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

Radama's clothing and accoutrements

A king of Madagascar dressed in western ceremonial garbRadama I of Madagascar postage stampIn Lewis’s assessment of Radama, his clothing and accoutrements appear to have been of significant interest. He notes how they appeared on one notable occasion as follows:

His Coat was blue embroidered, with two epaulets and black velvet facings; his hair platted as before with light blue braid round his forehead under the plaits – gold earrings – frilled shirt, a cravat of colour similar to that of the braid – white waistcoat – – embroidered belt with handsome sword, and some silver charms on a worked belt girding his loins; – yellow large pantaloons – – green morocco boots with gold binding and tassels – and to complete the whole, a crown of red velvet with gold band and trimmings, bordered by sham pearls and terminated by a tassel of the like gems.

This was not always how Radama chose to dress, this perhaps being a particularly elaborate ensemble. Nevertheless, his dress proves an interesting insight into his broader interest in European connections (pp 57-58).

The image to the right shows a 2004 postage stamp depicting Radama I. It is notable that the painter of the portrait, Philippe-Auguste Ramanankirahina, who painted this work after Radama’s death, chose to depict him in European-style military uniform.

The King’s penchant for European dress, and his desire for the powerful connections to be forged with Europe, which such dress symbolised, appear to be a lasting identifier of his reign. Indeed, ‘not one of the several parts that composed this costume, with the exception of the amulet or charm, had been manufactured in Ovah; – the rest had been forwarded from the Mauritius by order of His Excellency Mr Farquhar’.

That Radama acquired certain clothes in such a way, from British colonial officials, cannot be overlooked, particularly when other native peoples present, whilst ‘decked in their gayest attire’, were nevertheless dressed more traditionally.

It is possible that clothing choices were closely related to rulership for Radama, as Lewis comments: ‘the natives are fond of splendid appearances and that they seemed, of anything, to take more notice of their king in this showy dress than in more simple clothes, yet at all times his will is their pleasure’ (pp 58-59).

The image of Radama I used here is reproduced by kind courtesy of Madagascar-Library.com

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