During Ranavalona’s three-decade rule, it is estimated that between 50 to 75 percent of Madagascar’s population met their deaths largely due to her ruthless policies.
Also known as Ranavalona the Cruel, this Malagasy queen, who reigned between 1828 and 1861, ordered the hanging, beheading and the poisoning of many people while implementing forced labor.
At the end of her reign, over 2.5 million people had lost their lives, and this earned her the ‘World’s Most Murderous Woman’ title.
But in all of these, she was able to maintain the independence of the country, as she defeated the combined forces of the British and French on countless occasions.
What is also worthy of note is that she introduced what has been described as one of the first industrial revolutions witnessed outside of Europe.
But the brutality she meted out to her subjects in the island nation of Madagascar surpassed everything else she did.
Ranavalona I, also known as Ramavo and Ranavalo-Manjaka I, was born to non-royalty in 1778. She was, however, betrothed to the crown prince as a sign of gratitude to her father, who had informed the king about a plot to assassinate him.
The crown prince, Radama, ascended to the throne in 1810 and Ramavo became queen. But their marriage soon started having problems as Ramavo was unable to give birth to an heir.
What is more, Radama began killing his opponents some years into his reign, and these included members of Ramavo’s family.
Radama had also built friendly ties with the British in exchange for some of their weaponry.
All these angered Ramavo as she planned ways to take over the realms of power.
When Radama died in 1828, she staged a coup and overthrew the king’s nephew who had then ascended the throne as the successor.
Becoming queen, Ramavo took on the name Ranavalona I and immediately launched her brutal regime.
She declared that everyone must keep their heads shaved for 10 months to mourn her husband. No one was to bathe, dance, play music, sleep on a mattress or clap their hands during the mourning period else they will be sold into slavery, she further declared.
Ramavo then took on the combined forces of the French and the British who attempted invasions many times and failed.
Essentially, she did not kill any real and imagined threat but also banned any western influences in Madagascar at the time. As a form of revenge for what her husband did to her family, she unleashed terror on Radama’s family, capturing and killing some members of the family.
Ramavo, who was bent on maintaining her country’s cultural practices and laws, targeted Christian missionaries on the island. Sources say she did not only ban Christianity from the island in 1835 but also killed scores of the missionaries whom she felt were a bad influence on her subjects.
As Historic Mysteries writes, Ramavo subjected her offenders with the following forms of punishment:
“Hanging. The ‘guilty’ would face hanging for days over steep cliffs, their relatives forced to watch as the rope became frayed until it unraveled, sending the victim to a plunging death.
Boiling, burning and burying alive. Untold thousands of suspected criminals faced these medieval methods, witnessed by friends and relatives as a warning from Ranavalona.
Beheadings. In one well-documented instance, Queen Ranavalona I ordered the decapitated heads of captured French soldiers to be impaled on stakes along the beaches of the island to serve as yet another warning to the French who might be planning an invasion.
Poisoning. Queen Ranavalona randomly conducted loyalty tests by administering poison to subjects in question. Not surprisingly, few ‘test subjects’ survived.
Brutal forced labor. Often on a whim, the Queen would unexpectedly order unrealistic construction projects, using thousands of unlucky natives or captured prisoners.”
After 33 years on the throne, Ramavo died peacefully in her sleep in 1861 at the age of 83.
Mainly believe that despite her hortcomings, she was able to do what her successors couldn’t – she kept the independence of her country while fighting off the west and strengthening the island’s culture.