PROTEST ON THE ROAD TO FREEDOM: THE WOMEN OF MADAGASCAR

Cynthia Holder Rich

Abstract


1. Women’s Revolt, Story and Analysis


On April 3, 1822, King Radama, monarch of the Merina kingdom of Madagascar, cut his hair.
Before he cut them, Radama had long, intricately woven braids, and his hair had never been
cut. The braids of the monarch, and the way in which they were arranged on his head, held
political meaning for the Merina people. Madagascar historian Pier Martin Larson notes that
the braids on Radama’s head were “divided and organized (into their) proper social and
political order”, signifying the division and organization of the various status groups of the
kingdom.2 Order in the king’s hair was thought to signify order in the kingdom, which would
bring fertility. Cutting one’s hair was a sign of subordination. When a king died, the subjects
were required to cut their hair to signify that they accepted subordination to the new king. It
was “an overt sign of obedience, an enactment of the end of an old order and the beginning of a
new one.”3 The only people in the kingdom who commonly would be seen with short hair were
slaves and condemned criminals.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7833/86-0-950

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ISSN 2305-445X (online); ISSN 0254-1807 (print)

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