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Voyage to Madagascar: Thomas Locke Lewis and the Anglo-Merina Treaty of 1817

Introducing Radama

Manuscript text relating to a voyage to MadagascarOpening showing pages 28 & 29Radama (1793-1828), as might be expected, is a prominent figure in Lewis’s account.

The king, from early in the manuscript, is shown to be in the process of consolidating power. He arrives at Tamatave soon after Lewis, both to punish a chief named Fish, who had attacked a British party, and, it was rumoured, to adopt John René, another chief, in order to acquire his coastal territory.

John René and Radama both seem to have shared an interest in European dress and institutions.

René owned and wore an aide de camp’s uniform, given to him by the governor of Mauritius, whilst Radama, as well as owning European clothing, also allowed his brothers to be educated under British supervision (pp 7-8, 28-29).

Ceremony was also significant to Radama’s rule, as a way to, as Larson has said, ‘communicate to his subjects both his intentions for political alliance with Britain and his administrative independence as a young ruler’.

The preparations Radama is recorded as having made for the first formal meeting with the British delegation are indicative of the impression he wished to make. He allowed the delegation to wait in a comfortable tent, he sent a high ranking courtier to inform the visitors of a delay, and his people were instructed not to disrupt the visitors.

The attempt to show the delegation respect and make them comfortable is clear. When Radama arrives and invites the British officials to to meet with him, they are serenaded by women who clap as they sing, a sight that Lewis compares to David’s triumphant return to Judea after defeating the Philistines (pp 23, 25).

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