The Kingdom

Protectorate and Colony







Early Colonization

The Portuguese mariner Diogo Dias became the first European to set foot on Madagascar when his ship, bound for India, blew off course in 1500. In the ensuing two-hundred years, the English and French tried (and failed) to establish settlements on the island.

Fever, dysentery, hostile Malagasy tribespeople, and the trying arid climate of southern Madagascar soon terminated an English settlement near Toliary (Tuléar) in 1646. Another English settlement in the north in Nosy Bé came to an end in 1649.

In 1665, François Caron, the Director General of the newly formed French East India Company, sailed to Madagascar. The Company failed to found a colony on Madagascar but established ports on the nearby islands of Bourbon and Île-de-France (today's Réunion and Mauritius respectively). In the late 17th century, the French established trading-posts along the east coast.


The Merina Monarchy

In the central highlands of Madagascar, the Merina Kingdom,  a state of rice-farmers had lived in relative isolation from the rest of Madagascar for several centuries. By 1824 this Merina had conquered nearly all of Madagascar - thanks to the leadership of two shrewd kings, Andrianampoinimerina (circa 1745 – 1810) and his son Radama I (1792 – 1828). The first established Antananarivo as the capital of Madagascar and built the royal palace, or rova, on a hilltop overlooking the city. The king ambitiously proclaimed: Ny ranomasina no valapariako (“the sea is the limit of my rice-field”).

France invaded Madagascar in 1883 in what became known as the first Franco-Hova War (Hova as a name referring to the Merina aristocrats). At the war’s end, Madagascar ceded Antsiranana (Diégo Suarez) on the northern coast to France.


Protectorate and Colony

In 1895, a French flying-column marched to the capital, Antananarivo, taking the city’s defenders by surprise. In 1896 the French Parliament voted to annex Madagascar. The 103-year-old Merina monarchy ended with the royal family sent into exile in Algeria.

The British accepted the imposition of a French protectorate over Madagascar in 1890 in return for eventual British control over Zanzibar as part of an overall definition of spheres-of-influence in the area.

The Vichy government administered Madagascar from 1940 until 1942, when British Empire troops occupied the island in the Battle of Madagascar in order to preclude its seizure by the Japanese. The United Kingdom handed over control of the island to Free French Forces in 1943.



In 1947 the French government suppressed a nationalist uprising, the Madagascar revolt. The French subsequently established reformed institutions in 1956 under the Loi Cadre (Overseas Reform Act), and Madagascar moved peacefully toward independence. The Malagasy Republic, proclaimed on October 14, 1958, became an autonomous state within the French Community. A period of provisional government ended with the adoption of a constitution in 1959 and full independence on June 26, 1960.


Unlike many of France's former colonies, the Malagasy Republic strongly resisted movements towards communism. In 1972 protests against these policies came to a head and president Tsiranana had to step down. He handed over power to general Gabriel Ramanantsoa and his provisional government. On 5 February 1975, colonel Richard Ratsimandrava became the President of Madagascar. After six days as head of the country, he was assassinated

On 15 June 1975 lieutenant-commander Didier Ratsiraka came to power in a coup. Ratsiraka moved further towards socialism and cutting all ties with France. In the 1980s Madagascar moved back towards France, abandoning many of its communist-inspired policies in favour of a market economy, though Ratsiraka still kept hold of power. Eventually opposition forced him to reconsider his position, and in 1992 the country adopted a new and democratic constitution.




The Kingdom

1810 - 1897


The oldest notice about an heraldic symbol in Madagascar is from the English sailor Robert Drury who writes that the symbol of king Andrianahifotsi (1610-1685) of Menabe (meaning ‘Great Red’), a kingdom in the west of Madagascar, was a red bull. [1] This bull reappears in some of the later heraldic emblems of Madagascar.


In the achievement of Queen Ranavalona II, which is of a completely new design, a zebu occurs. The achievement is:

Achievement of Queen Ranavalona II (1868-1883)


Arms: A cross, the pole Azure, the bar Gules, the middle and the ends charged with flowers of four leaves; in the first a zebu (Bos primigenius indicus - Bovidae), in the second a traveller’s tree (Ravenala madagascariensis - Musaceae), in the third a native shield supported by two spears in saltire, in the fourth a stalk of rice (Oryza sativa) all proper.

Crown: The Royal Crown of Madagascar.

Supporters: A priest or dignitary on the dexter and a general (supreme commander) on the sinister, proper.

Motto: TSY ADIDIKO IZAHO IRERY, FA ADIDIKO IZAHO SY HIANAREO. (Not I alone make the law, but you and me together) [2]


The motto is a quote from king Andrianampoinimerina (1787-1810) when he founded the Kingdom of Imerina. It was revived by queen Ranavalona when she presented a new constitution based on the oral laws of her predecessors.

A younger emblem of (the queen of) Madagascar is known from a roll of arms from 1895 and consequently dates from the reign of queen Ranavalona III. [3]

It shows the royal crown of Madagascar, surrounded by a garland and three red heraldic roses.


The royal crown of Madagascar is known from a portrait of Queen Ranavalona I (1828 -’61) and of some portraits of her successors.


Royal Crown of Madagascar

On a portrait of King Radama II (1861-’63)


The crown consists of a circlet and five hoops surmounted by an ornament of tassels with a rising eagle on top. On the front of the circlet is a sarpech-like jewel of seven feathers.

The crown is different from the crown on the coat of arms which consisted of a circlet set with five palmettoes and five hoops with the crown of a traveller’s tree on top. This crown was made in 1862. and was presented by Emperor Napoleon III (1852-1870). It was saved when the royal palace in Antanarivo burned down some years ago and certainly will be exposed again when the Palace is restored. [4] 


Crown of Queen Ranavalona III

in the Musée de l’Armée in Paris


Badge of the Guard of Ranavalona III, 1883.

(Coll. Musée de l’Armée, Paris)


The eagle has to be interpreted as the symbol of the armed authority of Madagascar. A bronze eagle, sitting on a globe, is above the gate of the royal palace (Rova) in Antananarive, commisioned by queen Ranavalona in 1839 and completed in 1869.

An eagle of Napoleonic design is also on the helmet of the guard of queen Ranavalona III. The badge shows an eagle sitting on a thunderbolt, surrounded by a garland of laurel and crowned by a crown of British design with a fan of seven leaves on top. The text on the listel reads: RANAVALOMANJAKA III. MPANJAKANY MADAGASKARA. (Queen Ranavalona III, Kingdom of Madagascar)

Arms of the Guard


The last coat of arms of the Kings of Madagascar is said to be of 1896, that is to say from the time of Queen Ranavalona III (1883-’97) [5] It shows:


Arms of  the Kingdom of Madagascar, 1896.


Arms: Azure, a sunburst Or, charged with an eagle sable, crowned Gules, in base five mullets Or, surrounded by a garland Vert, the junction charged with a five-pointed star Argent, voided Or.


Some sources give a six-pointed star Argent, voided Or.


Protectorate and Colony

1897 - 1958


Cypher of the Gouvernement Générale de Madagascar.

as on securities, 1931.


In the Battle of Madagascar (1942) was participated by the South African Air Force (SAAF), the British 5th Infantry Division's 17th Infantry Brigade Group and 13th Infantry Brigade, as well as the British 29th Infantry Brigade, and 5 Commando, Royal Marines.


• The cap badge of the SAAF showed the eagle of the RAF within a crowned garland and the letters S.A.A.F - S.A.L.M  (South African Air Force / Suid Afrikaanse Lug Mag) on a listel in base.



• The British 5th Infantry Division had a blue square with a yellow bend an the cypher ‘V’ in the upper corner as its emblem. 

• The emblem of the Royal Marines shows the globe within a garland, charged on the junction with a golden anchor per pale. As a crest the crown and Royal crest of Great Britain on a listel with the word GIBRALTAR. And as a motto PER MARE PER TERRAM



After 1943, when Madasacar was handed over to the Free French Forces, coins were introduced for circulation in the colony. These showed the head of Marianne on the obverse and an emblem of three zebu heads on the reverse.



1958 - present


Repoblika Malagasy

14.10.1958 - 1975


By law of 24 December 1959 a seal was adopted. It shows the crown of traveller’s tree (Ravenala madagascariensis - Strelitziaceae) and a bull’s head affrontée between two ears of rice in base, all proper. Legend: ó repoblika malagasy ó fahafa­hana •  tanindrazana •  fandrosoana  (Republic of Malagasy, Freedom, Fatherland, Progress).


The traveller’s tree, taken from the arms of Queen Ranavalona II, was chosen because it is endemic to Madagascar. Rice is the main food-crop.  [6]

The bull’s head refers to the old kingdom of Meneba, the zebu of the Madagascari kings being compromised by the French.


Repoblika Demokratika Malagasy

30.12.1975 - 1993



A second democratic republic was proclaimed on 30 December 1975. The national symbol was changed on the same date. It is an orange disc with a sun rising from a blue sea, charged with a rifle, a spade and a pen with three arrows in chief and a cogwheel issuant in base. The title of the republic is in a semi-circle in chief. The emblem is surrounded by a garland with a red star as a crest. Motto: TANINDRAZANA / TOLOM-PIAVOTANA / FAHAFAHANA (Fatherland, Revolution, Freedom).


Repoblikan’i Madagasikara

19.08.1992 - present


The name of the republic was changed in Republic of Madagascar (Repoblikan' i Madagasikara). by constitution of 19 August 1992, ratified in March 1993. In the new constitution also a new national emblem was provided for in Art. 4. 4:


Constitution adopted 19 August 1992


Article 4 [Motto, Emblem, Anthem, Seals, Coat of Arms, Language]


(1) The Republic of Madagascar shall have for its Motto: "Homeland - Revolution - Liberty".

(2) Its national emblem shall be a tri-colored flag, white, red, and green, consisting of three rectangular bands of equal dimensions. Starting on the edge closest to the flagpole, the first band shall be vertical and white; the other two shall be horizontal, the upper one red and the lower green.

(3) The national anthem shall be: "Oh, Dear Homeland".

(4) The State Seals and Coat of Arms shall be defined by law.

(5) Malagasy shall be the national language.


The new emblem, known from March 1993, was:



Emblem: A white disc charged with the map of Madagascar in red, issuant from the upper side a fan of seven green leaves of the traveller’s tree and eight bundles of three rays. In base a green rice-field charged with a red bull’s head affrontée.

Garland: A garland of green leaves and the title of the republic REPOBLIKAN’I MADAGASIKARA in black lettering.


Compartment: A white disc. [7]


The emblem is in the colors of the flag. It has to be noted that the motto was different from the motto laid down in the constitution


In the actual emblem, known from about 2000, the motto is changed again and contains now the same terms as the motto of 1959 but in a different order. It is:


Emblem: A white disc charged with the map of Madagascar in red, issuant from the upper side a fan of seven green leaves of the traveller’s tree and eight bundles of three red rays. In base a rice-field in red rendering charged with the red bull’s head affrontée.

Garland: A garland of green leaves and the title of the republic: REPOBLIKAN’I MADAGASIKARA in black lettering.

Motto: TANINDRAZANA FAHAFAHANA FANDROSOANA  (Fatherland, Freedom, Progress ).

Compartment: A yellow disc.


ð See illustration in the head of this essay




For the presidential flags see Æ


The Provinces


The provinces of the Republic of Madagascar were granted coats of arms designed by the well known French heraldists Robert Louis and Suzanne Gauthier. The coats of arms were published on stamps from 1963 until 1972. [8]



National Police





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© Hubert de Vries 2009.02.09. Updated 2009.02.23; 2010.06.03; 2014-07-02; 2015-01-22




[1]  Robert Drury's journal: during fifteen years captivity on that island.  Written by himself. London 1731

[2]  From: Documents Historiques de Madagascar. N° 4, fol. 7. Centre de Formation Pédagogique, Ambozontany (c.1970).

[3]  Heyer von Rosenfeld, F.: Die Staatswappen der bekanntesten Länder der Erde. Frankfurt a/Main, 1895.

[4]  Collection Musée le Palais de la Reine, Antanarivo, Madagascar.  Photo: Brus, René: Crown Jewellery and Regalia of the World.. Amsterdam, 2011, p.64.

[5]  Meyers Konversationslexicon,  1894 -; with the legend:  Madagaskar Seit 1896. Also in other sources from the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century. As there is no contemporary picture of these arms available, these have been taken as the example for my reconstruction.

[6]  Hesmer, K.-H.: Flaggen. Wappen. Daten. Gütersloh, 1975.

[7]  Complete flags of the World, London, 1998.

[8]  Also: Archivum Heraldicum, 1968, pp. 13-14.