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Rajaona
1862 to 1934
Protestant (Lutheran)
Madagascar

Rajaona, who was an unyielding and proud man, led the Lutheran parish of Antsirabe for fifty years.

Rajaona's parents were lords of Ambohijanaka, near Antananarivo. The queen had appointed them to govern the regions of Ambohipona, Manandona, and Antsirabe. Born in 1862, the boy had been sent to live with distant relatives in Fandriana (Betsileo region) before being sent to school. When he was eight, Rajaona was attending school at the Norwegian Mission (NMS) in Antananarivo, and - still not baptized - he was a young fellow disciple of Hand Rabéony.

Physically speaking, he was not very strong, and he took just enough schooling to get by. He stood out because he spoke softly, thinking that this was the only way for someone of noble birth to speak and have people pay attention to what he had to say. He acquired a basic knowledge of Christianity, but his pride kept him from accepting help from anyone. The only time he had to ask for anyone's help was when he asked Mrs. Borchgrevink to agree to let him marry her au pair, a young lady named Ranjanoro. This marriage of "nobility" took place on August 31, 1883.

The [seminary] professors were quite reticent about Rajaona and they put him to the test, because generally speaking, men like him preferred to go into civil service instead of serving in the Church. He was nonetheless ordained to the pastorate in 1884 in Ambatovinaky (Antananarivo), and was sent to serve the urban parish of Antsirabe, where he stayed for fifty years.

His ministry was not of the type that the missionaries there were looking for, but they were accomodating. Rajaona only answered greetings that were addressed to him in the manner with which one would address a nobleman: "Tsara va Tompokoi?" (Are you well, my Lord?). Once in a while, the queen summoned noblemen to the capital to get their advice, and it so happenned that Rajaona was summoned. Upon his return, his pride was such that he wanted to be treated like the queen herself! He kept to a rigid schedule that he changed for nothing and no-one, and he insisted on doing everything and on deciding everything by himself. His parish was utterly unlike the parishes of Antananarivo, which were somewhat democratic in nature, and he refused to make contributions to mutual aid and compensation funds for as long as possible.

After the annexation of Madagascar by France he began to learn French and he no longer paid any attention to the missionaries. He even stopped making mention of them in his agenda and his diary. In 1902, when the synod was discussing the financial autonomy of the churches, he was incensed when they affirmed that autonomy meant no longer receiving funds from the Mission. In Church matters he only wanted to grant power to ordained pastors, and his conservatism extended to wearing only a lamba and a straw hat instead of the European style street clothes that had been adopted by most people in the cities. He only consented to travelling by train to Antananarivo when he was basically forced to do so. Even though he deigned to receive his former fellow student Rabéony, he was very strict with all the young missionaries, and he once said the following about Rosaas: "If he wants to stay around here, he's going to have to listen to me."

Rajaona represented a certain type of haughty and conservative clergyman, and as such, he was a remarkable figure who was nonetheless fairly typical of a certain social class that came from the highlands of Madagascar in the early twentieth century.

A. Snekkenes, L. Molet


The above article, reprinted here by permission, is from Hommes et Destins: Dictionnaire biographique d'Outre-Mer [People and Destinies: an Overseas Biographical Dictionary], vol. 3, published in 1977 by the Académie des Sciences d'Outre-Mer (15, rue la Pérouse, 75116 Paris, France). All rights reserved.