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Chapter 1 traces the city's founding in the mid-1700s as a key entrepôt in Indian Ocean trading networks and as an increasingly important ritual site for Sakalava monarchs. By unpacking competing narratives about the city's origins, it illuminates the contestations between different groups of traders, Sakalava leaders, and ritual experts who shaped the city's built forms. It argues that competing groups harnessed architectural tactics—governance, refusal, and the assemblage of expertise—to open new political and economic possibilities in the emergent town. Critical to early Sakalava monarchal rule and to the management of the city's constituency was a political-economic heterarchy, in which diverse groups exercised autonomy to cultivate their own social, ritual, and economic networks. The city's heterogeneous architectural landscape both expressed and constituted the negotiated forms of authority that comprised early society in Mahajanga.

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