The editors of the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue occasionally make what I consider to be rather odd decisions in their listings. The British Post Office in Siam, for example, is alphabetically listed in Volume 1 as “Bangkok” rather than under Great Britain > British Offices Abroad. In the same vein, I’ve never really agreed with the placement of the Confederate States following the listings for the United States as it was never administered by the USPOD the same way as other entities in that volume of the catalogue were such as the Canal Zone.
Another case in point is the treatment of Madagascar. Look that up in the Scott catalogue and you will find less than a page of rather expensive stamps (crude-appearing typographed emissions on which the British Consulate handstamped its official seal). Issued between 1884 and 1886, these stamps were gummed only in one corner. The bulk of the listings for “French Madagascar” are found by turning the page, just after 65 stamps issued by the Portuguese island of Madeira between 1868-1928 (for those stamps issued by Madeira after 1980, one must search under the heading of “Portugal” in another volume). For most of the ensuing years, the entity was called Madagascar; it was the Malagasy Republic between 1858 and 1975 when it became the Democratic Republic of Malagasy, a name that remained until 1993 when it changed its name to the Republic of Madagascar.
In the A Stamp A Day entry for the Malagasy Republic earlier this year, I summarized the pre-French history of Madagascar as well as that following its independence in 1960. It’s interesting to note that the island’s name derives from Portuguese explorers and it is not known what the original local name was. In the Malagasy language, it is called Madagasikara and its people are referred to as Malagasy.
King Radama I (1810–28) brought most of the island under his control and was recognized by the British government as King of Madagascar. Radama concluded a treaty in 1817 with the British governor of Mauritius to abolish the lucrative slave trade in return for British military and financial assistance. Artisan missionary envoys from the London Missionary Society began arriving in 1818 and included such key figures as James Cameron, David Jones and David Griffiths, who established schools, transcribed the Malagasy language using the Roman alphabet, translated the Bible, and introduced a variety of new technologies to the island.
Radama’s successor, Queen Ranavalona I (1828–61), responded to increasing political and cultural encroachment on the part of Britain and France by issuing a royal edict prohibiting the practice of Christianity in Madagascar and pressuring most foreigners to leave the territory. Residents of Madagascar could accuse one another of various crimes, including theft, Christianity and especially witchcraft, for which the ordeal of tangena was routinely obligatory. A poison was extracted from the nut of the native tangena shrub and ingested, with the outcome determining innocence or guilt. If nobles (andriana) or freemen (hova) were compelled to undergo the ordeal, the poison was typically administered to the accused only after dog and rooster stand-ins had already died from the poison’s effects, while among members of the slave class (andevo), the ordeal required them to immediately ingest the poison themselves. The accused would be fed the poison along with three pieces of chicken skin: if all three pieces of skin were vomited up then innocence was declared, but death or a failure to regurgitate all three pieces of skin indicated guilt. Those who died were declared sorcerers. According to custom, the families of the dead were not permitted to bury them within the family tomb, but rather had to inter them in the ground at a remote, inhospitable location, with the head of the corpse turned to the south (a mark of dishonor).
Between 1828 and 1861, the tangena ordeal caused about 3,000 deaths annually. Among those who continued to reside in Imerina were Jean Laborde, an entrepreneur who developed munitions and other industries on behalf of the monarchy, and Joseph-François Lambert, a French adventurer and slave trader, with whom then-Prince Radama II signed a controversial trade agreement termed the Lambert Charter. Succeeding his mother, Radama II (1861–63) attempted to relax the queen’s stringent policies, but was overthrown two years later by Prime Minister Rainivoninahitriniony (1852–1865) and an alliance of andriana and hova courtiers, who sought to end the absolute power of the monarch.
Radama’s widow Rasoherina was placed on the throne by Prime Minister Rainivoninahitriniony and his cabinet on the condition that the absolute power of the monarch was ended and the majority of power over day-to-day governance and foreign affairs rested with the prime minister. The despotism of the prime minister led him to be replaced by his younger brother, Rainilaiarivony, who would govern Madagascar for 30 years until the capture of Antananarivo by the French military.
Over the course of Rainilaiarivony’s 31-year tenure as prime minister, numerous policies were adopted to modernize and consolidate the power of the central government. Schools were constructed throughout the island and attendance was made mandatory. Army organization was improved, and British consultants were employed to train and professionalize soldiers. Polygamy was outlawed and Christianity, declared the official religion of the court in 1869, was adopted alongside traditional beliefs among a growing portion of the populace. Legal codes were reformed on the basis of British common law and three European-style courts were established in the capital city.
Rainilaiarivony and successive queens Ranavalona II and Ranavalona III sought to maintain the sovereignty of Madagascar. The Merina monarchy revoked the terms of the Lambert Charter, explaining that the agreement was void because Malagasy territory belonged to the crown and the prince had not had the right to give it away while Ranavalona reigned. The heirs of Laborde, upon being refused right to the land they had been promised and the various properties owned by their father, pressed the claim with the government of France, providing a pretext for invasion on the basis of enforcing the legal rights of a French citizen.
The Merina monarchy vigorously attempted to resolve the issue through negotiation and diplomacy, relying heavily on the support of their British and American trading partners. They sent ambassadors to England and France to resolve the claims, but the French government refused to accept anything less than the full terms of the treaty. This provided the necessary pretext for a French military invasion of the island.
France declared the island the Malagasy Protectorate in 1882 after reaching an agreement with Britain to sanction French claims to Madagascar in exchange for French recognition of its claims to Zanzibar. France attempted to control the foreign affairs of the Kingdom of Imerina through its representative at Antananarivo. The French justified the establishment of a protectorate on the basis of land claims over outlying islands like Nosy Be and Nosy Boraha and a treaty signed with a local leader of the western coastal Sakalava people. It was further justified through documents signed by King Radama II, including a letter he was possibly tricked into signing that entreated Napoleon to support a coup d’état against Ranavalona I, and land ownership agreements with French industrialist Joseph-François Lambert that were revoked upon Radama’s assassination in 1863.
France invaded Madagascar in 1883, in what became known as the first Franco-Hova War, seeking to restore the cancelled concessions. With the signing of the Treaty of Tamatave in January 1886, the war ceased. Madagascar ceded Antsiranana (Diego-Suarez) on the northern coast to France and paid a hefty fine of 10 million francs. The treaty included an ‘Instructive Letter’ which was to clarify the treaty, but which was never presented in the French Parliament when they voted to ratify the treaty. The treaty essentially gave France control over Malagasy foreign policy, and the French government used this to exert increasing control over the territory
Successive sovereigns Ranavalona II and Ranavalona III and their prime minister, Rainilaiarivony, rejected the claim of French protectorate status and consistently refused to acknowledge the French representative or submit to the demands of the French, who attempted to impose control over Madagascar’s foreign affairs and trade. The Malagasy government sent letters to foreign trade and diplomatic allies, including Britain and the United States, to request they advocate to France on behalf of Madagascar for continued Malagasy independence. France engaged Madagascar diplomatically and bombarded coastal cities in an attempt to enforce its claims, but Madagascar continued to govern its affairs with relatively little interference.
French colonial stamps had been in use on the island since around 1860. The first post office opened at Diego-Suarez in 1885. Beginning in 1889, French colonial stamps were surcharged in black for specific use on Madagascar (“Malagasy Republic’ Scott #1-7, under the sub-heading of “French Offices in Madagascar”). Diego-Suarez would issue its own stamps between 1890 and 1894, managing to produce over 60 types in that short time.
In September 1890, the British recognized a French Protectorate of Madagascar in September 1890, in return for eventual British control over Zanzibar and as part of an overall definition of spheres of influence in Africa. With the opening of the Suez Canal, the strategic significance of Madagascar had declined. Rainilaiarivony prepared to defend the island from French military invasion by sending Colonel Shervinton, his European military adviser, to purchase arms in Europe. The French administration was determined to bring about a full Protectorate on the island, and thus evacuated its nonessential citizens from the region.
In 1891, six typographed imperforate stamps were issued, the first bearing the inscription MADAGASCAR (Scott #8-13). The 1891 issue was printed in sheetlets of 10 stamps. The hand preparation of the die meant that each of the ten positions had its own identifying traits. The differences usually pertain to the number of dots (points) in the two rows above and below the value. A quick count of the dots in the two pair of rows will usually discern the type, as well as indicate forgeries. These were followed in 1895 by French stamps overprinted POSTE / FRANÇAISE / Madagasgar (Scott #14-22) and surcharged French stamps (Scott #22A-27) in both 1895 and 1896.
Active hostilities commenced on December 12, 1894, when the French marines took possession of Tamatave. General Duchesne and his flying column landed in Mahajanga (Majunga) and marched to the capital, Antananarivo, hampered by the jungle, shallow river, disease, and lack of roads. The French expeditionary force finally reached the city and began an assault during the last week of September 1895.
The defenders were stationed on the main road to the capital, to the south of the city. The French commander circled Antananarivo and executed a feint attack on the north of the city. His main force attacked the east of the city, commanding a hillock from which he could shell the main government buildings, including the Queen’s palace. Three shells were fired against the city, and the Hova army was routed. General Duchesne entered the city on October 1, and Queen Ranavalona III signed the treaty that made Madagascar a full Protectorate of the French government. Twenty French soldiers died fighting and 6,000 died of malaria and other diseases during this second Franco-Hova War.
The Merina Kingdom was put under French protection in 1896, overseen by the first Resident-General, Laroche. The first stamps inscribed MADAGASCAR ET DEPENDENCIES were released beginning that year using the Navigation and Commerce series of key type stamps issued for the colonial territories of France (Scott #28-47). Designed by Louis-Eugène Mouchon, the issue uses a standard design featuring allegorical representations of navigation and commerce. The territory name is imprinted in a rectangular cartouche centered at the bottom of the stamp. In French colonies, it was the first series of territory-specific postal releases. Adding the territory name helped reduce revenue loss incurred when stamps were purchased in colonies with low-value currencies, then sold or used in colonies with high-valued currencies.
The Colony of Madagascar and Dependencies (Colonie de Madagascar et dépendances) was formally established on February 28, 1897. Prime Minister Rainivoninahitriniony was deported to Algeria, where he died shortly afterward. A civil governor was put in place and key opposition figures were imprisoned or executed. Ranavalona and her cabinet were initially allowed to remain in government as ceremonial figureheads.
French rule was challenged from the very moment of the capital’s capture by a popular uprising termed the Menalamba rebellion. The fighting was led by commoners, principally from Imerina, who rejected not only French rule but Christianity and the influence of Europeans among the Merina rulers. The rebellion was put down with difficulty by General Joseph Simon Gallieni over a year later. The French government determined that a civil governor was incapable of ensuring order and submission of the Malagasy people, and so deposed the queen in 1897, dissolved the 103-year-old Merina monarchy, and installed a military government headed by Gallieni. Queen Ranavalona III was exiled to Réunion and later to Algeria, where she died in 1917 without ever being allowed to return to Madagascar.
Under colonial rule, plantations were established for the production of a variety of export crops. Slavery was abolished in 1896 and approximately 500,000 slaves were freed; many remained in their former masters’ homes as servants or as sharecroppers; in many parts of the island strong discriminatory views against slave descendants are still held today. Wide paved boulevards and gathering places were constructed in the capital city of Antananarivo and the Rova palace compound was turned into a museum. Additional schools were built, particularly in rural and coastal areas where the schools of the Merina had not reached. Education became mandatory between the ages of 6 to 13 and focused primarily on French language and practical skills. The Merina royal tradition of taxes paid in the form of labor was continued under the French and used to construct a railway and roads linking key coastal cities to Antananarivo.
Many of additional French possessions in the Indian Ocean and Antarctic regions became attached to the colony of Madagascar for administrative purposes, with the first added as a dependency in October 1897. Prior to the attainment of independence in 1960, these would include territories such as Adélie Land on the Antarctic continent, Kerguelen Islands, Crozet Islands, Mayotte, Anjouan, Grand Comoro, Mohéli, and many small islands later administered by the Prefect of Réunion. In 1955, some of the islands were formed into the French Southern and Antarctic Lands (Terres australes et antarctiques françaises, TAAF), an overseas territory of France that has no permanent civilian population. Those residents consist of visiting military personnel, officials, scientific researchers and support staff.
A number of the 1896-1906 Navigation and Commerce stamps were surcharged in 1902 (Scott #48-55 and Scott #58-60). Several Diego-Suarez stamps also received surcharges at this time for use in Madagascar (Scott #56-57 and Scott #61-62). In 1904, it is alleged that stamp shortages in several towns on the island led to the bisecting of several stamps and the application of a handstamp after being affixed to letters. The Scott catalogue believe these provisionals to have been unnecessary and speculative.
Madagascar’s first pictorial stamps were issued in 1903 — 15 different denominations in different colors all depicting a zebu, a traveler’s palm tree and a lemur (Scott #63-77). From 1908-1928, a long series eventually totally 36 bi-colored stamps portraying transportation by a sedan chair was released (Scott #79-114). Numerous surcharges were issued between 1912 and 1927 followed by a bicolored pictorial set from 1930-1944 featuring various tribal peoples (Scott #147-168).
Nationalist sentiment against French colonial rule of Madagascar emerged among a group of Merina intellectuals. The group, based in Antananarivo, was led by a Malagasy Protestant clergyman, Pastor Ravelojoana, who was especially inspired by the Japanese model of modernization. A secret society dedicated to affirming Malagasy cultural identity was formed in 1913, calling itself Iron and Stone Ramification (Vy Vato Sakelika, VVS). Although the VVS was brutally suppressed, its actions eventually led French authorities to provide the Malagasy with their first representative voice in government.
Malagasy troops fought for France during World War. Malagasy veterans bolstered the embryonic nationalist movement. Throughout the 1920s, the nationalists stressed labor reform and equality of civil and political status for the Malagasy, stopping short of advocating independence. For example, the French League for Madagascar under the leadership of Anatole France demanded French citizenship for all Malagasy people in recognition of their country’s wartime contribution of soldiers and resources. A number of veterans who remained in France were exposed to French political thought, most notably the anti-colonial and pro-independence platforms of socialist parties. Jean Ralaimongo, for example, returned to Madagascar in 1924 and became embroiled in labor questions that were causing considerable tension throughout the island.
Among the first concessions to Malagasy equality was the formation in 1924 of two economic and financial delegations. One was composed of French settlers, the other of twenty-four Malagasy representatives elected by the Council of Notables in each of twenty-four districts. The two sections never met together, and neither had real decision-making authority.
In the 1930s, Nazi political thinkers developed the Madagascar Plan that had identified the island as a potential site for the deportation of Europe’s Jews. During the Second World War, the island was the site of the Battle of Madagascar between the Vichy government and the British.
Only in the aftermath of World War II was France willing to accept a form of Malagasy self-rule under French tutelage. In the fall of 1945, separate French and Malagasy electoral colleges voted to elect representatives from Madagascar to the Constituent Assembly of the Fourth Republic in Paris. The two delegates chosen by the Malagasy, Joseph Raseta and Joseph Ravoahangy, both campaigned to implement the ideal of the self-determination of peoples affirmed by the Atlantic Charter of 1941 and by the Brazzaville Conference of 1944.
Raseta and Ravoahangy, together with Jacques Rabemananjara, a writer long resident in Paris, organized the Democratic Movement for Malagasy Restoration (MDRM), the foremost among several political parties formed in Madagascar by early 1946. Although Protestant Merina were well represented in MDRM’s higher echelons, the party’s 300,000 members were drawn from a broad political base reaching across the entire island and crosscutting ethnic and social divisions. Several smaller MDRM rivals included the Party of the Malagasy Disinherited (Parti des Déshérités Malgaches), whose members were mainly côtiers or descendants of slaves from the central highlands.
The 1946 constitution of the French Fourth Republic made Madagascar a territoire d’outre-mer (overseas territory) within the French Union. It accorded full citizenship to all Malagasy parallel with that enjoyed by citizens in France. But the assimilationist policy inherent in its framework was incongruent with the MDRM goal of full independence for Madagascar, so Ravoahangy and Raseta abstained from voting. The two delegates also objected to the separate French and Malagasy electoral colleges, even though Madagascar was represented in the French National Assembly. The constitution divided Madagascar administratively into a number of provinces, each of which was to have a locally elected provincial assembly. Not long after, a National Representative Assembly was constituted at Antananarivo. In the first elections for the provincial assemblies, the MDRM won all seats or a majority of seats, except in Mahajanga Province.
Despite these reforms, the political scene in Madagascar remained unstable. Economic and social concerns, including food shortages, black-market scandals, labor conscription, renewed ethnic tensions, and the return of soldiers from France, strained an already volatile situation. Many of the veterans felt they had been less well treated by France than had veterans from metropolitan France; others had been politically radicalized by their wartime experiences. The blend of fear, respect, and emulation on which Franco-Malagasy relations had been based seemed at an end.
On March 29, 1947, Malagasy nationalists revolted against the French. Although the uprising eventually spread over one-third of the island, the French were able to restore order after reinforcements arrived from France. Casualties among the Malagasy were estimated in the 11,000 to 80,000 range. The group of leaders responsible for the uprising, which came to be referred to as the Revolt of 1947, never has been identified conclusively. Although the MDRM leadership consistently maintained its innocence, the French outlawed the party. French military courts tried the military leaders of the revolt and executed twenty of them. Other trials produced, by one report, some 5,000 to 6,000 convictions, and penalties ranged from brief imprisonment to death.
In 1956, France’s socialist government renewed the French commitment to greater autonomy in Madagascar and other colonial possessions by enacting the loi-cadre (enabling law). The loi-cadre provided for universal suffrage and was the basis for parliamentary government in each colony. In the case of Madagascar, the law established executive councils to function alongside provincial and national assemblies, and dissolved the separate electoral colleges for the French and Malagasy groups. The provision for universal suffrage had significant implications in Madagascar because of the basic ethnopolitical split between the Merina and the côtiers, reinforced by the divisions between Protestants and Roman Catholics. Superior armed strength and educational and cultural advantages had given the Merina a dominant influence on the political process during much of the country’s history. The Merina were heavily represented in the Malagasy component of the small elite to whom suffrage had been restricted in the earlier years of French rule. Now the côtiers, who outnumbered the Merina, would be a majority.
The end of the 1950s was marked by growing debate over the future of Madagascar’s relationship with France. Two major political parties emerged. The newly created Democratic Social Party of Madagascar (Parti Social Démocrate de Madagascar, PSD) favored self-rule while maintaining close ties with France. The PSD was led by Philibert Tsiranana, a well-educated Tsimihety from the northern coastal region who was one of three Malagasy deputies elected in 1956 to the National Assembly in Paris. The PSD built upon Tsiranana’s traditional political stronghold of Mahajanga in northwest Madagascar and rapidly extended its sources of support by absorbing most of the smaller parties that had been organized by the côtiers.
In sharp contrast, those advocating complete independence from France came together under the auspices of the Congress Party for the Independence of Madagascar (Antokon’ny Kongresy Fanafahana an’i Madagasikara, AKFM). Primarily based in Antananarivo and Antsiranana, party support centered among the Merina under the leadership of Richard Andriamanjato, himself a Merina and a member of the Protestant clergy. To the consternation of French policy makers, the AKFM platform called for nationalization of foreign-owned industries, collectivization of land, the “Malagachization” of society away from French values and customs (most notably use of the French language), international nonalignment, and exit from the Franc Zone.
The last stamps issued by the French colony of Madagascar was a set of three depicting plants released on March 12, 1957 (Scott #297-299).
The Malagasy Republic was proclaimed on October 14, 1958, as an autonomous state within the French Community. A period of provisional government ended with the adoption of a constitution in 1959 and full independence on June 26, 1960.
Scott #150 was released in 1930, a 5-centime light green and red typographed stamp portraying a Hova man with oxen. These were the “free commoners”, one of the three principal historical castes in the Merina Kingdom of Madagascar, alongside the Andriana (nobles) and Andevo (slaves). The term hova originally applied to all members of a Malagasy clan (possibly of the Zafiraminia people) that migrated into the central highlands from the southeast coast of the island around the 15th century and absorbed the existing population of Vazimba. Andriamanelo (1540–1575) consolidated the power of the Hova when he united many of the Hova chiefdoms around Antananarivo under his rule. The term remained in use through the 20th century, though some foreigners transliterated that word to be Ankova, and increasingly used since the 19th century.
The Merina people, also known as the Imerina, Antimerina or Hova, are the largest ethnic group in Madagascar. They are the “highlander” Malagasy ethnic group of the African island, and one of the country’s eighteen official ethnic groups. They speak the Merina language, and one of their dialects is the official Malagasy language of Madagascar. They are most commonly found in the center of the island (former Antananarivo Province). They built innovative and elaborate irrigation infrastructure and highly productive rice farms in high plateaus of Madagascar by the 18th century. The Merina people were socially stratified with hierarchical castes, inherited occupations and endogamy, as well as one where two of the major and long serving monarchs of the Merina people were queens.
Austronesian people started settling in Madagascar between 200 to 500 CE. They arrived by boats and were from various southeast Asian groups. Later, Swahili-Arabs and Indian traders came to the island’s northern regions. African slaves were brought to the island’s coasts between the 13th and the 18th centuries. The Portuguese traders were the first Europeans to arrive in the 15th century, followed by other European powers.
This influx of diverse people led to various Malagasy sub-ethnicities in the mid-2nd millennium. The Merina were probably the early arrivals, though this is uncertain and other ethnic groups on Madagascar consider them relative newcomers to the island. The Merina people’s culture likely mixed and merged with the Madagascar natives named Vazimba about whom little is known. According to the island’s oral traditions, the “most Austronesian looking” Merina people reached the interior of the island in the 15th century and established their society there because of wars and migrant pressure at the coast. Merina people were settled in the central Madagascar, formed one of the three major kingdoms on the island by the 18th century — the other two being the Sakalava kingdom on the west-northwest and the Betsimisaraka kingdom on the east-northeast.
These early Merina settlers through their industriousness and innovative abilities built vast irrigation projects that helped drain the plateau marshes, irrigate arable lands, and grow rice two times every year. They emerged as the politically dominant group and a wealthy kingdom towards the close of the 18th century. The capital of their kingdom remains the capital of contemporary Madagascar.
Oral history traces the emergence of a united kingdom in the central highlands of Madagascar — a region called Imerina — back to early 16th-century king Andriamanelo. By 1824, a succession of Merina kings had conquered nearly all of Madagascar, particularly through the military strategy, ambitious treaties and political policies of Andrianampoinimerina (circa 1785–1810) and his son Radama I (1792–1828). The colonial British empire recognized the sovereignty of the Merina kingdom and its control of the Madagascar island in 1817. Radama I welcomed European traders and allowed Christian missionaries to establish missions on Madagascar. After him, the Merina people were ruled by Queen Ranavolona I ruled from 1828 to 1861, Queen Rasoherina from 1863 to 1868, and Queen Ranavolona II ruled from 1868 to 1885.
The Swahili Arab traders expanded their opportunities to trade and European colonial powers such as the French trader Joseph-François Lambert signed a disputed lease with King Radama II for plantation lands for sugarcane cultivation and industries along the Madagascar coastal plains. The Merina people called the Malagasy living along the coasts as Cotier. These operations and plantations were worked by the forced labor of imported slaves. The largest influx of slaves was brought in by the ‘Umani Arabs and the French. The Makua people from Mozambique were one of the major victims of this demand, slave capture and export that attempted to satisfy this demand. The slavery was abolished by the French administration in 1896, which adversely impacted the fortunes of Merina and non-Merina operated slave-run plantations.
The dominance of the Merina kingdom over all of Madagascar came to an end with the first Franco-Hova War of 1883 to 1885, triggered by the disputed lease signed by Radama II. In 1896, the French annexed Madagascar, and in 1897 the Merina people became the residents of the colony of French Madagascar.
In the early 20th century, the Merina people led an anti-French nationalist movement. The group, based in Antananarivo, was led by a Malagasy Protestant clergyman, Pastor Ravelojoana. A secret society dedicated to affirming Malagasy cultural identity was formed in 1913, calling itself Iron and Stone Network (Vy Vato Sakelika, VVS). Repressed at first with numerous arrests over 1915 and 1916, the movement re-emerged in the 1920s through communists who gained concessions by partnering with the French Left in France.
A famine in 1943-44 led to an open rebellion in Madagascar. Following independence, the Merina people faced competition from other ethnic groups. The first president of the Republic, Philibert Tsiranana, was a coastal Malagasy of Tsimihety ethnicity, and he was able to consolidate his power with a winner-takes-all system, while the Merina nationalists of the Congress Party for the Independence of Madagascar was weakened by rifts between leftist and ultranationalist factions. The Merina form much of the elite and educated middle-class of Madagascar. They are influential in the economy, universities and government organizations of Madagascar.
The Merina dialect of the Malagasy language, also called as Hova or Malagasy Plateau or just Malagasy, is spoken natively by about a quarter of the population of Madagascar; it is classified as Plateau Malagasy alongside the Betsileo, Bezanozano, Sihanaka, Tanala, Vakinankaritra dialects. The Hova is one of two official languages alongside French in the 2010 constitution putting in place the Fourth Republic. Previously, under the 2007 constitution, Malagasy was one of three official languages alongside French and English. An estimated 7.5 million people were fluent in this language in 2011, according to Ethnologue. It is written in Latin script, introduced by the Christian missionaries. Merina is the language of instruction in all public schools through grade five for all subjects, and remains the language of instruction through high school for the subjects of history and Malagasy language.
Among all the Malagasy ethnicities, the Merina historically have had a highly stratified caste system. The overall society, like many ethnic groups in Africa, had two category of people, the free locally called the fotsy who had ancestors with Asian Malagasy physiognomy, and the serfs or mainty who had ancestors with African physiognomy mostly captured in other parts of Madagascar. However, the fotsy-mainty dichotomy among Merina is not based on physiognomy, states Karen Middleton, but whether they have a family tomb: fotsy have family tombs, mainty are those without one or those who have established a recent tomb. The Merine people were divided into three strata: the Andriana (nobles), the Hova (freemen), and the lowest strata called Andevo (slaves).
The traditional occupation of the hova caste was managing rice and crop lands as owners and trading. The labor in the farms and other servitude was the occupation of the Andevo caste, also called the Mainty who were denied the right to own land. A Hova person could be reduced to a slavery for crimes or a debt in default, and in this state he would be referred to as Zaza-hova.