3. A Nineteenth-Century Version of North Korea
Ranavalona turned Madagascar into a nineteenth-century version of North Korea. She introduced widespread forced labor, whereby the poor – the majority of the population – were made to toil in lieu of high taxes they could not afford to pay. These de facto slaves were used to build houses and palaces, clear lands and maintain roads, carry nobles and royal dependents in litters, serve in Ranavalona’s army, and perform any other tasks set them by the queen. They were unpaid, poorly fed, if at all, and they died in droves.
In the meantime, the British and French were unhappy with being shut out of Madagascar, where they had been welcomed by previous rulers. So they mounted joint punitive expeditions, but the attempts ended in failure. When the Europeans retreated, Ranavalona beheaded the corpses of their dead, put the heads on stakes, and lined them up on Madagascar’s beaches, facing the ocean.