The Journal of African History

Research Article

Sacred Acquisition: Andrianampoinimerina at Ambohimanga, 1777–1790

Gerald M. Berga1

a1 Sweetbriar College, Virginia

Between 1775 and 1810 Andrianampoinimerina laid the foundations of the Merina state which in subsequent decades was to rule most of Madagascar. Though various circumstances such as the development of irrigated riziculture and slavery, the monopoly of profits and of muskets from coastal trade, and the manipulation of ritual, contributed in part to the nascent monarchy's strength, they equally touched other political formations within Imerina and elsewhere and therefore do not explain why Andrianampoinimerina's organization endured while others did not. The distinctiveness of Andrianampoinimerina's case is revealed by returning to particular events, those culminating in his first successful attempt to rule at Ambohimanga in 1783. His success depended upon exploiting both good luck and pervasive kinship values which recognized individual financial prowess. Thus the resurgent trade with the east coast did not redefine Merina kinship. Rather, trade provided an expanded arena of economic activity in which Andrianampoinimerina demonstrated superior skill at kinship politics, expanding his kin group and assuming the role of sole mediator between the residents of Ambohimanga and their ancestors.