This is a copy of the first New Testament in Malagasy, the language of Madagascar.
Christian missions and Bible translations in Madagascar
King Radama I came to the throne of the Merina kingdom in Madagascar in 1810. He encouraged friendly relations with the British, and invited Christian missionaries to the island. The London Missionary Society (LMS) set up their first school in Antananarivo, the capital, in 1820.
Education in the Malagasy language was important from the beginning. The LMS missionaries needed books for teaching and evangelisation, and imported printing presses in the 1820s. The creation of the Malagasy Bible proceeded apace, with King Radama’s backing, and missionaries David Jones and David Griffiths worked with twelve Malagasy colleagues to produce an impressive number of Bible translations.
The first full New Testament (1830), shown here, was very much in demand on the island – within three years, all 1,500 copies had been distributed. In 1835, the first full Malagasy Bible was produced.
Things were soon to change. King Radama died in 1828 and his successor, Queen Ranavalona I, resisted foreign influence and prohibited Christianity. The missionaries left but the church survived, meeting in secret. The Bibles remaining on the island are said to have been buried underground or torn into small sections for safe-keeping.
A number of copies of the 1830 New Testament have survived, but the complete Bible printed in 1835 is very rare (the British Library is fortunate to have a copy, at shelfmark OR.71.c.10.(2.)). Both books are testament to an important period of church history in Madagascar.