The second revival movement that occurred in Madagascar came about because of Ravelonjanahary. Her conversion to Christianity was both preceded and followed by extraordinary events. The most spectacular of these occurred in 1910, and was covered by several newspapers in Antananarivo, which caused huge crowds of people to go to Manolotrony.
Ravelonjanahary lived in a time that was difficult for the people of Madagascar. The island had been under French colonial power since 1896, and all insurrectional movements directed against colonialism were firmly put down by the military government that was directed by General Galliéni. These insurrections led to a considerable number of deaths, and the survivors were subjected to severe rules of obeisance to the colonizers. As of 1900, men above the age of sixteen were forced to pay taxes. On July 7, 1901, The Natives Law was put into effect  in order to restrict the freedom of the Malagasy people. General Victor Augagneur, who succeeded general Galliéni, introduced atheism to the land through several newspapers  in order to draw people away from Christianity, which was already having a very significant impact in the country. Forced labor, as well as epidemics of smallpox and plague were taking a heavy toll on people both physically and morally. There was also a religious war going on between the Catholics and the Protestants  and it had reached all the way to Fianarantsoa.
Ravelonjanahary’s real name was Renilahy. She lived in Malonotrony, in the Iarindrano-Fianarantsoa region. She was the oldest child in a pagan family, and was called “Mama” (mother)  until she was married. Her father was an ombiasa, (wise man, healer and seer) and was very well-known in the region. For instance, people consulted him to keep hail from falling on their rice fields or to make the crocodiles flee when they had to cross a river. Renilahy was raised and educated in a completely pagan milieu and inherited the gift of being a healer and a seer from her father and paternal grandfather.
She married Rainiboto, who was also called Rainidalo. They had a daughter who died at a very young age after having a little girl of her own. They took her in but she also died very soon. Then they adopted Renilahy’s nephew, Ranisana. They were a couple who lived simply, and they were well-loved by those in their community.
The spirit of an ancestor possessed Renilahy, making her life difficult. The spirit also made her practice certain prohibitions. For example, her plate and spoon were not to be mixed in with anyone else’s. Around her neck she wore an amulet collar, and a silver coin was attached to the back of her braid.
Her conversion started in 1900. It happened little by little as a result of visions that came to her. Later, she heard a voice tell her that God had chosen her to work for Him. The job He had for her was to deliver people from whatever was holding them captive and to heal them from any sickness if they had faith in the power of God. If Renilahy had refused, she would have died. She asked her husband for advice, and he advised her to accept. Another time, a voice told her to look at her hands. She looked and writing appeared. According to the voice, these were the Ten Commandments - five on each hand. The voice also told her that anyone who came to belief in God through her teaching would be healed after she laid hands on them. One Sunday, the Holy Spirit showed her all her sin, even the very least of them. She could see God’s wrathful face and wanted to flee, but didn’t know where to go. She repented, and God accepted her repentance. The amulet collar and the silver coin disappeared.
In 1910, she was about sixty years old, but still in very good health. The Holy Spirit told her that she was going to be dead for six days and that on the seventh day, she would come back to life. She told her family this news and advised them not to bury her, not to put her in an unclean house (where there were still amulets) and not to cry for her.
When the day came - a Thursday, around noon - a force carried her up to the ceiling and let her fall. She died from the fall. Her body was carried to the village where she had been born, in Lohafy, and was put in the temple of Ifanda, where there was a wake with singing and praying. On the sixth day, a terrible odor came from her body, and her flesh fell off little by little, but her muscles and bones were not affected. On the seventh day, a bell rang around midnight and a pleasant odor filled the temple, replacing the other smell. The parish pastor arrived early the next morning and found that Renilahy had come back to life and was standing next to the pulpit. She was wearing a strikingly white garment and her flesh had been renewed, being now like the skin of a baby. She said that during her death she had been carried to heaven, where she had sat down with angels and saints.
It is also said that two years later, God took her soul up to heaven for three days, in order to teach her. This time, her body did not die, but God put another soul in it to keep it alive. It was in heaven that God baptized her and gave her the name Ravelonjanahary (“brought back to life by God”). God taught her the Holy Scriptures and melodious songs, and these songs are still sung today. When she came back to earth, her marriage to Rainiboto was held as a religious ceremony.
Later, the voice of the Lord told her that she was going to die a second time, but that this time it would be like the death of Jesus Christ, crucified on a cross. A force took her and held her to the wall, arms outstretched, but no one could see what was holding her there. People came to hold a wake for her, and sang continuously. She died on a Friday and came back to life on Sunday. That is how God prepared her for her being sent to preach the Gospel, to deliver the demon-possessed, and to heal the sick in her region and in several other regions in the island. She started the revival center in the protestant church of Andravoahangy Fivavahana in 1928.
Nearly the whole southern part of the region of Fianarantsoa was shaken by this revival movement. A French Protestant missionary named Siegrist attended one of the revival movement meetings held by Ravelonjanahary and reported that approximately one hundred mpisikidy and mpimasy (“traditional healers and seers”) had converted and were stamping on their idols, proclaiming out loud that from then on they would only believe in Jesus Christ!
She encountered difficulties in her ministry, but never renounced the Lord. Some people who had known her before she was converted believed that what she was doing was just fakery and that she was still using her fetishes. She was taken to court for having meetings in her home without a permit and for using powerful remedies to heal people. On November 11, 1928, she was summoned to the court in Ambalavao-Tsienimparihy, which was thirty-five kilometers from Manolotrony; she made the trip on foot. A missionary came from Fianarantsoa to help her. She answered her accuser by saying that it was God who gave her the power to heal, and that she received no money from those she healed. She was acquitted for lack of proof.
The journal called Gazety Ranovelona, (“Living Water”)  which was a journal for former students of the Protestant Mission, tried to clear up the events surrounding the resurrection of Ravelonjanahary in an article which was published on January 31, 1928, in Antananarivo. The article quoted the commentary of various newspapers that had been published previously, as follows: [translation by the author]
The Malagasy newspaper La Grande Ile was the first to publish a report on the resurrection of Ravelonjanahary on November 17, 1927. On Friday November 25, 1927, the other papers also covered the story and people rushed to buy the papers, so much so that the police had to intervene. The next day, the rush to Malonotrony was on: wealthy people went by car, while others took the bush-taxi with their sick, hoping to get them healed. Still others were just curious.
The newspaper La Grande Ile published this report:
Putrefaction can only come from the dead. Was there really an occurrence of this nauseating odor that is putrefaction? If the answer is yes, then it is true that Ravelonjanahary really did rise from the dead. According to what people are saying, the blind are recovering their sight, the deaf their hearing, the mute are speaking, paralytics are standing on their feet and other ills are being healed as well. The Gospel that she is preaching to sinners is not a shame, but rather an honor for the Protestant Church…But the most remarkable thing is that Ravelonjanahary is not asking for money from anyone…The number of people who have come to see her over the last five weeks or so is up to 871, and that number includes six vazaha (“Europeans”). There were also Indians and Chinese, as well as childless people who came asking to have children.
The newspaper Gazetintsika (“Our Paper”) said:
“Amazing Healing, they said!” Here in Ambalavao, there is a woman of a certain age, already known by many, who dares to say publicly that she has been sent from God. She says that about twenty years ago, she died and her body putrefied, but that she came back to life in order to heal the sick. She is a Protestant, and it is reasonable that her co-religionists believe in her… Dear Catholic friends, why do allow yourselves to be influenced by such things, especially you who have spent a lot of money and have come from afar to Ambalavao? Many of you have already come here - ask them if they have been healed or not. As for those of you who are sick and want to be healed, and for those of you who have sick family members and want the best for them, why are you all driving like mad to the Betsileo? The road to Tsienimparihy is worn down from so much travel…Instead of spending your money for gas, spend it on medications and spare your sick all the troubles of traveling, which will only make their sickness worse! I’m not telling you lies or falsehoods, but if you don’t believe me, ask the other families who have already come, and they will tell you the truth.
The newspaper Diavolana (“Moonlight”) had this to say:
If Ravelonjanahary is not telling the truth about her resurrection, then has Jesus Christ entered into a woman who is a liar? She is only doing good works in order to save souls, and she preaches only Jesus Christ…We have right here before us people who have been healed or who are being healed according to the strength of their faith, and who have received the grace of the Lord Jesus. These are people who are trusted by the state and the church, people who don’t spend their time trying to think up ways to cheat and tell lies…According to one journalist, no one who was sick has really been healed. Perhaps he didn’t want to hear the truth or didn’t want to find out everything he could about the topic. As for me, I’d say that many of the sick have really been healed and that others are on the path to healing. I have already met and spoken with many of them.
The newspaper Fahasambarana (“Happiness”) said:
God has chosen Ravelonjanahary to do miracles for Him. If you don’t agree, all of you doctors, theologians, philosophers, etc.,…that’s your business. As for us, there’s no disputing it - someone who is dead is dead. We don’t know whether it’s a scientific death, or a philosophical or a theological one…If you say that you can make mistakes, we’re here to confirm that, yes, you can make mistakes.
She (Ravelonjonahary) told a man who had been paralyzed on one side for five years: “Go and plunge your right hand into the first river you come to, then run it over the inert side of your body, and you will be healed.” He did as she said, and he was healed. He was an Indian, and he is presently in Ambalavao. To another person who has had asthma for twenty-four years, she said, “Believe in Jesus” and the person was healed…The important thing for her is that people believe in Jesus - healing can come later. The wisdom that God has given her is quite useful and she deserves to be respected.
Finally, the newspaper Gazety Ranovelona (“Fresh Water”) had this to say, by way of conclusion:
Based on what we have read, people have different opinions about Ravelonjanahary. But there is a great lesson to be learned from this woman: respect for everyone’s conscience. She is a Protestant, but she exerts no influence on people to follow her in that. She asks that people who are already in a denomination not change their faith. She invites those who are still outside the church to enter it as they wish.
Neny Ravelonjanahary (“Mother” Ravelonjanahary - among the Malagasy people this epithet is a sign of respect for her age and her mission) always told people who came to her that she was not the one doing the healing, but that it was Jesus, if they would trust in Him and in His power. When her mission started, Ravelonjanahary received people at home, but later, as there were so many people, the evangelization meetings would take place in the church, and she would see people in her home in turn. Given how many of them there were, some of them waited their turn for weeks, but they did not lose their patience. They stayed in the few small hamlets that were there, or set up tents, or waited in their cars.
Ravelonjanahary lived simply. God transformed her so that she would live in humility, in faith, and in love for other people. She was called Ravelonjanahary, mpanetry tena, mpivavaka ho an’ny firenena (Ravelonjanahary, woman of humility, who prays for her country).
She died on November 8, 1970, in Manolotrony, about 120 years old. Manolotrony has become a place of pilgrimage and now welcomes people who come for a retreat, to pray or to be healed. Other revival centers linked to the revival movement of Manolotrony have sprung up almost everywhere in Madagascar.
Berthe Raminosoa Rasoanalimanga
The Natives Law was adopted June 28, 1881. In 1887 the French government put it into effect in all of its colonies. In general terms, the law subjected natives and immigrant workers to forced labor, forbade them to travel at night, made them subject to searches and to a tax on their reserves, and subjected them to a whole range of similarly degrading measures. It was a booklet of discretionary measures that intended to make sure that “good colonial order,” the order that was based on the institutionalization of the inequality of justice, was always in effect. This code was constantly “improved” so as to adapt the interests of the colonizers to the “realities of the land.” The Natives Law differentiated between two categories of citizens: French citizens (of metropolitan origin) and French subjects, that is, black Africans, Malagasy, Algerians, Antilleans, Melanesians, etc., as well as immigrant workers. French subjects who were in subjection to the Natives Law were deprived of the greater part of their freedom and political rights; on the civilian level, they retained only their personal status, whether that was of customary or of religious origin. The Natives Law was replete with all manner of prohibitions, and infringement was punishable by imprisonment or deportation. This system of social and legal inequality lasted until 1946, which is several years after the Geneva Accords (April 23, 1938) had forbidden all forms of forced labor. (Quotation from the Web site http://www.tlfq.ulaval.ca/axl/afrique/indigenat_code.html, consulted in March 2009, [“L’aménagement linguistique dans le monde,” authored by Jacques Leclerc, associate member of the TLFQ]).
The newspaper Mifoha I Madagasikara (“Madagascar Wakes Up”) strove to destroy superstition as well as belief in God; the paper Masoandro (“The Sun”) also aimed to destroy the Christian faith by presenting the scientific side of things and the “scientific” truth.
On the war of religion between Catholics and Protestants: When Madagascar was colonized by France (1896), the Jesuits took advantage of the situation and declared that the Malagasy people should also be Catholic. They took over the Protestant churches by force, and those who continued to frequent them were required to become Catholics.
Concerning “Mama” or mother: in a Malagasy family, it is customary for children to have nicknames. The oldest girl is either called ramatoa (eldest girl), or “mama” or mother, as she is the one who takes care of her brothers and sisters, and who is responsible for all the household work.
Ranovelona is the journal of the former protestant students of the School of the Protestant Mission (Foreign Friends Mission Association, or FFMA) in North Ambohijatovo, later called Paul Minault School.
Ny amin–dRavelonjanahary any Manolotrony-Betsileo [A propos of Ravelonjanahary in Manolotrony–Betsileo] (Imprimerie de l’Imerina, 1928). “Ramatoa Ravelonjanahary” [Madame Ravelonjanahary] in the journal Ranovelona : journal of the alumna of Ambohijatovo Nord FFMA–Year 4, No. 28; January 31, 1928 (p.9-13).
Ny Fifohazana eto Madagasikara [The Revival Movement in Madagascar], (Antananarivo : Imprimerie de la Mission Norvégienne, 1935).
Ny Fifohazana Manolotrony [The Revival Movement in Manolotrony], (Imprimerie norvégienne, 1944) James Rabehatonina, Tantaran’ny Fifohazana eto Madagasikara (1894-1990) [History of the Revival Movements in Madagascar] (Imarivolanitra: Trano Printy FJKM, 1991).
[1*] A village in the Betsileo, around 1905.
[2*] General Galliéni in his car, trying out the first new road built in Antananarivo, Madagascar, around 1900.
[3*] The execution of Rainandriamampandry, Minister of the Interior, and of Prince Ratsimamanga, the Queen’s uncle, for their complicity in the rebellion of 1895. General Gallieni ordered the execution. Dated 1896. Photographer: J. T. Hardy, missionary of the LMS.
All photographs are published with the permission of the Archives of the Mission, l’Ecole de Mission et Théologie [School for Mission and Theology] (MHS), Stavanger, Norway.
This article, which was received in 2008, was written and researched by Ms. Berthe Raminosoa Rasoanalimanga, directress of the FJKM National Archives Center (1984-2007), who was the recipient of the DACB Project Luke Scholarship in 2008-2009.