One of the first Malagasy women sent as a missionary to the Southeast coast of Madagascar.
From 1867 to 1946
The accession of Radama II to the throne in 1861 marked a great turning point in the history of Madagascar. Freedom of worship and the opening - or reopening - of the schools were the two most popular initiatives of her reign. After the premature death of her husband in 1863, Queen Rasoherina increased the scope of these innovative measures even more.
Razarinia was born in 1867 in Anosipatrana, which is a suburb of the capital, Antananarivo. Her mother founded the church school in Anosipatrana and her uncle was one of the first men to become a pastor after the era of Christian persecution. From a very young age, Razarinia showed a desire to go to school with her mother every day, and she quickly adapted to the rhythm of school life. When she was seven, she began to attend a "Girls High School" that was run by the FFMA Mission (the Friends) in the capital, at Faravohitra. When she finished school there, she was offered a teaching position that she accepted. She stayed on as a teacher there for seven years.
Young people in Antananarivo at that time gradually became more and more missions-minded. They wanted to share what they knew with other children who were still uneducated. Razarinia found herself in that same situation. When she would return to the village where she was born, she would see things that made her very sad, such as the fights that occurred between young shepherds. She wished that these children could attend the school where she herself was going to be the teacher. To her, these sorts of occurences were like "silent calls" that confirmed her missionary vocation. This vocation was finally confirmed when a woman from the International Blue Cross, a supporter of the fight against alcoholism in mission lands, came to Antananarivo.
After two years of physical, technical and spiritual preparation, Razarinia and her friend Razafinimanana, who were hosted by a missionary couple from the London Missionary Society (LMS), Pastor G. Shaw and his wife, set out for the Southeast coast of Madagascar. They were headed to the seaside city of Farafangana, which was in an area they eagerly wanted to know more about.
In February of 1890, in the church of Amparibe, a significant event in the history of the Malagasy church took place: the consecration and sending-off ceremony for the two young women evangelists. A separate farewell ceremony was organized by Queen Ranavalona III in the royal chapel at Anatirova.
Farafangana: the ocean breezes (1890-1898)
The LMS had been established in the town of Farafangana since 1887, and the mission station of Ambahy was almost a village: there was a house for the missionaries and there were houses for the teachers; there were the school buildings, the boarding school for boys (the boarding school for girls was under construction), the dispensary, the church, and all the houses of the people who worked there. Just like everywhere else, the missionary work had three principal thrusts: education, medical work and evangelization. Activity there was quite diverse and followed a rigorous schedule: during the week, there was teaching at school in the morning and medical consultations in the afternoon; on Saturday there was pastoral visitation among people who lived in the city, and on Sunday there was participation in church service preaching or there were evangelization campaigns out in the outlying forest villages.
During her time there, Razarinia was married to Rajonah, who was governora of Farafangana, and who had been a widower for several years. They had a son, Gabriel. But their happiness was only to last a few years, because Rajonah's life was taken during all the upheaval caused by the Franco-Malagasy war.
A very difficult period followed, not only for Razarinia and her son, but also for the whole missionary enterprise of the LMS on the Southeast coast of Madagascar. They were forced to leave the entire region to the Norwegian Lutheran Mission and to move to the high country of Betsileo.
Ambohimandroso: brush and red earth (1898-1903)
In Ambohimandroso, the mission station was established on a hill and was built along the same lines as the stations in Farafangana, Ambositra, or Ambohimahasoa, with a similar group of buildings.
According to the instructions promulgated by the Gallieni government, children from age six to fourteen were now required to attend "official" schools, and there was no longer any reason for the existence of church schools. Nonetheless, students in regional teacher training colleges (Sekoly Efapolo Lahy) that existed for "older students" were able to remain open, and this was the case in Ambohimandroso. Those schools existed to train future school and church officials and leaders. Razarinia taught Biblical studies in this type of program. In addition, she also taught practical living skills for young women: home economics, manual labor, and sewing, among other subjects.
Ambohimahasoa: between forests and rice paddies (1903-1926)
The growth of the various activities of the LMS led them to Ambohimahasoa, another town in the Betsileo. Pastor Ch. Collins and his wife, who were responsible for that missionary district, thought that Razarinia's help would be invaluable in light of the fact that the new work included plans to establish a girl's school. As it turned out, the harvest was so great in that work that Razarinia's visit lasted twenty-three years! During the week she taught in school, and on Sundays she taught Sunday school to school-age children. Adolescents who had left school at age fourteen had benefited from a more rigorous education.
Mrs. Collins and Razarinia also took the initiative of starting a special class for girls who were employed as "domestic help" since they received neither a general nor a religious education. This was yet another outreach to the "children of God" who lived in very simple circumstances.
Starting in 1914, in conjunction with her activities in Ambohimahasoa, Razarinia was also designated as an evangelist and overseer for the parish of Ilavarano and the surrounding region. Although it took one hour to walk to that village from Ambohimahasoa, she went there every Sunday, in winter and summer.
The hills of Imerina: the mission goes on (1926-1946)
After that long stretch of time and so many years away from home, it was difficult for Razarinia to leave her adopted home, the Betsileo. Nevertheless, she was also thrilled to be returning back to her home town and to her family.
She arrived back in Antananarivo on the 22nd of December, 1926, thinking that she would be able to give more time to her family. However, once again, she heard God's call. Miss Elizabeth Lomas, directress of the girl's school in Ambodinandohalo, asked her if she could join the teaching staff. In June of 1927 then, Razarinia "went back to school." It was to be the start of a new mission, relating to a younger generation that had already been trained somewhat differently than hers. Later, new classes for beginners were started in Amparibe, taught by three women who had solid teaching experience - one of whom was Razarinia. These classes proved to be very necessary for the children in Antananarivo, as their parents sent them to school at an increasingly early age.
When Razarinia went into retirement she remained an active participant in various meetings and seminars as well as in church visitation. One lecture she delivered in the church of Amparibe proved to be an unforgettable event. Was it historical irony or the eternal beginning!? There she was in the very same building in which she had been consecrated in February of 1890. But this time, she was the one giving the message to other disciples so that they, in turn, could carry the flame. Given the circumstances, she had trouble containing her emotions. However, she also found great joy in receiving visitors: parents, friends, the pastor of Faravohitra and his wife, the president of the Dorkasy Faravohitra group, former colleagues and students from years past.
Being in Razarinia's company was always a pleasant experience for young and old alike, as she had a sharp mind and an unfailing memory. It was enriching and pleasurable to hear her speak: she recited passages, stories or parables from the Bible, giving the reference for the book, chapter and verse. The verse "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path," (Psalm 119: 105) comes from the longest Psalm, as it has 176 verses. Razarinia Ramatoa was especially fond of that Psalm because she had once recited it perfectly as a schoolgirl during a large meeting in Favohitra - an accomplishment for which she was congratulated by the directress.
On December 25, 1946, Razarinia Ramatoa left this world to rejoin the great cloud of believers and to be with her Lord, He who had been with her and who had given her the strength to endure all the trials along the way. In spite of her weak state, her faith in the Lord's strength was unshakeable.
The variety of activities undertaken by Razarinia Ramatoa in the various regions of Madagascar show what missionary work was like in the middle of the 19th and the early 20th century, which was a time of historic change in the country, as well as a time when several cultures were at a crossroads.
Marguerite Razarihelisoa Rajonah
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This article, which was received in 2004, is excerpted from the book Ministère féminin dans les églises malgaches: Ramatoa Razarinia (1867-1946) [The Ministry of Women in the Malagasy Church: Ramatoa Razarinia (1867-1946)], written by Marguerite Razarihelisoa Rajonah, and published in Antananarivo, Madagascar. Mrs. Marguerite Razarihelisoa Rajonah, the great-granddaughter of Ramatoa Razarinia, is a professor and researcher at the University of Paris and at the University of Madagascar.