Report on the mission of Madagascar, 1669-05, CM


Report on the mission of Madagascar, 1669-05, CM




Report on the Madagascar mission made by CM and given to PF in March 1669. This short report on the Madagascar mission is based on the letters written at various times by CM priests in Madagascar, with the authority of PF. The island of Madagascar is also called Saint Lawrence because it was discovered on the day dedicated to the memory of this martyr. By the French it was renamed Isola Delfina. It is located south of the Tropic of Capricorn, and is not far from the African continent; from 'Promontorio' in Mozambique it is around 70 miles. In length it reaches from around the eighth degree from the Equator for approximately 600 miles, the width of the island is at some points 200, and at others 400 miles. Because of its location the temperatures are very high but not intolerable. The island is divided in many regions by high mountains. Those who are most informed about the island believe that there are 400,000 people, and in every province there is a patron. There are around 300 or 400 vassals of these kings. They do not really deserve the title of king, first of all because they are not king of all the people, and secondly because they live so poorly; they have around 3,000 or 4,000 oxen, and around one third harvest rice and carrots. There is no-one in France with a title who does not live more splendidly than the greatest man in Madagascar, where such a title is not hereditary. Under the king there are other men, less rich than the first. All the grand men practice carpeting for pleasure. In Madagascar there are two kinds of inhabitants, black people with curly hair, who are the original people. The others are white, have long hair, and travelled from Persia 500 years ago. In some provinces they are the patrons of the blacks, in others they are subjected. For their origins, they refer to a certain 'Ramini' who has been created by the foam of the sea, and was a friend of Mohammed. In all parts of the island most villages are found at the foot of the mountains, from where an abundance of water flows, that ends in the sea nearby. There are no cities or fortresses. All houses are made of wood and covered with leaves and are very low, which makes it very hard to enter and leave. The kitchen and fire are made without a chimney. They do not have a bed or chair, but instead do everything on the wooden floor. People usually eat rice, oxen and goats. There is no wheat or wine, instead they drink a beverage made of apples. There are many roots, beans, watermelons, and lemons but there are no animals to hunt, except some boars. None of the inhabitants wear any headwear, they have naked feet, and use oil in their hair. Everybody wears the same long clothes, but they differ in quality. Children upto the age of seven or eight are completely naked. They all have a hole in their ear filled with a piece of wood, on which they put some gold or a shell. They live really long lives, and some say they are so old that they cannot count the years anymore. There is not a real religion among the people on the islands, and there is no temple or priest anywhere. There are however a few ceremonies and superstitions that were introduced 500 years ago, by the whites who are 'Cafri' from the coasts of Persia. They found the original inhabitants of the island simple and without law or religion. They easily turned to the superstitions of Mohammed. They confess that they is a Lord of the universe that they call 'Zenharé' but they keep him in the sky where he is a king in his own realm. Among them there is a sect of men called ‘Ombassi’ which means writers, and they lead the ceremonies, the traditions, and the superstitions of the country. They carry books which do not have a lot of text, but only some sentences or saying's from the Koran, which have been brought by the men coming from Persia. The usage of circumcision is found all over the island. The whites have some kind of fasting of two months in which they cannot eat from sunrise to sunset. They do not eat oxen and do not drink wine. The superstition that is the most opposed to the honor of God is the use of 'Olys.' The Ombiassi make them out of wood or hollow root and sell them. These idols are made in the shape of a man or an animal. They fill them with oil mixed with dust, and think them to be alive. The people bring these idols everywhere they go, and believe that they help them with all kinds of things. When they have to cross a river they ask their Olys to help them. In the case that someone gets eaten, people use to say that his Olys were not good. They have the cruel tradition to throw away children on Sunday, that are born in the night on Saturday. The first Europeans to come to the island were the Portuguese and the Dutch. They had some posts on the island, and brought with them some Jesuits. Eventually the Portuguese left the island. When the French Indian Company heard about the island, they sent a group of men, all of whom were Catholics, except for around 10 heretics. They also brought some priests with them to help them in their spiritual needs. When CM priests arrived on the island they found one of the priests, who had not made a lot of progress because of the heretic's captain, who allowed the heretic sermon to be held in his house. For this reason the population of the island was confused and did not convert. The French Indian Company eventually sent back the heretic captain, and refused to allow any other heretic to travel there. A Catholic captain was sent to the island, along with two CM priests. They were staying in a place close to the Tropic of Capricorn, that was called ‘Hittolangar’ by the natives. There was also a castle called the Castle Dauphin. When the CM priests arrived, there were only five baptized children on the island. The priests tried to learn the language of the island, in order to explain the mysteries of the faith. The blacks were easier to instruct than the whites. They told the blacks, after they listened with attention, that they should not curse, not work on Sundays, and not steal. The rulers of the island did not want their slaves to be instructed in the service of God, as they were afraid they would discover their wickedness. The disposition of the island towards the Christian faith becomes clear, from a letter of one of the missionaries who wrote to CM superior general [Vincent De Paul]. He informs them that he wants the natives first to know how to pray to God, before they are baptized. They told the missionary that they are afraid to get baptized, since they fear that the French would not stay for a long time on the island, and that afterwards the whites might kill them. The missionary also informs Vincent De Paul that some of the greatest men of the island have sent their children away to be instructed, and that these have already thrown away their Olys. One of these families converted as a whole. The firstborn of another king called Dian Masso (who himself has been baptized), prays to God daily, and promised to instruct his wife and children. In the house of the missionary lives two children of the rulers of the island, and also their slaves who want to be baptized. The next year he was warned that three of the most important men on the island were about to die. He went to visit them, and eventually they begged him to be baptized, and to be buried after they died. After many other things the missionary ends his letter by saying that from his writing, one can see the great disposition of the people towards the Holy Faith. Its noted that 600 people already have converted, and one can hope that all of the 400,000 souls will eventually accept the faith. This letter was written in 1657, and the missionary died a few months later, leaving the people without a priest. Afterwards the French gave themselves to a sinful life, and started to fight the natives. From time to time they sent new missionaries to the island, but the majority never even arrived. The next missionaries to reach the island only arrived in 1663, and because the whole island was at war, they could not do a lot. The natives who converted risked their lives since the French were very hated. When the prefect of the mission went to instruct one of the leaders of the island (who wanted to convert or pretended to do so), he and his companion were killed. The last who travelled to the island were four priests, and some brothers. However as they were all sick, they could not really invest time in converting the infidels; in their last letter dated September 1668, its noted that they have all improved, and can continue to work for the religion and conversion of the infidels.
Additional comments


APF SC Africa, 36v-42v












Destination: Rome


“Report on the mission of Madagascar, 1669-05, CM,” Early Modern Documents: Sources and Resources for Historical Research, accessed July 5, 2022,

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