20. The Queen Who Enslaved a Third of Her Subjects
Having fought off foreign interference, Queen Ranavalona unleashed her armies against her subjects. Forced conscription and mass forced labor enabled her to establish and support a standing army of around 30,000 men. She sent them on numerous punitive expeditions into those parts of Madagascar that were suspected of any resistance to her rule, or that expressed anything less than unabashed enthusiasm for her overlordship. The queen’s soldiers engaged in scorched earth policies, and devastated the regions that resisted or whose people were suspected of harboring any thoughts about resisting her rule.
By way of object lessons, Ranavalona’s soldiers routinely massacred the inhabitants of towns and settlements viewed as disloyal. Those spared from the mass executions were enslaved and brought back to the heart of the dangerous queen’s domain, where they toiled away the rest of their lives away as forced labor on her projects. Between 1820 to 1853, over a million slaves were seized, and the percentage of slaves rose to one third of the population of Madagascar’s central highlands, and two thirds of the population of Antananarivo, Ranavalona’s capital.