Prestige and Profession in Malagasy Society

Antananarivo in the 19th and 20th Century
By Faranirina V. Rajaonah

The annexation of Madagascar by France in 1896 was accompanied by measures intended to put in place a new social order, one different from the division of Merina subjects into nobles, slaves and free commoners. In effect, the French administration, having officially abolished the existing social hierarchy, continued to take into consideration a referential system that was vital for the Malagasy people. In Tananarive, the capital of the Merina kingdom, now the colonial capital, individual worthiness is dependent, above all, on rank. At the same time, the changes begun during the 19th century accelerated during the colonial period with importance accorded to activities that were transformed into professions like commerce, or as in the case of professions that demanded new skills, particularly those obtained through education. Nevertheless, without neglecting innovation in their craft, the nobility remained attached to family professions that made one’s rank visible and that permitted one to maintain prestige deriving from one’s descent. Thus, while colonization certainly brought about social recombinations in Tananarive, nevertheless in this city, which remained profoundly Merina, influenced by the heritage of royalty and the impact of Christianity from the 19th century, continuities are as important as are ruptures.


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