6 People From Madagascar You Should Know

In the current polarized political atmosphere of Madagascar (after elections last month, a presidential run-off is scheduled for December 20, 2013), there are very few personalities who are unanimously revered by Malagasy citizens. Take a closer look at six modern figures from Madagascar who have made a difference in the African island country.

Albert Rakoto Ratsimamanga, the Scientific Pioneer 

Albert Rakoto Ratsimamanga via arom asso

Albert Rakoto Ratsimamanga via arom asso CC-BY-2.0

Albert Rakoto Ratsimamanga [fr] is by far the most renowned scientist from Madagascar. He was made famous by his extensive work on better understanding the healing properties of the unique endemic flora of Madagascar. He is credited with about 350 scientific publications on topics ranging from the function of the adrenal gland to natural remedies for diabetes.

He said the following about the interplay between nature and the Malagasy population [fr]:

Nous devons avancer à notre rythme, nous devons avant tout avoir confiance en nous-mêmes et dans les vertus thérapeutiques de la nature. Car la nature et l'homme ne font qu'un.

We need to proceed at our own pace, we need to trust ourselves and the healing virtues of nature. In the end, nature and man are nothing but one and the same entity.

In the following video in French, Ratsimamanga explains the body of his work and his passion for research:

The interview notes :

(Rastimamanga) a mis au service de son pays le fruit de ses connaisances modernes conciliées au savoir empirique des guérisseurs malgaches 

(Ratsimamanga) served his country by combining his modern scientific methodology with the empirical knowledge of Malagasy healers. 

Still, his scientific achievement is only half of his life story. He was also a major contributor to the Malagasy movement for independence from France as the co-founder of the the Association of Malagasy Students (AEOM), one of the pioneer organization in the struggle against colonialism.

Cover of Gisele Rabesahala biography via ocean editions CC-BY

Cover of Gisèle Rabesahala's memoir via ocean editions CC-BY

Gisèle Rabesahala, the Patriot 

Gisèle Rabesahala was one of the leaders of the struggle for Madagascar's independence. She was a journalist and political activist who founded the newspaper Imongo Vaovao. She was also the first Malagasy woman elected in 1958 as a representative for the city council of Antananarivo, the capital city of Madagascar. She died in 2011, and the Internet was flooded with many tributes saluting her memory.   

Gradiloafo blog noted [fr] her many caritative efforts and her political activism: 

Dans le social, Gisèle Rabesahala a été la fondatrice de l'ONG Comité de solidarité de Madagascar ou « Fifanampiana malagasy » qui œuvre, en l'occurrence, dans l'aide aux démunis [..] Militante engagée dès son jeune âge dans la lutte pour la souveraineté du pays, elle était de tous les mouvements de jeunesse solidaires de la libération des pays sous la tutelle coloniale 

In her community work, Gisèle Rabesahala was the founder of the NGO “Fifanampiana Malagasy” [Solidarity for Madagascar], which strives to help the very poor [..] She was a committed activist at an early age in the struggle for sovereignty and was part of all the youth movements for the country's liberation from colonial rule.

Jean-Luc Raharimanana, the Guardian of Memory 

Raharimanana on flickr by Gangeous CC-BY-2.0

Jean-Luc Raharimanana. Photo from Flickr user Gangeous CC-BY-2.0

Jean-Luc Raharimanana is a Malagasy writer. By the age of 20, he had already won the Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo Poetry Prize for his early poems. His writings were recognized for their portrayal of the beauty of nature in its native home, but also its poverty and squalor, especially in the shanty towns. In his work, legends and old superstitions are juxtaposed with contemporary political events.

Catherine Bédarida, a literary critic from France, wrote about Raharimanana and his book “Nour, 1947″ [fr]:

 “Nour, 1947″ son premier roman, est à la fois livre d'histoire, oratorio, récit poétique, pages battues par les vents, l'océan, le sel, le sang.  1947, c'est l'heure de l'insurrection malgache. La colonie française voit le retour de ses tirailleurs, enrôlés dans la deuxième guerre mondiale, qui rêvent de selibérer à leur tour de l'occupant. La répression fait des milliers de morts. [..] ” Les mots s'en sont allés et nous ont laissés sans mémoire “ : reconstituer la mémoire de Madagascar, telle est l'obsession du narrateur. 

“Nour, 1947″ is his first novel. It is all at once a historical fiction, an oral history, a poem battered by wind, sea, salt and blood. 1947 is the year of the Malagasy insurrection against the colonial period. French colonizers in Madagascar saw the return of the Malagasy legion that battled in France during WWII and now wanted to free their own nation from the settlers. The French repression killed thousands [..] He writes, “Words have come and gone and left us without memory”: this author's obsession is to reconstruct the memory of Madagascar 

Erick Manana, the Cultural Icon
Erick Manana is a singer and a songwriter described once as the “Bob Dylan of Madagascar”. His professional career as a musician began in 1982 as a member of the band Lolo sy ny Tariny. Manana is the recipient of several awards, and he performed at the historic Olympia venue in Paris to celebrate the 35th year of his career in 2013.

Uli Niebergall writes the following about Manana:

Manana's repertoire gracefully alternates between lyric ballads (e.g. “Tany niaviako”) and pop tunes with irresistibly wild and intricate rhythms (e.g. “Izahay tsy maintsy mihira”), and a grateful audience responds enthusiastically to every tone and syllable. Manana's lyrics often deal with the everyday life of Malagasy people. [..] Manana, however, doesn't limit himself to influences from his home country, but displays a distinct eclecticism in his choice of songs by other artists, both geographically and stylistically. For example, in reverence to Air Madagascar flying the distance between Paris and Antananarivo, he has remodeled “Amazing Grace” into a song called “Vorombe tsara dia” (The plane that flies well). He sings a Malagasy version of Leonard Cohen's “Suzanne” which sounds surprisingly fresh.

Here is a video of one of his most celebrated songs, “Izaha tsy maintsy mihira”:

Jacques Rabemananjara, the Political Prisoner  

Jacques Rabemananjara was a Malagasy politician, playwright and poet. Rabemananjara was born in town on the Bay of Antongil, on the Eastern Coast of Madagascar in 1913. Rabemananjara was recognized as the one of the most most prolific authors of the Negritude genre [fr], the literary and ideological movement developed by Francophone black intellectuals that rejected French colonial racism. Senghor, the famed Senegalese writer turned president, is the pioneer of the movement. He was suspected of being involved in the instigation of the failed 1947 Malagasy Uprising against colonial rule, despite the fact that he had urged the rioters to be calm. He was arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour.

Green Integer blog recalled his life's achievements

After leaving school, Rabemananjara became an organizer of the first union of Malagsy civil servants, and co-founded La Revue des Jeunes de Madagascar, a journal which expressed nationalist sentiments at odds with the French rulers, who forced the magazine, after 10 issues, to cease publication. During the war years in France he met members of the negritude group, including Léopold Sédar Senghor and Alioune Diop, who contributed to the African journal Présence Africaine. [..] In 1947, however, Malagasy revolutionaries attacked a French military installation. The authorities retaliated by killing or wounding eighty thousand Malagasies. And, although there is no evidence that his Mouvement democratique de Renovation Malgache party was involved, Rabemananjara was threatened with death, suspected of having organized the uprising. He was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to life imprisonment at hard labor. His Antsa (Song), published in France in 1956, made him a national hero, and associated him even more closely with Senghor and Cesaire.

Rado, the Poet  

Georges Andriamanantena [mg], better known as Rado, is a renowned Malagasy poet who died five years ago. Yet his work has endured the test of time in Malagasy culture, including the Malagasy blogosphere.

Georges Andriamanantena via his facebook tribute page with permission

Georges Andriamanantena via a Facebook tribute page. Used with permission

Rado is a descendant of the rulers of the village of Amboanana in the Itasy Region, known as the home of the fiercest freedom fighters against French colonization. Tebokaefatra,  a malagasy blogger from Antananarivo,  wrote [mg] about how Rado's origins explained his unwavering patriotism:

“…ilay vohitra kely ao atsimon'Arivonimamo, izay nisehoan'ireo Menalamba sahy nanohitra voalohany indrindra ny Fanjanahantany teto Madagasikara. Araka izany koa dia mba nandova ny ran'ireo tia tanindrazana tsy nanaiky hozogain'ny vahiny.”

…the little village south of Arivonimamo, where the Menalamba, the fiercest and first opponents of colonization in Madagascar, originated. Rado inherited the patriotism of his forebearers who always refused any foreigners’ rule.

He valued his independence: even though he held a well paying job for a time, he resigned from that job and preferred to found his own newspaper called Hehy with his brother Celestin. He published seven books of poems, including Dinitra (1973), ny Voninkazo adaladala (2003) and ny fiteny roa (2008). Many of his poems were set to music by some of the most famous Malagasy artists. Maintikely, Malagasy blogger in Cape Town, RSA,  posted [mg] one of his poems. Here is an excerpt: 

Ho any ianao,kanefa….
Aza ataonao fantany izao fahoriako izao
Fa aoka hiafina aminy
Ny ketoky ny jaly
Nanempaka ny aiko,tanatin'ny longoa
Izay namandrihany ahy…
Ny dinitry ny foko manorika ahy mangina,
Fa sempo-tsasak'alina
Misaina ity anjarako,
Aza ataonao fantany!
Eny e ! Ampy izay.Tongava soa aman-tsara !
Dia akatony mora
Io varavarako io
Fa hitomany aho…
Rado, janoary 1966

You are meeting her, but…
Do not tell her about my suffering,
Let her ignore the bite of pain,
that is tearing up my being,
in the web she trapped me in,
My sweating heart that chokes me silently
at midnight
when I ponder my fate,
Do not let her know !
This is my message. Please do not forget.
And Adieu !
But before you go,
this hand of yours, do not touch anything with it,
until it links to hers…
Yes, that is it. Have a good journey.
And please do close that door
On my tears.
Rado, January 1996.

Mialy Andriamananjara contributed to this post.


  • rhaj0

    – As for Gisele Rabesahala.
    I am very disappointed with Rabesahala. She was the one who knows how and to which extent the politicians were destroying Madagascar, but she took a stand, to never let people know who has done what, because, she said, that may put a burden on their children. But to my point of view, the children have and will never give back money and power that they inherited from their parents. So, Gisele, why don’t you look into the eyes of the children that were wronged by these politicians.. there are millions of them.. with a few dozen of them … orphans from a direct hit.

    – As for Jean-Luc Raharimanana
    When his father, Bevenance, was pointed to have promoted hatred during the 2002 crisis, Jean-Luc standed by his father. Where is your honesty, Jean-Luc ? Your father first, and honesty second ?

    – As for Jacques Rabemananjara
    He was candidate for one of the presidential elections: the people has spoken: he is NOT revered. Because, Jacques, what did you do for all these years, after 1947 ? Why didn’t you speak out ?


  • […] Learn about six Malagasy personalities worth knowing for anyone wishing to better understand the island of Madagascar.  […]

  • Radama Imboasalama

    I love Eric Manana but I don’t think he is better than D’Garry, the best icon songwriter guitarist of Madagascar ever

  • Radama Imboasalama

    By the way, what do you think about Rakoto Frah the best flute player ever, Monja Jaona the monumental icon in Malagasy politics, JJ Rabearivelo the international icon of Malagasy poem?

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