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III.—History of Madagascar. By the Rev. William Ellis, Author of the Polynesian Researches.
Events which have exerted «*i powerful influence on the present and eternal destinies of a large portion of the human race, are of deep interest to men of enlightened minds and correct sensibility. Such persons view the inhabitants of the savage and civilized nations of the earth as members of the same family, and keeping alive those sympathies which the Divine Being has implanted in their bosoms, feel for their species of every condition, colour and clime.
The progress of mankind from barbarism, raised in the scale of being little above the beasts of the field, to civilization and a practical knowledge of the Christian faith, is highly gratifying to their benevolent feelings.
But those awful vicissitudes which check the progress of literature and science, that hurl down the civil institutions of a land, and place in the room of Christianity, whose distinguishing feature is peace on earth and good-will towards men, a superstition that inkindles the worst passions of the soul—vicissitudes which accelerate the fall, and throw kingdoms back into the barbarism from which they originally emerged, or sweep them from the face of existence, and leave to posterity little more than the memory of their names; arc to such philanthropic individuals exceedingly distressing.
Some of these dreadful calamities have befallen the island of Madagascar. General education and the mechanic arts, and civilization and Christianity, which made considerable advances under the auspices of Radama, the late lamented monarch who had the welfare of his subjects at heart, have ceased to flourish since Ranavolona, the reigning sovereign ascended the throne. Tyranny and persecution, with all their concomitant evils and desolating woes, have overspread the land, and the soil has been soaked with the tears and blood of martyrs.
Presented to the world at a period so eventful to Madagascar, and bearing almost on every page marked proofs of the eminent talents, and correct sentiments and feelings for which his other works are distinguished, it is to be hoped, that Mr. Ellis's two volumes will obtain a numerous and extensive circulation, and be the means of exciting the sympathies of the humane, and fervent intercessions of the pious on behalf of that unhappy and persecuted country. As he has taken the most comprehensive range from the earliest period in the authentic history of the island, and given to each department the notice its importance required, the work will be found to be appropriate and useful to all classes of the community, and will amply compensate every one who honours it with a perusal.
The following observations which were made in the course of reading the above excellent volumes lay no claim to the name and dignity of a review; if they bring however to the notice of an eulightened and generous public, a nation which appears to be little known, or in the midst of more absorbing matters, seems to be almost entirely forgotten, they will not have been written in vain..
Madagascar, which is one of the largest islands in the world, was discovered by Lawrence Almeida in the year 1506; but some persons are of opinion that previous to this period it was known to the Moors and Arabs who visited it for purposes of trade. Owing to the decomposition of vegetable substances, large lakes of stagnant water, and the land being considerably below the level of the ocean, the greater part of the seacoast is unfavorable to health. It was here so many emigrants from Holland and France met with an early grave. But the island in most parts of the interior is salubrious, its productions are spontaneous and abundant, and consequently little manual labour is necessary to obtain the means of subsistence; its valley and mountain scenery is diversified, beautiful, rich, romantic and splendid. This may in some measure account for the highly coloured pictures which have been drawn of it. Several writers who have visited Madagascar give descriptions of it, calculated to excite in the bosoms of adventurers expectations, which it may be pleasing to entertain, but which are not likely to be realized.
Mr. Richard Boothby, a merchant of London, who visited Madagascar about the beginning of the seventeenth century, and published his account in 1044, after describing its soil, productions, &c. adds—
"And without all question, tliis country far transcends and exceeds all other countries in Asia, Africa and America, planted by English, French, Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish; and it is likely to prove of far greater value and esteem to any Christian prince and nation that shall plant and settle a sure habitation therein, than the West Indies are to the king and kingdom of Spain; and it may well be compared to the land of Canaan, that flows with milk and honey ; a little world of itself, adjoining to no other land within the compass of many leagues or miles; or the chief Paradise this day upon earth. In further commendation thereof I will take the liberty of extolling it, I hope without offence, as Moses did the land of Canaan. It is a good land, a land in which rivers of waters and fountains spring out of the vallies and mountains; a land of wheat and barley, of vineyards, of fig-trees and pomegranates: a land wherein thou shall eat without scarcity, neither sbalt thou lack any thing therein, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose mountains thou mayest dig brass*."
* Osborne's Voyages,
Though much of Mr. Boothby's description partakes of the nature of romance, the country is exceedingly fertile, its productions are numerous and yielded in rich abundance, and the soil is favourable to the growth of almost all the plants and seeds found in Europe and Asia.
Since history has traced the footsteps of the white man among the sable portion of our race, it has become a serious question with some persons, who are by no means destitute of generous feelings, or strength of intellectual powers, whether the miseries inflicted have not preponderated over the advantages which the Africans have gained by their acquaintance with the sons of the North.
That Europeans have approached the shores of that quarter of the globe with the foulest and most infernal passions, that the tears, shrieks and groans of the dying, have not affected their hearts which the love of gold had cased in adamant, that with the savage ferocity of beasts they have waded through seas of blood to grasp their helpless prey, and that the pulpit, the bar, and the sword have obeyed the call, when summoned to defend this merchandise in human flesh and bones, are facts which the Avenger of the oppressed will bear in remembrance, at the day of final retribution.
Many European visitors have however disdained to traffic in slaves, and engaged in more honourable pursuits. Byexploring the regions of the country to extend the boundaries of science, they have conferred special favours on the natives themselves, and by publishing the result of their researches have considerably benefited the world. Though it is distressing to think of the number of these gentlemen, who by over exerting themselves in the great enterprise of enlarging the sphere of knowledge have been gathered to an early grave far from the sepulchres of their fathers, it is some mitigation of this sorrow to be able to place the issue of their praise-worthy labours against the dark works of their fellow-countrymen. The following account, the materials of which Mr. Ellis has collected from the best sources, will be highly interesting to the scientific reader.
"The geological features of the country are distinct and prominent; and although hitherto but very partially examined, present considerable variety. The greater part of the island exhibits primitive formations, chiefly granite, sienite, and blocks of exceedingly pure quartz; sometimes large pieces of beautifully-coloured rose-quartz are met with; the white kind is used by the natives to ornament the summits of their tombs; cyst, intersected by broad veins of quartz, and a substance resembling grey wache or limestone, is frequently seen. Many of the formations are of clay-slate ; and a valuable kind of slate, suitable for roofing and writing upon, has been discovered in the Betsilio country, at about a hundred miles from the capital. Silex and chert, with beautiful formations of chalcedony, primitive limestone, including some valuable specimens of marble, with different kinds of sandstone are also met with. Finely crystallized schores frequently occur in the Betsilio country, where, embedded in limestone, apparently of fresh.water formation, specimens of fossils, including serpents, lizards, camelions, with different kinds of vegetable fossils, have been found.
"No subterranean fires are known to be at present in active or visible operation ; yet in some sections of the country, especially in the Betsilio
firovince, indications of volcanic action frequently occur, and are strongy marked. Many of the rocks, for several miles together, are composed of homogeneous earthy lava; scoria and pumice are also occasionally discovered, and some of the lavas abound with finely-formed crystals of olivine.
"Besides the primitive and transition formations and the rocks of' volcanic origin, there are large beds of clay, and extensive tracts of soil composed of ferruginous earth and disintegrated lava, rich alluvial deposits, and vegetable mould. Some of the geological specimens brought borne to this country are evidently carbonaceous, and would favour the expectation that there are coal formations in some parts of the island. Limestone has not yet been discovered in the eastern part of Madagascar ; but coral is abundant on the coast, and furnishes the inhabitants with excellent lime.
"Our acquaintance with the minerals of Madagascar, though exceedingly limited and partial, is, as far as it extends, highly satisfactory. Iron ore, a mineral to a nation in the infancy of its civilization far more valuable than gold, has been found so rich and abundant as to be rendered available to the natives, by a rude and simple process of smelting, for almost every purpose for which it is at present required."
The population of Madagascar is estimated at about four millions and a half, and, separated by colour into two great classes, the one olive and the other black, is supposed to have proceeded from two distinct sources. Whether the present people are the aborigines of the country or emigrants from some near or distant land, remains involved in that impenetrable darkness which too frequently covers the early history of nations. The character of the inhabitants embodies a few excellencies which every virtuous mind will contemplate with pleasure ; among these love of country is conspicuous.
"When setting out on a journey, they take with them a small portion of their native earth, on which they often gaze when absent, and invoko their god that they may be permitted to return to restore it to the place from which it was taken. When returning from a foreign land to their native island, or from a distant province to their own, every countenance beams with gladness, they seem to be strangers to fatigue, and seek by singing and dancing on the way to give vent to the fulness of their joy."
Friendships are often maintained faithfully during a series of many years, and not unfrequently till death, which dissolves all human ties, divides them asunder. In most parts of the island, the neighbour, but especially the stranger, is welcomed to the hospitable board with a cheerfulness and promptitude rarely seen even among civilized nations.
Vol,, i. 3 N
The tender relations subsisting between parents and children, with which the most pleasing of earthly associations are connected, that keep alive the best feelings of human nature, and pour into the bosom a happiness almost unmingled, which for aught that appears to the contrary may be an important ingredient of that perfect felicity which is to be experienced in a higher state of existence, are, it is cheering to know, even in the island of Madagascar, appreciated and endeared by the exercise of reciprocal affection.
"Nothing can exceed the affection with which the infant is treated by its parents, anil other members of the family; the indulgence is more frequently carried to excess than otherwise ; and it is pleasing to record the testimony of those who have dwelt among the people that instances are numerous, in which the affection of the parents has been reciprocated by the children, many of whom have been known to love and honour their parents even to old age. A custom prevails in the island, which marks in a pleasing manner the operation of filial affection ;—the children are in the habit of occasionally presenting their mothers with a piece of money called fofoiudamosina, ' the remembrance of the back,' as a sort of grateful acknowledgment for the kindness of the parent in having so often borne the infant on the back.''
To relieve the family from the additional expense which the maintenance of them might incur, the sick, whose speedy restoration is doubtful, are not hastened out of life by the hands of those to whom nature directs them to look for consolation and support in the hours of affliction and sadness. Their weak and emaciated frames are not denied the shelter and comforts of home, and the kind offices of relations and friends, which mitigate the sorrows of the sufferer in his passage to the grave; nor are they left ashore to perish on the banks of some flowing stream, exposed to the damps and piercing blasts of a winter's night, or the burning rays of a tropical sun, under which in the deepest agony they expire, where their remains are devoured by birds and beasts of prey, or rudely thrown into the adjacent waters on whose surface they float, bearing melancholy testimony against the hardness of the human heart and the brutalizing influence of superstition.
"No trait in the character of the Malagasy is more creditable to their humanity, and more gratifying to our benevolent feelings, than the kind, patient, and affectionate manner in which they attend upon the sick. Every thing within the compass of their means that can administer to their comfort, mitigate their sufferings, or favour recovery, is provided."
The rites of burial, which are thought to be soothing and consolatory to the dying, the bereaved respectfully perform; a place of honourable sepulchre is provided, whither the remains of the departed are conveyed with the solemnity and