Accepted Paper:

Europe and the Sakalava (Madagascar)  


Peter Kneitz (Universität Leipzig)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the rise of the Sakalava in Madagascar, the dominant group on the island. Their history is not comprehensible without looking at the manœvres of European expansionism, for they always knew how to carefully negotiate the options offered or imposed by Europeans and others.

Paper long abstract:

The Sakalava, nowadays the dominant ethnical force all along the west-coast of Madagascar, have evolved comparatively late. The starting point of this society, commonly seen around the beginning of 17th century, was the establishment of relationships between a new arrived dynasty with local landowners. In a sudden, even explosive dynamic the new formed kingdom expanded, and within hardly one century the main parts of the west-coast had become dominated by the fast segmentated dynasty, reigning over an always increasing number of little political entities and the two most important Sakalava-kingdoms of Menabe and Boina. During the 19th century the political power of the kingdoms began to decline. However, the structures of kingship are persisting until today, though renewed around dynamic performances of spirit mediumship, the defining key features of present Sakalava identity.

The destiny of Sakalava is not comprehensible without looking to the direct or indirect manœvres of the European expansionism. In my paper I would like to summarize some main aspects: early contacts were orientated mainly towards the negotiations of, most important, slaves against European weapons. The resolute use of the new instruments of war was a main condition which allowed the Sakalava to become the dominant power on Madagascar. Looking to the later decline of the Sakalava kingdoms, it will be shown that the enduring rivalry between Great Britain and France were shaping the Sakalava’s destiny again, but more indirectly. Among others, the inducing of a new minor importance of slave trade and the assisting in the upcoming of a new indigenous power has to be mentioned. With the colonisation of Madagascar through France (1896-1960) times of Sakalava’s political independency came to an end, but main parts of their social structures survived, now confronted with European ideas of identity and ethnicity.

The example shows how the European presence provided continually conditions for the specific political development during the 400 years history of the Sakalava, with many indirect consequences for the internal structuring and unfolding of their society. But the Sakalava, perhaps as a result of their deep-rooted island-experience of a constant coming and going, always knew how to weight and to negotiate carefully the options and conditions offered or imposed by Europeans and others. The very core of being Sakalava, the resolute integrity of the relations between people and kings or king’s ancestors, was indeed continuously rearranged, but in any case was never abandoned.

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Islands of Doom, Islands of Bliss: revisiting maritime places of conquest and exploitation, pleasure and consumption