|Définition anglaise ||Antoine Abinal is especially known because of the French-Malagasy dictionary that was first published in 1888, a reference work that is still in use, and that has been through numerous editions.
Biographical information about him is difficult to find, undoubtedly because of his discretion. A brief obituary yielded the following: "For all his discretion, [Abinal] was someone of significant stature. He was one of those rare persons who honor humanity by living a life dedicated entirely to their work and to the sake of doing good."
He was born on January 10, 1829, in Ars, near Chanac, in the department of the Lozère, in France. He entered the Jesuit novitiate on October 18, 1855, and sailed for Madagascar from Nantes in November of 1859. On February 1, 1860, he arrived in Reunion Island and took a teaching position at Sainte Marie de Saint-Denis School.
He left for Madagascar in 1863, and taught boys in the Andohalo parish school until 1866, before the "Brothers of the Christian schools" arrived. According to an 1864 report by Father Jouen, his students included twelve sons of Rainilaiarivony, and several sons of Rainimaharavo.
Around 1868, he is mentioned as being one of the founders of the parish of Antanjombato, south of Tananarivo. On February 15, 1873, he went to strengthen the small team of missionaries that were in the Betsileo, and settled in Ambohimandroso, south of Ambalavao. In 1874, he was the first Catholic missionary to try to evangelize the Tanala, in the Ikongo. The attempt came to nothing, which is not surprising when one considers that the local inhabitants had established three conditions for living among them: 1. Marry one of the chief's wives. 2. Become a blood brother of the chief. 3. Supply guns and canons for the war effort against the Hova.
When the French were expelled in 1883, Abinal was among those who remained on the island. From Tamatave, he eventually went to Majunga.
In 1885, after the death of Father Callet in Saint-Denis, Abinal gathered the material that had been accumulating for the dictionary project, and drew on it to produce the dictionary mentioned above. Having returned to Tananarivo, he did all of this work while he was the parish priest for Mahamasina, as well as the director of the printshop. He gave himself completely to the work, and although it was virtually finished before he died, he did not live to see its' publication. He died on November 11, 1887, and it was Father Malzac who added the final touches to the precious book.
The volume of notes left by Abinal testifies to his industriousness, and to a particular emphasis on ethnography. Sadly, his pastoral and educational work prevented him from being able to publish the results of his observations and his research. In Father de la Vaissière's book, Vingt ans à Madagascar [Twenty Years in Madagascar], published in 1885, Abinal's documentation is used by de la Vaissière for the third portion of the work (pages 143 to 294). Sadly, Abinal's work is largely known only through the works of others. It might be possible to change this situation if Abinal's existing manuscripts were to be published at some point.
In conclusion, Abinal's work was a great help to missionaries in Madagascar, as he not only produced many translations, but also wrote many brochures in Malagasy.