And you thought the witch trials – the ones where they threw the accused in the water, and if they drowned they were innocent (but dead), and if they swam they were guilty (and soon to be dead) – were stupid and counterintuitive…
Well, wait until you hear about Tangena, a method of determining guilt or innocence in 19th century Madagascar. Not that there’s a contest for most effed up way of killing (probably) innocent people, but, if there were, this would definitely be a contender.
It goes like this: you’re accused of a crime. Big or small, it makes no matter. In order to determine your guilt or innocence, you have to swallow poison made from the tangena tree nut and then chase it with three pieces of chicken skin.
Innocent people vomited up the skin (and presumably the poison), but if you didn’t vomit and/or died you were guilty.
Why? Don’t ask silly questions like that – there’s virtually no scientific reasoning (or regular reasoning) on record. And these weren’t witches, either. They were just regular folk who stole an apple from the market.
How deadly is the poison from the tangena tree, you ask? Well, it’s a good question, and answer is: pretty poisonous. The fatality rate from the nut ranges from 33-55%, or an average of 3000/year in 19th century Madagascar. Thats the average – in the exceptional year 1838, however, tangena killed as many as 100,000 people, 20% of the country’s population.
This is partly because the country’s monarch, Queen Ranavalona I, was a big fan of the process. So was the average citizen, who trusted the tangena more than eyewitnesses. There is some evidence that the elites accused each other of crimes regularly in the hopes that the tangena would wipe out potential rivals.
Makes perfect sense.
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