The seven Christians stood together in the bright sunlight, bound with ropes singing a hymn to their foreign savior as the spear men advanced. Around them a crowd of jostling men, women and children, more than sixty thousand strong...cheered enthusiastically as the spears were driven home and, one by one, the men and women fell and writhed on the sandy ground, their hymn fading slowly into silence...above the still writhing bodies, on a ridge, a score of crosses stood in mute witness, carrying their ghastly burdens, some of whom still lived despite the day and a half they had hung upon the wood. As European colonists scrambled for control of Africa, a leader arose in the red island of Madagascar who, through ruthless determination thwarted the combined ambitions of all the major world powers.That leader and the author of this holocaust was no warrior but a diminutive woman of middle years, Ranavalona-Manjaka Queen of Madagascar, know to her subjects more simply as Ma Dieu.
Under Ranavalona's despotic rule, hundreds of thousands of her people, possibly one-half of Madagascar's entire population, were murdered, starved or simply worked to death by her express command, while she enjoyed an eccentric and debauched lifestyle. For these characteristics, European history has remembered her reign as that of the Female Caligula.
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US Kirkus Review »
The story of an African queen whose megalomania reached intergalactic proportions as she sought to protect her island against imperial designs. By the reckoning of anthropologist and filmmaker Laidler (The Last Empress, not reviewed), Ranavalona killed at least one-third and perhaps one-half of Madagascar's population during her reign (1833-61). She took them out with a Gorgon's imagination: flaying, crucifying and the slow crushing of testicles were common methods, while other victims were "bound, then sewn into buffalo hides, with only their heads protruding, and hung on poles and left to die slowly from the sun, starvation and dehydration." Her savage repression was partly an attempt to consolidate power. Madagascar's population was an ethnic/cultural mosaic that ranged from Malay-Polynesian to European pirate, with each angling to gain supremacy. Ranavalona's claim to the throne as the "Great Wife" of King Radama was countered by traditionalists, who believed the dead king's nephew should succeed, as was customary. But the new queen had a second motive: to rid her island of colonial domination and the insidious threat of missionaries. The French and the British both sought to control the Indian Ocean trade, and Madagascar was a jewel in that crown. Credit Ranavalona with keeping European interests at bay as she terrorized her citizenry, seeing both as threats to her crown. In one brilliant move, as she endeavored to thwart French pretensions without incurring the wrath of their government, she worked a stratagem that drew the invaders into a notoriously pestilential swamp, where fevers withered their ranks. While Laidler's biography gives much jaw-dropping space to the sadistic, Saturnalian side of Ranavalona's rule, he never loses sight of the canny anti-colonial tactics she deployed to keep Madagascar independent; the island would remain so until years after her death. An impressive, politically shrewd portrait of 19th-century skullduggery. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Keith. Laidler
Dr. Kith Laidler is an anthropologist, writer and film-maker. He is the author of seven books, including the best selling The Last Empress (John Wiley). He is also producer of a large number of films, for which he did his own camera work. Originally concentrating on nature films, Dr. Laidler worked with Sir David Attenborough on The Living Planet. His production company, Wolfshead Productions, ahs made a number of highly acclaimed documentaries for a variety of broadcasters, such as Pandas Aren't Always Cuddly for BBC's Wildlife On One and Pandas of the Sleeping Dragon. He holds a PhD in anthropology from Durham University. He has, over recent years, turned his investigative techniques towards history and religion.