‘The seven Christians stood together in the bright sunlight, bound with strong ropes, singing a hymn to their foreign Saviour as the spearmen advanced. Around them a crowd of jostling men, women and children, over sixty thousand strong… cheered enthusiastically as the spears were driven home and, one by one, the men and women fell and writhed on the sandy ground, their hymn fading slowly into silence, replaced by the groans and shrieks of the dying. Above the still-squirming bodies, on a ridge, a score of crosses stood in mute witness, carrying their ghastly burdens, some of whom still lived despite the day and a half they had hung upon the wood.’
As European colonial powers scrambled for control of Africa, a leader arose in the red island of Madagascar who, with ruthless determination, thwarted all their ambitions. This bastion of native defiance was no mighty warrior, but a diminutive woman of middle years, Ranavalona Manjaka, Queen of Madagascar, known to her subjects more simply as Ma Dieu. Under Ranavalona’s despotic rule, hundreds of thousands of her people – possibly one-half of the entire population – were murdered, starved, or simply worked to death by her express command. In stark contrast to her benighted subjects, the Queen gloried in an eccentric and debauched lifestyle that put the worst of the Roman Emperors to shame. Small wonder European history remembers this sanguinary queen as the Female Caligula.