and burial sites of the Imerina.

The last sovereign, Queen Ranavalona III who inhabited this seat of power was exiled to Algiers (with several members of the royal family) when France annexed Madagascar.

This was after strong but futile attempts to prevent or resist colonial designs of Europe and the French that had annexed Madagascar.

She sadly died in exile at the age of 55years old in 1917. Luckily her remains were brought back in in 1938 and interred at the Rova of Antananarivo.

Remember it’s this period that the French also exiled the Moroccan ruler, King Mohammad V to Madagascar.

Earlier theLondon Missionary Society, led by James Cameron, David Jones and David Griffiths brought christianity to the island in 1818.

After initial resistance by earlier nobles, Queen Ranavalona (1828-1868)converted to Christianity and allowed a stone church (a magnificent Protestant chapel known as Fiangonana) to be built at the Palace.

The King although an important figure was however lower in royal stature and ranking as the Queen was the absolute sovereign and was the symbolic leader as the Merina people are matrilineal.


Malagasy/Madagascar is named after the Malagasi people.

And a flower from a tree known as the Malagasi Tree when folded mysteriously forms the map and island of Malagasy.

With a population of over 22million people, Madagascar is an island nation in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of East Africa and is the fourth largest island in the world(after Greenland, New Guinea, and Borneo)

It’s renowned for its flora and fauna species and has certain species only found nowhere else in the world but here.

90% of its plants and animal species are endemic to the island and only unique to Madagascar making the Conservation International to classify the country as a biodiversity hotspot.

It is ranked amongst the best tourist destination in the world because of its natural, cultural, historical and ecological diversity.

The Malagasi People

It’s people have a diverse heritage and are said to have originated from Indonesia and Malaysia (austronesian) and from East Africa through the channel of Mozambique (Bantu).

The island has over 18sub groups and the largest are the Merinas that occupy the central highlands where the modern capital city is located.

The island nation with its different peoples was united by various merina nobles that united it into the Kingdom of Madagascar(1540-1897).

The monarchy collapsed when France absorbed it as its colony in 1897 and exiled its queen to Algeria.

To date although, the people are largely Christians, they retain a strong cultural link to their past and this is reflected in their national dress, their cuisine.

Some traditional practices have attracted attention especially those regarding the veneration of ancestry and the dead, and other strong traditional practices.


The Capital City itself, Antananarivo is a hillside traditional complex of royal palaces and burial grounds.

A drive in its narrow paved streets,reveal terraced, rice growing valleys existing alongside densely populated townships.

The City has a population of over 3.5million and is a modern multicultural melting pot and a thriving city.

It’s a City built around steep hills and mountains and has narrow French paved roads that makes any ordinary drive into a hazardous venture.

Its traffic control is managed by traffic officers and occasional round circles and roundabouts.

Of note is the complete absence of traffic lights or robots.

The City has limited decent accommodation but now is enjoying an investment led by the Carlton Hotel, the new Sheraton Hotel that are supporting a growing hospitality industry.

South Africa investors seemed to be complemented by traditional French investors and this has seen the advent of South Africa emblematic foreign investor in Africa – the chain store- Shoprite.

The South African Investors have been also invested in the sectors including mining and tourism.

The country has only one registered Zambian family, Jeff Asukile a missionary from the United Church of Zambia.

The country is now enjoying peace and stability after the election of former Finance Minister, Hery Rajaonarimampianina as Republican President in 2013.

He took over power in January 2014.Madagascar President Hery Rajaonarimampianina with H. E. Emmanuel Mwamba and his wife Mrs. Monde Mwamba

The Africa Union(AU) lifted its four year suspension thereafter.

Madagascar was plunged into political crisis and conflict in 2009 when former city mayor Andre Rajoelina ousted democratically elected President Marc Ravalomanana.

The AU suspended the membership of Madagascar but concerted mediation efforts by SADCC and the UN resolved the dispute and consequent general elections were held in 2013 that saw the election of Hery Rajaonarimampianina as new President.

The country recently hosted the COMESA annual summit that saw President Rajaonarimampianina elected as chairperson.

The country also hosted the Francophone Summit in November 2016, a clear positive affirmation of Madagascar and its democratic role and place in Africa and the world.

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