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

Religious and sociological comparisons

Lewis makes wide-ranging comparisons between Madagascan religious and social practices and those of other civilisations.

When attending an agreement for an alliance between Radama and René, he makes comparisons between the scribe he observes, Dremundersheman, and the scribe of Jehoiakim (one of the Old Testament kings of Judea), Elishama. He notes that both were held in high esteem. He also makes a similar point when noting the ‘Illustrious birth’ of Baruch, the ‘amanuensis to Jeremiah’.

Lewis makes comparisons with regard to the character of the people. For instance, he regards the Ovah as being curious. When coming upon a group who seemed interested in his presence, he felt himself to be like Cook on his travels to the Southern Ocean. He also believes them to be naturally friendly. Lewis compares the character of the people to that of the ‘Hottentots’, (a term derived from the Dutch and used to refer to the Khoekhoe and San people of southern Africa) though he regards the latter as less superstitious than the islanders.

Photograph showing sugar cane being transported on a punt train, with a worker also presentPamphlet advertising the (so called) exhibiting of the Hottentot VenusLewis might have been familiar with the term through the widespread publicity given to the so-called ‘Hottentot Venus’, a woman now believed to have been called Sarah Baartman who died in 1815 after some years as a living exhibition (see the poster reproduced on the right). Information from the Wellcome Collection, contextualising this item can be found here.

Lewis states that the Malgash (Malagasy) people held religious beliefs which were comparable in some ways to Christianity;  they believe, for example in the ‘immortality of the Soul.’

Seemingly quoting James Cowles Prichard’s Natural history of man, the manuscript continues: ‘“Those notions they have of God and of the essential difference between good and evil bear great evidence to this truth and the whole economy of the worship, that is those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually (Heb.Xv.I) were typical of greater and better things –”’.

Lewis believes the native peoples seemed ‘“to be in the dark and guess only what is the will of God whom they know not. They have not strength to perform what they imagine to be His will; and they understand not the meaning of the Sacrifices and lustrations derived to them by tradition.”’

Lewis also states that ‘“The Madecasses believe in a Supreme Being, infinitely good, and likewise in an evil genius. They believe in the immortality of the soul”’ (p 90).

The image shown here advertising the ‘Hottentot Venus’ is used under a Creative commons licence. Full details of the item are available through the Wellcome Collection. 

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