This exceedingly rare and intriguing work is a history of the Ancient Jewish civilization, as taken from the Bible, written entirely in the Malagasy language (the main tongue of Madagascar), authored and published by the Quaker missionary Henry E. Clark, who for over thirty years served as the superintendent of the Friends’ Foreign Mission Association Press in Faravohitra (today in Antananarivo), Madagascar (established in 1872), one of the most important publishing centres on the island during the late 19th century.
To be clear, the present work is ‘Section I’ only of what became a 2-part work, although it is self-contained and was separately issued; ‘Section II’ was published two years later, in 1887. We cannot trace the whereabouts of another example of the present volume, while the second part is and is known in only a single institutional example.
The 2-part work was intended to chronicle the ‘History of Judah and Israel from the Book of Solomon to the Destruction of the Kingdom of Israel’, with the present ‘Section I’ covering period from the time of Solomon until that of Hosea.
While Clark was a Christian missionary whose goals did not include promoting Judaism, as Jewish history plays such a permanent role in the Bible, he felt that it was important to educate his Malagasy students and congregants on the subject.
While the content of the work hues closely to that featured in the Bible, Clark tried to link the events mentioned to actual dates, as best as known through modern histories of the Holy Land. As such, the events described in this volume span from 1099 to 721 B.C.
A fascinating addendum to the book, placed at the end, is the ‘Vidin-Javatra’, or catalogue of the books published to date by the Friends Foreign Mission Association Press. This listing incudes dozens of diverse titles, including religious tracts, geographies and atlases, dictionaries, science and history books.
Interestingly, Malagasy is an Austronesian language, the origins of which have no relation to the African continent but is rather conneted to many of the languages spoken in modern Malaysia and Indonesia. Its closest tongue is the Ma’anyan language, spoken to the present day in Borneo.
This is due to the fascinating ancestry of the Malagasy people, that is mainly the consequence of Trans-Indian Ocean sailing routes. The first Austronesian peoples (the Vazimba and Vezo) are thought to have arrived in Madagascar around 300 BC. Arab traders from Oman and Zanzibar followed by the 7th Century AD. Beginning the 8th Century, there were great waves of further Austronesian immigration (Malays, Javanese, Bugis and orang-orang laut), while the 9th Century saw a significant migration of Bantu peoples from East Africa. All these groups settled into speaking the Malagasy tongue.
Missionaries and Publishing in 19th Century Madagascar
The history of publishing in Madagascar, and in the Malagasy language, is intimately entwined with the story of Christian missionary activities on the island. While Europeans maintained constant trade and sporadic settlement along the coast of Madagascar for generations, it was not util the 1820s that they established a permanent presence.
Since 1540, the dominant of the several indigenous powers in Madagascar was the Merina Kingdom, ruled from the interior plateau (with their capital, Antananarivo). In the early 19th century, they started to conquer other regions of the island.
The Merina ruler King Radama I (1793-1828, reigned 1810-28) was a brilliant, ambitious and transformative leader, intent on realizing the Merina dream of conquering and uniting all of Madagascar. He was ardently pro-Western, signing a friendship treaty with Britain in 1817, while maintaining cordial relations with France. In 1820, he invited the London Missionary Society (LMS), and evangelical Protestant organization, to set up the first Christian missions on the island in recent memory. They moved quickly, soon opening 23 schools in the plateau region, teaching 2,300 students. To serve their students and congregants, the LMS established the first printing press in Madagascar in 1826 and proceeded to publish a number of works in the Malagasy language. Their great accomplishment was the publication of the first complete bible in Malagasy, in 1835. The LMS missionaries were also instrumental in seeing the Malagasy language adopting the Latin alphabet, replacing the previous Sorabe alphabet, which was based upon Arabic script.
However, while Radama succeeded in conquering two-thirds of Madagascar by 1827, on the way to the full Merina takeover of the island, he died suddenly in 1828, aged only 35. His widow and successor as monarch, Queen Ranavalona I (reigned 1828-61), was a traditionalist and bitterly resented the European influence upon Madagascar. She illegalised Christianity, and expelled the LMS missionaries, closing their press. While her isolationist polices eased towards the end of her long reign, it was not until after her death that the Merina court, once again, became open to Westerners and missionaries. The LMS returned to Madagascar in the 1860s, which saw a revival of the press on the island.
However, the LMS suffered from labour shortages, so asked the Quakers to come to Madagascar to lend them a hand. In 1867, the British Quaker Joseph Sewell answered the call and the following year he founded the Friends Foreign Mission Association (FFMA). He was soon joined by many more British and American Friends. At their main mission in Faravohitra, just outside of Antananarivo, in 1872 they founded a press, directed by Henry E. Clark, that over the succeeding years produced an amazing array of titles, not just on religion, but also on science, language and literature (as demonstrated by the press’ catalogue within the present work), creating some of the most important and interesting books of 19th century Madagascar.
During the Franco-Hova War (1883-96), France conquered Madagascar and toppled the Merina monarchy, annexing Madagascar as a colony in 1897. While the French regime encouraged missionary activity and their printing houses, it also fostered the rise of state and commercial printing on the island, creating a diverse and modern publishing industry. Madagascar would remain a French colony until the nation achieved its independence, as the Malagasy Republic, in 1960.
Henry E. Clark: Quaker Missionary, Writer and Publisher in Madagascar
Henry Ecroyd Clark (1836 – 1906), a Quaker missionary, was a leading force in printing in Madagascar in the late 19th century. A native of Doncaster, Yorkshire, Clark worked as a grocer and tea dealer for many years in various cities across northern England, but along the way became involved in running a Quaker ‘Adult School’. He was a studious and religious man who always longed for a life dedicated to spreading the word of Christ. In the magazine The Friend, Joseph Sewell called for new recruits to serve as missionaries in Madagascar. In 1871, Clark and his wife took up the charge, and headed for Madagsascar.
Once established at the Friends’ Foreign Mission Association (FFMA) station in Faravohitra, he became the superintendent of the newly founded Friends press at the mission, where he oversaw the production of thousands of books over the next 30 or so years. He became an accomplished translator between English and Malagasy, and authored many original books, such as the present work.
Notably, one of Clark’s books ‘Ny Mpamonjy (‘The Saviour’), a work of elementary lessons on the life of the Lord, is thought to have been the most popular book in Madagascar, next only to the Bible. It was adopted by all Protestant missionary societies on the island as a standard textbook.
Clark also taught at the Boys’ High School in Antananarivo, and variously served as the treasurer and secretary of the Faravohitra mission.
Clark remained on mission in Madagascar until 1905, when his health failed, causing him to return home; he passed away the following year. A friend eulogized him with a poem: “Servant of God! well done! Rest from thy lov’d employ; The battle fought, the victory won Enter thy Master’s joy”.
A Note on Rarity
All works from the Friends’ Foreign Mission Association Press are today great rarities, as the survival rate of 19th century Madagascar imprints is incredibly low.
We cannot trace any other examples of the present volume, in either library catalogues, or in sales records, while we can find only a single example of ‘Section II’, issued in 1887, held by the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) Library, University of London.
References: James SIBREE, A Madagascar Bibliography… (Antananarivo: London Missionary Society, 1885), p. 76; Cf. [re: ‘Fizarana II.’, or the Second Section, of 1887:] School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) Library, University of London: E WYM/668410.