Category Archives: Madagascar

Kalākaua as pan-Austronesianist

From A Power in the World, by Lorenz Gonschor (Perspectives on the Global Past, U. Hawaii Press, 2019), Kindle Locs. c. 2060, 2160:

During Kalākaua’s stay in Bangkok, relations with King Chulalongkorn of Siam were similarly warm and deep, and included the mutual conferral of high decorations. Like the Meiji Emperor and Viceroy Li, Chulalongkorn was presiding over a rapidly modernizing non-Western nation attempting to reach parity by hybridizing its system of government (Wyatt 1969, 1976, 2003, 166–209; Baker and Phongpaichit 2005, 47–80). Unfortunately, documentation of what exactly might have come out of possible discussions about Siam joining the proposed pan-Asian league has not been found.

During the following visit in Johor, at the southern tip of present-day Malaysia, relations between the Hawaiian king and another non-Western ruler reached another climax. Johor’s ruler, Maharajah Abu-Bakar, was another monarch using the tools of modernity to secure a certain degree of parity for his country (Trocki 1979; Andaya and Andaya 2001, 173–174, 202; Keng 2014). Because he had traveled extensively on his own, Abu-Bakar was Kalākaua’s first non-Western host as fluent in English as himself, so they could talk without an interpreter. But this more familiar atmosphere aside, the king also found the maharajah physically quite similar to a Hawaiian ali‘i, specifically, the late Prince Leleiohōkū I. As Kalākaua remarked in a letter to his brother-in-law, “if [the maharajah] could have spoken our language I would take him to be one of our people the resemblance being so strong.” Although Abu-Bakar could not speak Kalākaua’s native language, the two monarchs compared words in Hawaiian and Malay, and within a few minutes could identify a number of them that the two Austronesian languages had in common, and they reflected on the common origins of their peoples (Armstrong 1977, 44; Requilmán 2002, 164). Back home, Gibson was delighted to see his long-time vision of pan-Austronesian relations finally become reality and used the comparison between the two realms to point out flaws in the current state of affairs in Hawai‘i:

We are very glad that our Hawaiian King visited a Malay sovereign, the Maharajah of Johore: that His Majesty recognized striking evidences of kinship between Hawaiian and Malay: that His Majesty observed that these brown cognates of Johore were healthy, prolific and an increasing people, though living under the guidance and dominion of the European race; that His Majesty recognizes that there is no natural law, or destiny, that the brown races shall pass away in the presence of the whites, as is alleged in Polynesia; and that evidently decay and decline among His Majesty’s native people must be the results of some mischievous interferences with the natural order of things, and of hurtful radical changes affecting the sanitary condition of the aborigines of Polynesia.

Kalākaua maintained close relations with the court of Johor during the rest of his reign, attested by a steady exchange of letters between the two monarchs and their government officials throughout the 1880s. It was likely similar considerations of pan-Austronesian solidarity that later motivated Kalākaua to include Queen Ranavalona III of Madagascar among the heads of state he notified via autographed letters of the death of his sister Likelike in February 1887. Like Siam and Johor, the Kingdom of Madagascar was another non-Western hybrid state using strategies of selective similitude to achieve international parity (Valette 1979; Esoavelomandroso 1979; Brown 2006). At the time of Kalākaua’s letter, however, Queen Ranavalona’s government was embattled by French imperialism, which had led to the forcing of a French protectorate on the Indian Ocean island kingdom in 1885 and would culminate in the French conquest and colonial annexation of the island in 1896 (Randrianarisoa 1997). Hence, Kalākaua’s gesture to include the Malagasy queen among the heads of state of the world should be seen as a remarkable gesture of pan-Austronesian anticolonial solidarity.

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Achieving Parity via Hybridity

From A Power in the World, by Lorenz Gonschor (Perspectives on the Global Past, U. Hawaii Press, 2019), Kindle Loc. 194ff:

Japan’s late nineteenth-century developments are perfect examples of what scholars have termed the use of similitude and selective appropriation to create a hybrid system in order to achieve parity. Hawai‘i-based Swiss scholar Niklaus Schweizer describes parity as “an effort to be taken seriously by the Western powers, to be accepted as an equal and to be accorded the civilities and privileges established by international law,” adding that “the preferred option in Polynesia was to achieve at least a degree of parity with the West” (2005, 177), a statement that is true not only for Polynesia. In the nineteenth century, transforming one’s political institutions to some degree to achieve such diplomatic parity was a goal most emerging non-Western nation-states shared. One of the ways to do so was the use of what historian Jeremy Prestholdt calls the strategy of similitude—a transformation of certain forms of behavior, cultural protocols, and aesthetic standards—to make them similar to those of the West. Prestholdt defines similitude as “a conscious self-presentation in interpersonal and political relationships that stresses likeliness” (2007, 120). Superficially akin to assimilation under colonial coercion, similitude is voluntarily done by a society outside colonial control yet confronted with Western imperial hegemony. Mentioning the international relations of nineteenth-century Hawai‘i, Siam, and Madagascar as further examples, Prestholdt describes similitude “as a mode of self-representation [that] links symbols and claims to sameness in order to leverage relationships with the more powerful” (120). Rarely, however, would a country push similitude to the point of sameness with the West, but rather appropriate Western elements selectively, resulting not in cultural assimilation but rather in cultural and political hybridity, preserving aspects of traditional governance and culture while also embracing modern technology and the Western model of the nation-state as well as Western cultural protocols. In the case of Hawai‘i, geographer Kamanamaikalani Beamer uses the concept of hybridity, based on an earlier conceptualization by Homi Bhabha (1994, 159–160), “to illustrate the ways in which Hawaiian rulers used traditional structures and systems of knowledge in an attempt to construct a modern nation-state” because “they were modifying existing structures and negotiating European legal forms which created something new, neither completely Anglo American nor traditionally Hawaiian, but a combination of both” (Beamer 2008, 30, 177).

In many cases, such strategies clearly paid off. As a result of their selective use of similitude to hybridize their societies and political systems, which resulted in the achievement of at least a degree of recognition by the Western powers, Japan, Thailand, Iran, Turkey, and Ethiopia never became colonies, an enormous source of pride for their inhabitants to this day.

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Slaves for Arms in Madagascar

From “Modes of Production and Slavery in Madagascar: Two Case Studies” by Maurice Bloch, in Asian and African Systems of Slavery, ed. by James L. Watson (U. Calif. Press, 1980), pp. 103-105:

The connection of Madagascar on the one hand, and Mauritius and Reunion on the other, lay in in the fact that the East Coast of the great island was sometimes inhabited by small pirate colonies and sometimes by traders and adventurers who supplied the Mascarenes with rice and cattle but also, increasingly, with slaves to be used on the plantations of these islands (Filliot 1974:113-127). Up to 1770 the trading links between Madagascar, Mauritius and Reunion had been relatively small-scale and fluctuating over time. They had, however, been extremely significant in Madagascar in that they had supplied petty rulers with European weapons for their aggrandizement and slave raiding (Filliot 1974:205-208). Towards the end of the eighteenth century, however, the small but growing central state that was to become Imerina, profiting from the disarray of the Betsimisaraka League, captured most of this trade both canalising its network and reducing rivals. The trader Dumaine wrote in 1790 that Imerina ‘is the part of Madagascar which supplies most of the slaves for our islands’ (Mauritius and Reunion). This process was truly momentous in the history of Madagascar because in return for slaves the Merina obtained armaments of high quality in much greater quantities than had been available to anybody else before, since they were lucky in reaching the coast precisely at the time when the demand for slaves in the Mascarenes had boomed and the prices soared (Curtin 1969:266-269; Filliot 1974:62-65, 216).

The war materials that they obtained were probably the major cause of the continuing expansion of the Merina and their ultimate domination of the islands. This expansion, however, was itself in part necessitated by the need to supply slaves in ever greater numbers in order to obtain the armaments necessary for conquest (Bloch 1977:314). By engaging in this sort of trade in order to acquire political power the Merina were following a long tradition which had dominated the political process of Madagascar perhaps since as far back as the sixteenth century. We know this pattern well in the eighteenth century when the Sakalava and the Betsimisaraka managed to dominate large areas of the island by exporting slaves to various European or Arab traders in return for armaments which enabled them to conquer their neighbours and obtain more slaves. The process in the case of the Merina, however, was even more dramatic. The reason was that they captured the trade at a time when the Mascarene economies were booming and so was the demand for slaves.

Once the Merina kingdom had really become established through this process, the pattern began to change in a way which was particularly significant for the history of slavery. In 1814 Mauritius, as it was renamed, became British and, in taking over Mauritius, the British had also gained vague but promising rights over Madagascar. Farquhar, the Governor of Mauritius, therefore encouraged the trade between his island and Madagascar since he saw the expansion of a kingdom dependent on supplies from Britain as a first step towards conquest, a policy we are familiar with in other parts of Africa. This policy was not without difficulty as it was taking place at a time when public opinion in Britain was moving strongly against the slave trade and slavery. Farquhar at first resisted pressure for the abolition of the slave trade, arguing that, in the first place, it would ruin the economy of Mauritius and make his unruly subjects even more difficult to control and, in the second place, it would end the promising connection with the Merina which he intended to use for ultimate conquest.

By 1817, however, the pressure from Britain had so increased that he had to give way, although by then the two stumbling blocks to ending the slave trade with Madagascar had vanished. The economy of Mauritius had been moving away from its dependence on the importation of slaves. Secondly Farquhar had discovered a way whereby he could keep his Merina contact. He signed with Radama a treaty which in return for the abolition of the slave trade would guarantee Radama a yearly supply of armaments, as well as military assistance. By this treaty the British hoped to continue their influence in Madagascar and to ensure the ever-important supply of rice and cattle to Mauritius. This treaty had its ups and downs and for a significant period was abrogated altogether, but it remained the major template for British Merina relations during the nineteenth century. It also ensured that whenever it was in operation the Merina would be dependent on the British. For the Merina the advantage of this treaty is also obvious. Radama, the Merina King, still retained a steady supply of British armaments but gained as well, and this is probably the most significant point, a monopoly of European weapons in Madagascar, a monopoly which many tried to break but never with complete success. When the treaty was in operation British frigates patrolled Madagascar to stop any signs of the slave trade. In doing so they were stopping any potential rivals of Radama from obtaining arms with which to resist him. They were, so to speak, putting Madagascar in a vacuum in which only one group had access to modem weapons. Under such circumstances it is hardly surprising that nobody could offer any significant resistance to the Merina during their greatest period of expansion.

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