J.J. Rabearivelo

When Jean Joseph Rabearivelo (J.J. Rabearivelo) was 14 years old, he published his first poem in Malagasy in the publication “Vakio ity”, under the pseudonym K. Verbal. His lyrical career is divided into 2 periods.

  • The 1st period was directed towards nature, trees, dreams, and the land of his ancestors
  • The 2nd period was shrouded in the mysterious labyrinth of the subjective and symbolic.

His songs, although diverse, have the same background: the theme of death and the grave, or they express thoughts about what’s “above the grave”. His best poems are found in the collections Presque-songes (1934) and Traduit de la nuit (1935); both collections are bilingual, as the author wrote them in both Malagasy and French. J.J. Rabearivelo is a poet of great stature. He was active during the period of colonisation and bridges the two cultures, Malagasy and French.

As a member of the elite, he was educated. He had a vast knowledge of both the Malagasy literature and the French classics. His novels (L’Aube rouge – 1925, L’Interférence – 1928) indicate he held a great interest and passion for history. The two novels, which weren’t allowed to be published during his lifetime, go back to the last years of the Merina monarchy and the first year of the French colonialism. Through 3 generations, L’Interférence shows us the fate of the aristocratic Antananarivo family from the reign of Ranavalona Ire to the arrival of the first French soldiers. It seems that with this novel Rabearivelo wanted to express anger at those who allowed the fall of the monarchy and didn’t know how to rebel against their new rulers.

Internal conflict is an overarching theme in all his works. On the one hand, he loved both cultures, Malgasy and French; on the other, he recognised the odd and abnormal conjunction of the natives and their colonisers.

In his works, J.J. Rabearivelo also highlights his interest in the Malagasy verbal tradition, mostly hain teny (‘Vieilles chansons de pays d’Imerina’). Hain teny represents ‘word science’ or ‘learned words’; it represents a type of art through wordplay, which includes morals, as they are the inheritance of the ancestors.

In the early 20th century Anatananarivo was the centre of all the press and literary activities. J.J. Rabearivelo worked together with other writers, the educated and the great thinkers of the day (Jacques Rabemananajara, Elie Raharolahy…), as well as being a writer for all the important newspapers (Journal de Madagascar, Capricorne, Gazetintsika…)

At his funeral on 24 June 1937 Jacques Rabemananjara said, ‘Now that he is no more, we realise his great value and importance to the Malagasy people’. The most prominent secondary school in Antananarivo was later named after him, the great Malagasy writer Jean Joseph Rabearivelo.



– Le coupe des cendres, Tananarive, Pitot de la Beaujardière, 1924
– Sylves, Tananarive, Imprimerie d’Imerina, 1928
– Volumes, Tananarive, Imprimerie d’Imerina, 1928
– Enfants d’Orphée, Port-Louis (île Maurice), The general printing, 1931
– Imaitsoanala, Fille d’Oiseau, Tananarive, Imprimerie de l’Imerina, 1935
– Presque-songes , Tananarive, Imprimerie de l’Imerina,1935
-Traduit de la nuit, Tunis, édtion de mirage, 1936
– Aux portes de la ville, Tananarive, Imprimerie Officielle, 1936
– Chants pour Abeone, Tananarive, H. Vidalie, 1936
-Tananarive, ses quartiers et ses rues (en collaboration avec E. Baudin), Tananarive,    Imprimerie de   l’Imerina, 1937
– Lova, Tananarive, Imprimerie Volamahitsy, 1957
– Des stances oubliées, Tananarive, Imprimerie Liva, 1959
– Poèmes (Presque Songes, Traduit de la nuit), Tananarive, Imprimerie Officielle, 1960
– Amboara-poezia sy tononkala malagasy, Tananarive, Editions Madagasikara, 1965
– Vielles Chansons de pays d’Imerina, Antananarivo, Madprint, 1974
– I’Interférence, suivi de Un conte de la nuit, Paris, Editions Hatier, 1988
– Poèmes, Paris, Editions Hatier, 1990