The efforts of the London Missionary Society to introduce Christianity into Madagascar began in 1818 and were met with a decade of modest success followed by a violent reaction. Queen Ranavalona I took the throne in 1828. She loathed and feared foreigners. As the mission society gained converts, she lashed back with edicts that forbade baptism, communion, Christian marriage rites and public worship. From her throne she poured persecution upon the heads of Christian converts.
In 1835, the missionaries threw in the towel. Thwarted at every turn, they buried their Bibles, books, and tracts and left Madagascar. Two years later, Ranavalona I expelled all remaining foreigners. Turning on her own subjects, she was merciless in her measures and much blood flowed.
The return of the London Missionary Society to Madagascar was largely through the efforts of Rev. William Ellis. Having witnessed how greatly printing impressed the Polynesians he thought, wouldn't photography be even more impressive? He learned the art of picture-taking just so he could astonish the Malagasy people and capture a toehold for Christianity. Beginning in the mid-1850s he regained entry to Madagascar and took many photographs of the island and its people. Meanwhile he stirred up the London Missionary Society to renew its evangelistic efforts.
The renewal of Christian work became possible when Ranavalona died in 1861. Her son became king, taking the name Radema II. The first of several weak rulers, he was friendlier to the church than his mother.
Although Radema II was assassinated within three years by a court faction which resisted opening the nation to French influence, the church was not expelled. Adam's wife, Rasoherina, ruled in his stead. When she died in 1868, her cousin ascended the throne, taking the name Ranavalona II. Would she imitate the cruelty of her namesake?
Christian influence prevailed. On this day, February 21, 1869, Ranavalona II and her court converted to Christianity. Madagascar became nominally Christian. However, to this day less than half of its people claim to follow Jesus. The French began their occupation of Madagascar during Ranavalona II's reign.
As for William Ellis, his energy and innovation raised him to chief foreign secretary of the London Missionary Society.
- Anderson, Gerald H. "Ellis, William." Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions. New York: Macmillan Reference USA; London : Simon & Schuster and Prentice Hall International, 1998.
- Ellis ,William. The Martyr Church : a narrative of the introduction, progress and triumph of Christianity in Madagascar; with notices of personal intercourse and travel in that island. London: Snow, 1870.
- "Ellis, William." Dictionary of National Biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. London: Oxford University Press, 1921 - 1996.
- Mears, John W. The Story of Madagascar. Philadelphia, 1873.
- Neill, Stephen. A History of Christian Missions. The Pelican History of the Church #6. Hammondsworth, Middlesex, England: Pelican Books, 1964; p.317ff.
Last updated May, 2007.