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Republic of Madagascar
Repoblikan'i Madagasikara
République de Madagascar
Flag Seal
MottoTanindrazana, Fahafahana, Fandrosoana  (Malagasy)
Patrie, liberté, progrès  (French)
"Fatherland, Liberty, Progress"
AnthemRy Tanindrazanay malala ô!
Oh, Beloved Land of our Ancestors!

(and largest city)
18°55′S 47°31′E / 18.917°S 47.517°E / -18.917; 47.517
Official language(s) Malagasy, French
Demonym Malagasy[1]
Government Caretaker government
 -  President of the High Transitional Authority Andry Rajoelina
 -  Prime Minister Albert Camille Vital
Independence from France 
 -  Date 26 June 1960 
 -  Total 587,041 km2 (45th)
226,597 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 0.13%
 -  2009 estimate 20,653,556[2] (55th)
 -  1993 census 12,238,914 
 -  Density 35.2/km2 (174th)
91.1/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2010 estimate
 -  Total $19.406 billion[3] 
 -  Per capita $911[3] 
GDP (nominal) 2010 estimate
 -  Total $8.345 billion[3] 
 -  Per capita $320[3] 
Gini (2001) 47.5 (high
HDI (2010) increase 0.435 (low) (135th)
Currency Malagasy ariary (MGA)
Time zone EAT (UTC+3)
 -  Summer (DST) not observed (UTC+3)
Drives on the right
ISO 3166 code MG
Internet TLD .mg
Calling code +261

The Republic of Madagascar (older name Malagasy Republic, Malagasy: Repoblikan'i Madagasikara [republiˈkʲan madaɡasˈkʲarə̥], French: République malgache ) is an island nation located in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa. The nation comprises the island of Madagascar, which at 587,000 square kilometres (227,000 sq mi) is classified as the fourth-largest island in the world, as well as numerous smaller peripheral islands, the largest of which include Nosy Be and Nosy Boraha (Île Sainte-Marie).

Until the late 18th century, the island of Madagascar was populated by a fragmented assortment of shifting village and ethnic alliances and kingdoms of varying sizes. Beginning in the early 19th century, however, the majority of the island was united and ruled by a series of Merina nobles (andriana) as the Kingdom of Madagascar until the island was conquered and absorbed into the French colonial empire from 1896 to 1960, when the current Republic of Madagascar became independent. The autonomous state of Madagascar has since passed through four major constitutional periods, including a post-colonial First Republic under President Philibert Tsiranana (1960–1972), a Soviet-style socialist Second Republic under Admiral Didier Ratsiraka (1975–1991), and a democratic Third Republic under successive presidents Albert Zafy, Didier Ratsiraka and Marc Ravalomanana (1992–2009). Following a referendum on November 17, 2010, Madagascar has entered its Fourth Republic, wherein the nation is officially governed as a constitutional democracy from its capital at Antananarivo by an elected president who serves a renewable five-year term and is supported by the prime minister he nominates. However, the nation continues to be managed by an unelected caretaker government known as the High Transitional Authority (HAT) which seized power following the 2009 popular uprising led by HAT president Andry Rajoelina, currently the youngest head of state in Africa. The international community largely views the current administration as illegitimate and has widely characterized Rajoelina's seizure of power as a coup d'état.

The prehistoric breakup of the Gondwana supercontinent separated the Madagascar-Antarctica-India landmass from the Africa-South America landmass around 135 million years ago. Madagascar later split from India around 88 million years ago, allowing plants and animals on the island to evolve in complete isolation. Consequently, Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot in which over 80% of its plant and animal species are found nowhere else on Earth. These are dispersed across a variety of ecoregions, broadly divided into eastern and south-central rain forest, western dry forests, southern desert and spiny forest. The island's diverse ecosystems and unique wildlife are severely threatened by human settlement and traditional slash-and-burn practices (tavy) which have denuded Madagascar of 95% of its original forest cover. Under the administration of former President Marc Ravalomanana, the government of Madagascar partnered with the international community to implement large-scale conservation measures tied to ecotourism as part of the national development strategy. However, under Rajoelina's caretaker government there has been a dramatic increase in illegal logging of precious woods and the poaching and sale of threatened species such as lemurs in Madagascar's many national parks, several of which are classified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Most archaeologists believe Madagascar was first inhabited sometime between 300 BCE and 500 CE by Austronesian peoples arriving on outrigger canoes from Borneo in the Indonesian archipelago who were later joined around 1000 CE by Bantu migrants crossing the Mozambique Channel. Arab, East African, Indian, Chinese and European (primarily French) migrants settled on Madagascar over time, each one making lasting contributions to Malagasy cultural life. The Malagasy ethnic group is often sub-divided into sixteen or more sub-groups of which the largest are the Merina of the central highlands around Antananarivo and the Betsimisaraka of the eastern coast around Toamasina. The Austronesian origins of the earliest population are evident not only in the physical appearance of many Malagasy people, but also in cultural practices related to the veneration of ancestors, the prevalence of the valiha (a bamboo tube zither of East Asian origin) in Malagasy musical traditions, architectural methods and norms, and a cuisine based on rice that establishes the Malagasy people as the largest rice consumers per capita in the world; European, Asian and Indian influences are also evident in local cuisine. The first transcription of Malagasy using Arabic script (sorabe) and certain elements of Malagasy cosmology were introduced by Arabs, while Bantu influences are evident in the spiritual and monetary value placed on zebu. Malagasy, the Austronesian language spoken in various forms by the vast majority of the population, is the national language and one of two current official languages alongside French. The majority of the population adheres to a combination of traditional beliefs and Christianity, but followers of other faiths such as Islam and Hinduism are found in smaller numbers throughout the country.

In 2010 the population of Madagascar was estimated at around 20 million, 85% of whom live on less than two dollars per day. Ecotourism, agriculture, expansion of international trade and greater investments in education, health and private enterprise are key elements of Madagascar's development strategy. Under Ravalomanana, these investments produced substantive economic growth but the benefits were not evenly spread throughout the population, producing tensions over the increasing cost of living and declining living standards among the poor and some segments of the middle class. Current and future generations in Madagascar are faced with the challenge of striking a balance between economic growth, equitable development and natural conservation.



In the Malagasy language, the island of Madagascar is called Madagasikara [madaɡasʲˈkʲarə̥] and its people are referred to as Malagasy.[4] However, the island's appellation "Madagascar" is not of local origin but rather was popularized in the Middle Ages by Europeans.[5] The name Madageiscar was first recorded in the memoirs of 13th-century Venetian explorer Marco Polo as a corrupted form of the name Mogadishu, the Somalian port with which Polo had mistakenly confused the island. On St. Laurence's Day in 1500, Portuguese explorer Diogo Dias landed on the island and christened it Sao Lourenco, but Polo's name was preferred and popularized on Renaissance maps. No single Malagasy-language name predating Madagasikara appears to have been used by the local population to refer to the island, although some communities had their own name for part or all of the land they inhabited.[6]


At 587,000 square kilometres (227,000 sq mi), Madagascar is the world's 46th-largest country and the fourth-largest island. It is slightly larger than France, and is one of 11 distinct provinces of the South African Platform physiographic division. The country lies mostly between latitudes 12°S and 26°S with a small area lying north of 12°, and longitudes 43°E and 51°E. The prehistoric breakup of the Gondwana supercontinent separated the Madagascar-Antarctica-India landmass from the Africa-South America landmass around 135 million years ago. Madagascar later split from India around 88 million years ago, allowing plants and animals on the island to evolve in complete isolation.[7]

The capitol of Madagascar, the city of Antananarivo, is located in the highlands, a plateau region in the center of the island ranging in altitude from 2,450 to 4,400 ft (747 to 1,341 m) above sea level. The densely populated central highlands are characterized by terraced, rice-growing valleys lying between grassy, deforested hills. Here, erosion has exposed the island's red laterite soil, source of the country's sobriquet "The Red Island". Along the eastern, windward side of the island, a steep and mountainous escarpment drops abruptly from the Central Highlands to the Indian Ocean. This eastern terrain hosts most of the last remaining pockets of tropical rainforest that formerly covered the entire island of Madagascar. The Canal des Pangalanes is a chain of man-made and natural lakes connected by French-built canals just inland from the east coast, running parallel to it for some 460 km (286 mi) (about two-thirds of the eastern length of the island). The western and southern sides, which lie in the rain shadow of the central highlands, are home to tropical dry forests, thorn forests, and deserts and xeric shrublands. Presumably due to relatively lower population densities, Madagascar's dry deciduous rain forest has been better preserved than the eastern rain forests or the original woodlands of the high central plateau. The descent from the central highlands toward the west is gradual. The western coast features many protected harbours, but silting is a major problem caused by sediment from the high levels of inland erosion carried by rivers crossing the vast western plains.

The island's highest peak, Maromokotro, at 2,876 metres (9,436 ft), is found in the Tsaratanana Massif, located in the far north of the country. The Ankaratra Massif is in the central area south of Antananarivo and hosts the third highest mountain on the island, Tsiafajavona, with an altitude of 2,642 metres (8,668 ft). Further south is the Andringitra Massif with several peaks over 2,400 metres (7,900 ft) including the second and fourth highest peaks, Pic Imarivolanitra, (more widely known as Pic Boby) at 2,658 metres / 8,720 feet and the 2,630 metres / 8,630 feet-high Pic Bory. The massif contains the Andringitra Reserve and includes both Pic Soaindra (2,620 metres / 8,600 feet) and Pic Ivangomena (2,556 metres / 8,386 feet). On very rare occasions, this region experiences snow in winter at its high altitudes.

terraced emerald rice paddies checker softly rolling hills
Pastel striated stone outcroppings jut from the plains
Giant baobabs clustered against the sky
Hills covered with dense blue green tropical forests
Bizarre succulents growing sparsely from deep red earth
The diversity of the Madagascan landscape: rice production in the central highlands, the desert-like plains of Isalo National Park, the Avenue of the Baobabs near Morondava, the rain forests of the eastern coast and the spiny forests of the south.


Cyclone Clovis (2006)

Southeastern trade winds dominate the climate and weather of Madagascar, producing a hot rainy season (November–April) with frequently destructive cyclones, and a relatively cooler dry season (May–October). Broadly speaking, the climate is tropical along the coast, temperate inland, and arid in the south but factors such as regional elevation produce significant regional variation. Rain clouds originating over the Indian Ocean discharge much of their moisture over the island's eastern coast where an average 3,500 mm (137.8 in) of annual precipitation supports the area's rain forest ecosystem. The central highlands are both drier and cooler, with frost commonly occurring overnight in the dry season. Snow, however, is limited to rare occurrences at the high-elevation Ankaratra massif. The west coast is drier still, with high aridity in the southwest and southern part of the island where a semidesert climate prevails. Annual cyclones cause regular damage to infrastructure and local economies as well as loss of life. The most destructive since 1927 was Cyclone Geralda (February 2–4, 1994) which caused over 70 fatalities and left over 500,000 people homeless with the damage estimated at US$45 million.[8]


The Madagascar periwinkle is key in the treatment of leukemia and Hodgkin's disease.

As a result of the island's long isolation from neighboring continents, Madagascar is home to a vast array of plants and animals, many found nowhere else on Earth.[9] Approximately 80% of all plant and animal species found in Madagascar are endemic, including the lemur infraorder of primates, the carnivorous fossa and three avian families.[10] This distinctive ecology has led some ecologists to refer to Madagascar as the "eighth continent".[11]

Over 10,000 plant species are native to Madagascar, of which 90% are found nowhere else in the world.[12] The plant family didiereaceae, composed of four genera and 11 species, is limited to the spiny forests of southwestern Madagascar. Four-fifths of the world's pachypodium species are endemic to the island. Three-fourths of Madagascar's 960 orchid species are found here alone, as are six of the world's eight baobab species. The island is also home to around 170 palm species, three times as many as are found on mainland Africa; 165 of these are endemic. Many native plant species are used as effective herbal remedies for a variety of afflictions, perhaps most famously including the Madagascar periwinkle, which has recently been established as the most effective treatment for leukemia and Hodgkin's disease.[13] The traveler's palm, endemic to the eastern rain forests,[14] is highly iconic of Madagascar and is featured in the national emblem as well as the Air Madagascar logo.

Two ring-tailed lemurs curled up together
The Ring-tailed Lemur is one of around 100 known species and subspecies of lemur found only in Madagascar.

The lemurs are the best known of Madagascar's mammals. In the absence of monkeys and other competitors, these primates have adapted to a wide range of habitats and diversified into numerous species. As of 2008, there are officially 99 species and subspecies of lemur, 39 of which have been described by zoologists between 2000 and 2008.[15] They are almost all classified as rare, vulnerable, or endangered.[16] At least 17 species of lemur have become extinct since man arrived on Madagascar, all of which were larger than the surviving lemur species.[17]

The biodiversity of fauna in Madagascar extends beyond prosimians to the wider animal population. About 280 species of bird have been recorded on Madagascar, of which over 100 are endemic and 49 of these are restricted-range endemics with a range of less than 50,000 km. The few families and genera of reptile that have reached Madagascar have diversified into more than 260 species, with over 90% of these being endemic. The island is home to two-thirds of the world's chameleon species.[18] The majority of insects on the island are also endemic. These include the world's smallest bee, over 100 species of cockroach and over 80 species of stick insect.

Environmental challenges

Madagascar's varied fauna and flora are endangered by human activity.[19] Since the arrival of humans 2,000 years ago Madagascar has lost more than 90% of its original forest,[20] of which fully one-third has disappeared since the 1970s.[12] Slash-and-burn activity, locally called tavy, has occurred in the eastern and western dry forests as well as on the central high plateau, reducing certain forest habitat and applying pressure to some endangered species. Slash-and-burn is a method sometimes used by shifting cultivators to create short-term yields from marginal soils.

Burning Malagasy rainforest
A vast, red soil gully caused by erosion
Aerial photograph of a forked river that has turned red due to red soil runoff
Tavy (slash-and-burn) destruction of native forest habitat is widespread (left), causing massive erosion (center) and silting of rivers (right).

Habitat destruction and hunting have threatened many of Madagascar's endemic species or driven them to extinction. The elephant birds (Aepyornis), which were giant ratites native to Madagascar and were formerly the world's largest bird. This species, whose average height was over 3 metres (10 ft) tall, has been extinct since at least the 17th century, most likely due to human hunting of adult birds and poaching of their massive eggs for food.[21] Numerous subfossil lemur species also vanished with the arrival of human settlers to the island, and today most extant lemurs are listed as endangered or threatened species due to habitat destruction. Many species have gone extinct over the course of the last centuries as a growing population has put greater pressures on lemur habitats and, among some populations, increased the rate of lemur hunting for food.[22]

Under President Marc Ravalomanana, a vigorous effort was made to expand Madagascar's protected natural areas. At the 2003 IUCN World Parks Congress in Durban, Ravalomanana announced the Durban Vision, a bold initiative to more than triple the area under protection from approximately 17,000 km² to over 60,000 km² (from 3% to 10% of Madagascar's area). As of 2011, the island's protected areas include six Strict Nature Reserves (Réserves Naturelles Intégrales), 21 Wildlife Reserves (Réserves Spéciales), one private reserve and 20 National Parks (Parcs Nationaux). In 2007 six of the national parks were voted in as a joint World Heritage Site under the name Rainforests of the Atsinanana. These six are: Marojejy, Masoala, Ranomafana, Zahamena, Andohahela and Andringitra National Park. Local timber barons are harvesting scarce species of rosewood trees from protected rainforests such as Marojejy National Park and exporting the wood to China for the production of luxury furniture and musical instruments.[23] To raise public awareness of the crisis, the Wildlife Conservation Society has recently opened an exhibit entitled "Madagascar!" at the Bronx Zoo in New York.[24]


Early history

Most archaeologists estimate that the earliest settlers arrived in outrigger canoes from southern Borneo between 200 BCE and 500 CE, making Madagascar one of the last major landmasses on Earth to be settled by people.[25] Upon arrival, early settlers practiced tavy (swidden, "slash-and-burn" agriculture) to clear the virgin coastal rainforests for the cultivation of their crops.[26] The first settlers encountered Madagascar's wealth of megafauna, including giant lemurs, elephant birds, giant fossa and the Malagasy hippopotamus, which have since become extinct due to hunting and habitat destruction.[27] By 600 CE groups of these early settlers had moved inland and began clearing the forests of the central Highlands. Irrigated rice paddies emerged in highland Betsileo country by 1600 and were complemented with terraced paddies throughout Imerina a century later.[28] Zebu were introduced around 1000 CE by Bantu-speaking East African migrants who maintained large herds. The rising intensity of land cultivation and the ever-increasing demand for zebu pasturage in the central highlands had largely transformed the region from a forest ecosystem to barren grassland by the 17th century.[29]

Merina oral histories tell of migration from the southeast coast to the central highlands where the Merina encountered an established population called the Vazimba, who may have been the descendants of an earlier and less technologically advanced Austronesian settlement wave.[30] The Vazimba were vanquished by 16th and early 17th-century Merina kings Andriamanelo, Ralambo and particularly Andrianjaka, who founded Antananarivo around 1625 upon the site of a captured Vazimba capital on the hilltop of Analamanga. Merina legends relate that the Vazimba were largely driven from the Highlands or absorbed into the local population through intermarriage; King Andriamanelo was himself half-Vazimba through his mother, Queen Rafohy.[31] In the popular imagination today, the Vazimba are frequently characterized as powerful and even monstrous spirits (sometimes with pygmy-like features) that must be appeased because of their status as tompon-tany or ancestral masters of the land.[26]

The written history of Madagascar begins in the 7th century when Arabs established trading posts along the northwest coast and introduced Islam, the Arabic script (used to transcribe the Malagasy language in a form of writing known as sorabe), Arab astrology and other cultural elements.[8] European contact began in 1500, when the Portuguese sea captain Diogo Dias sighted the island after his ship separated from a fleet going to India.[32] In the late 17th century, the French established trading posts along the east coast. On Nosy Boraha, a small island off the northeastern coast of Madagascar, Captain Misson and his pirate crew allegedly founded the famous pirate utopia of Libertalia in the late 17th century. From about 1774 to 1824, Madagascar was a favorite haunt for pirates.[33]

Madagascar was first an important transoceanic trading port connecting ports of the Indian Ocean; later, it gained prominence among pirates and European traders, particularly those involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The wealth generated by this trade spurred the rise of organized kingdoms, some of which had grown quite powerful by the 16th century.[34] Among these were the Betsimisaraka alliance of the eastern coast and the Sakalava chiefdoms of Menabe and Boina on the west coast. The Kingdom of Imerina, located in the central highlands with its capital at the royal palace of Antananarivo, likewise emerged at around the same time under the leadership of King Andriamanelo. Imerina remained a minor power relative to the larger coastal kingdoms, declining further in the early 18th century when King Andriamasinavalona divided it among his four sons. After a century of warring and famine, Imerina was reunited in 1793 by King Andrianampoinimerina in 1793 who, from his capital at Ambohimanga (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), rapidly expand his rule over neighboring principalities with the intent to bring the entire island under his control - an endeavor largely fulfilled by his son and successor, King Radama I.

Kingdom of Madagascar

Andrianampoinimerina, ruler of Imerina in the central highlands (1787–1810), had by his death managed to gain the allegiance or submission of a number of ethnic communities surrounding his kingdom. His son Radama (1810–1828) continued this initiative, launching regular military campaigns that successfully enabled him to secure control over the majority of the island. Radama, who moved his capital to the palace at the royal Rova compound of Antananarivo, was a forward-thinking ruler and concluded a treaty with the British governor of Mauritius to abolish the lucrative slave trade. In return, the island received British military and financial assistance. Envoys from the London Missionary Society arrived in 1818 and established a school at the royal court. Notable among them was Scottish artisan missionary James Cameron, credited with developing a European-style soap from local materials, among many other innovations. The missionaries transcribed Malagasy language using the Roman alphabet and established schools that taught basic numeracy, as well as literacy using the translated Bible. Radama mandated schooling for literacy among the andriana (nobles), resulting in one of the most highly literate and educated societies in pre-colonial Sub-Saharan Africa. British influence on the island was to remain strong throughout the 19th century.

Radama's successor, Queen Ranavalona I (1828–1861), responded to increasing political and cultural encroachment by France and Britain by issuing a royal edict prohibiting the practice of Christianity in Madagascar and eventually expelling all foreigners from the territory.[35] Her son and successor, Radama II (1861–1863), was killed in a coup after only two years of rule and replaced by his widow Rasoherina (1863–1868), who first married Prime Minister Rainivoninahitriniony (1852–1865) and later his brother and successor, Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony (1864–1895). Rainilaiarivony married three queens in succession (Rasoherina, Ranavalona II(1868–1883) and Ranavalona III) (1883–1897) and acted as the de facto ruler of Madagascar until French annexation in 1896.

French colonization

Flag of Madagascar, in the French Protectorate (1885-1895)

France invaded Madagascar in 1883 in what became known as the first Franco-Hova War seeking to restore property that had been confiscated from French citizens. At the war's end, Madagascar ceded Antsiranana (Diego Suarez) on the northern coast to France and paid 560,000 francs to the heirs of Joseph-François Lambert. In 1890, the British accepted the full formal imposition of a French protectorate. In 1895, a French flying column landed in Mahajanga and marched to the capital Antananarivo, where the city's defenders quickly surrendered. Twenty French soldiers died fighting, and 6,000 died of malaria and other diseases before the second Franco-Hova War ended. After the conclusion of hostilities, in 1896 France annexed Madagascar. The 103-year-old Merina monarchy ended with the royal family being sent into exile in Algeria.

Under colonial rule, plantations were established for the production of a variety of export crops. Wide paved boulevards and gathering spaces were constructed in the capital city of Antananarivo and the Rova palace compound was turned into a museum. Schools were built, particularly in rural and coastal areas where the schools of the Merina had not reached; education became mandatory between the ages of 6 to 13 and focused primarily on French language and practical skills. The Merina royal tradition of corvee - taxes paid in the form of labor - was continued under the French and used to construct a railway and roads linking the coastal cities to Antananarivo.

During World War II, Malagasy troops fought in France, Morocco, and Syria. Some leaders in Nazi Germany proposed deporting all of Europe's Jews to Madagascar (the Madagascar Plan), but nothing came of this. After France fell to Germany, the Vichy government administered Madagascar. During the Battle of Madagascar, British troops occupied the island in 1942 to preclude its seizure by the Japanese, after which the Free French took over. With French prestige at low ebb after the end of World War II, the Malagasy Uprising of 1947 broke out. It was suppressed after over a year of bitter fighting, with tens of thousands of people killed.[36] The French later established reformed institutions in 1956 under the Loi Cadre (Overseas Reform Act), and Madagascar moved peacefully towards independence. The Malagasy Republic was proclaimed on October 14, 1958, as an autonomous state within the French Community. A period of provisional government ended with the adoption of a constitution in 1959 and full independence on June 26, 1960.



Administrative divisions

Map of the regions and former provinces of Madagascar

Madagascar was divided into six autonomous provinces (faritany mizakatena), and subdivided into 22 regions (faritra), the latter created in 2004. The regions became the highest subdivision level when the provinces were dissolved in accordance with the results of the 2007 referendum. The regions are further subdivided into 116 districts, 1,548 communes, and 16,969 fokontany. The major cities have a special status as "commune urbaine", at the same level as the districts.

Regions and former provinces
New regions Former provinces Population
Diana (1), Sava (2) Antsiranana 1,188,500
Itasy (3), Analamanga (4), Vakinankaratra (5), Bongolava (6)
Sofia (7), Boeny (8), Betsiboka (9), Melaky (10) Mahajanga 1,734,000
Alaotra Mangoro (11), Atsinanana (12), Analanjirofo (13) Toamasina 2,593,000
Amoron'i Mania (14), Haute-Matsiatra (15), Vatovavy-Fitovinany (16), Atsimo-Atsinanana (17), Ihorombe (18)
Fianarantsoa 3,366,000
Menabe (19), Atsimo-Andrefana (20), Androy (21), Anosy (22) Toliara 2,229,550


The rise of centralized kingdoms among the Sakalava, Merina and other ethnic groups produced the island's first standing armies, initially equipped with spears but later with muskets, cannons and other firearms. King Ralambo (1575–1612) raised the first standing army in the highland Kingdom of Imerina with a handful of guns, although for at least two centuries the armies of the Sakalava were much larger and better equipped, possessing thousands of muskets obtained principally through trade with European partners.[37] By the early 19th century, however, the army of the Kingdom of Imerina was able to bring much of the island under Merina control. Merina Queen Ranavalona, like her predecessors, utilized the tradition of fanampoana (service due to the sovereign in lieu of taxes) to conscript a large portion of the population of Imerina into military service, enabling the queen to raise a standing army that was estimated at 20,000 to 30,000 soldiers.[38] By the late 19th century French plans to colonize Madagascar were gaining momentum, leading British mercenaries to provide training to the queen's army in an unsuccessful bid to repel the French troops. Madagascar was colonized, and during World War II over 46,000 Malagasy soldiers were drafted to fight with the Allies, over 2,000 of whom lost their lives fighting for France.[39]

Madagascar regained political independence and sovereignty over its military in 1960. Since this time Madagascar has never engaged in an armed conflict, whether against another state or within its own borders. As such the armed forces of Madagascar have primarily served a peace-keeping role. However, the military has occasionally intervened to restore order during periods of political unrest. When President Philibert Tsiranana was forced to step down in 1972, a military directorate ensured an interim government before appointing one of its own, Admiral Didier Ratsiraka, to lead the country into its socialist Second Republic. Ratsiraka launched a strategy of obligatory national armed or civil service for all young citizens regardless of gender. The majority were channeled into civil service, including agriculture and education programs for rural development based on the socialist Soviet model.[40] He would furthermore mobilize elements of the military to pacify unarmed protesters, occasionally using violent means. His order to fire upon unarmed protesters in 1989 was the catalyst for transition to the democratic Third Republic in 1992. The military remained largely neutral during the protracted standoff between incumbent Ratsiraka and challenger Marc Ravalomanana in the disputed 2001 presidential elections. By contrast, in 2009 a segment of the army defected to the side of Andry Rajoelina, then-mayor of Antananarivo, in support of his attempt to force President Ravalomanana from power. It is widely believed that payoffs were involved in persuading these military personnel to change camps in support of the coup d'etat.[39]

As of 2010, the military of Madagascar is composed of the 8,100 paramilitary of the National Gendarmerie and the 13,500 members of the People's Armed Forces. According to the International Institute of Strategic Studies' Military Balance 2010, the latter includes an Army of 12,500, a Navy of 500 and a 500-strong Air Force,[41] while the CIA Factbook describes the People's Armed Forces as consisting of the Intervention Force, Aeronaval Force (navy and air) and the Development Force. Military service is voluntary and limited to males aged 18 to 25; every citizen of either gender is required to have perform either military or civil service for a minimum of 18 months. The Gendarmerie recruits Malagasy citizens between the ages of 20 and 30 (or 35 if the recruit has prior military service). Military expenses constituted just over one percent of GDP.[42] Under Ravalomanana, military expenditure doubled from 54 million USD in 2006 to 103 million USD in 2008.[43]


Although the head of state since March 2009 is self-proclaimed, Madagascar is usually a semi-presidential representative democratic multi-party republic, wherein the popularly elected President is the head of state and selects a Prime Minister to form a government. In the Malagasy system, the word government refers collectively to the President, the Prime Minister and all the heads of government ministries (Ministers), the latter being selected by the Prime Minister but serving at the pleasure of the President. According to the constitution, executive power is exercised by the government while legislative power is vested in both the government and the Senate and the National Assembly, although in reality these two latter bodies have very little power or legislative role. The constitution declares the judiciary to be independent of the executive and the legislature, but constitutional provisions empowering the Minister of Justice to interfere in operations of the judiciary branch effectively undermine intended separation of powers, consolidating the strength of the executive branch.

The political situation in Madagascar has been marked by struggle for control. After Madagascar gained independence from France in 1960, assassinations, military coups and disputed elections featured prominently. Didier Ratsiraka took power in a military coup in 1975 and ruled until 2001,[44] with a short break when he was ousted in the early 1990s. When Marc Ravalomanana and Ratsiraka both claimed victory after presidential elections in December 2001, Ratsiraka's supporters tried to blockade the capital, Antananarivo, which was pro-Ravalomanana. After eight months of sporadic violence with considerable economic disruption,[44] a recount in April 2002 led the High Constitutional Court to pronounce Ravalomanana president, but it was not until July that Ratsiraka fled to France and Ravalomanana gained control of the country.[45]

Internal conflict in Madagascar had been minimal in the years that followed, and since 2002 Ravalomanana and his party, Tiako-I-Madagasikara (TIM), have dominated political life. In an attempt to restrict the power and influence of the president, the prime minister and the 150-seat parliament have been given greater power in recent years.

Tension since was generally associated with elections. A presidential election took place in December 2006 with some protests over worsening standards of living, despite a government drive to eradicate poverty.[46] Calls by a retired army general in November 2006 for Ravalomanana to step down were said to have been 'misinterpreted' as a coup attempt.

A series of protests against then-President Marc Ravalomanana in 2009, backed by Andry Rajoelina, former mayor of Antananarivo, became violent, with more than 170 people killed.[47] Rajoelina mobilized his supporters to take to the streets of Antananarivo to demand Ravalomanana's ousting on the grounds of his autocratic style of government.[48] After losing support of the military and under intense pressure from Rajoelina, President Ravalomanana resigned on 17 March 2009. Ravalomanana assigned his powers to a military council loyal to himself headed by Vice-Admiral Hyppolite Ramaroson.[49] The military called the move by Ravalomanana a "ploy"[49] and said that it would support Rajoelina as leader.[50] Rajoelina had already declared himself the new leader a month earlier and assumed the role of acting President, appointing Monja Roindefo as Prime Minister.[51] Rajoelina announced that elections would be held in two years and that the constitution would be amended.[50]

The European Union, amongst other international entities, refused to recognize the new government, due to it being installed by force.[52] The African Union, which proceeded to suspend Madagascar's membership on 20 March[53] and the Southern Africa Development Community both criticized the forced resignation of Ravalomanana.[50] United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's spokesperson said he was "gravely concerned about the evolving developments in Madagascar".[54]

Foreign relations

Madagascar was historically perceived as being on the margin of mainstream African affairs despite being a founding member of the Organisation of African Unity, which was founded in 1963. President Albert Zafy, taking office in 1993, expressed his desire for diplomatic relations with all countries. Early in his tenure, he established formal ties with South Korea and sent emissaries to Morocco.

Starting in 1997, globalisation encouraged the government and President Ratsiraka to adhere to market-oriented policies and to engage world markets. External relations reflect this trend, although Madagascar's physical isolation and strong traditional insular orientation have limited its activity in regional economic organizations and relations with its East African neighbours. It enjoys closer and generally good relations with its Indian Ocean neighbours – Mauritius, Réunion and Comoros. Active relationships with Europe, especially France, Germany, and Switzerland, as well as with Britain, Russia, Japan, India and China have been strong since independence. More recently, President Ravalomanana has cultivated strong links with the United States, and Madagascar was the first country to benefit from the Millennium Challenge Account. Madagascar is a member of the International Criminal Court with a Bilateral Immunity Agreement of protection for the United States military (as covered under Article 98). Numerous countries have established and maintain a diplomatic presence in Madagascar.

The Organisation of African Unity dissolved in 2002 and was replaced by the African Union. Madagascar was not permitted to attend the first African Union summit because of a dispute over the results of the election in December 2001, but rejoined the African Union in July 2003 after a 14-month hiatus triggered by the 2002 political crisis. However, Madagascar was suspended again by the African Union in March 2009 because of ongoing political crisis.[55]

During his presidency, Marc Ravalomanana traveled widely promoting Madagascar abroad and consciously sought to strengthen relations with Anglophone countries as a means of balancing traditionally strong French influence. He also cultivated strong ties with China during his tenure.

In November 2004, after an absence of almost 30 years, Madagascar re-opened its embassy in London. On 15 December 2004 Foreign Secretary Jack Straw announced the closure of the British embassy in Antananarivo to save £250,000 per year. He also announced an end to the government's aid to Madagascar. The embassy closed in August 2005. The British Embassy was previously closed (also for financial reasons) from 1975 to 1980. The Anglo-Malagasy Society are campaigning to have it re-opened.

Human rights

Human rights in Madagascar are protected under the constitution. However the extent to which such rights are reflected in practice, is subject to debate. The 2009 Human Rights Report by the United States Department of State noted concerns regarding the suspension of democratic electoral processes as the result of recent political unrest.[56] Furthermore, reports of corruption, arbitrary arrest, widespread underage prostitution and child labor highlight the prevalence of human rights issues in the country.[56][57] Accusations of media censorship have risen since 2009 due to the allegedly increasing restrictions on the coverage of government opposition.[58]


Antananarivo is the political and economic capital of Madagascar

Madagascar's sources of growth are tourism, textile and light manufacturing exports (notably through the EPZs), agricultural products, and mining. Madagascar is the world's leading producer of vanilla and accounts for about half the world's export market. Tourism targets the niche eco-tourism market, capitalizing on Madagascar's unique biodiversity, unspoiled natural habitats, national parks and lemur species. Exports from the EPZs, located around Antananarivo and Antsirabe, comprise the majority of garment manufacture, targeting the US market under AGOA and the European markets under the Everything But Arms (EBA) agreement. Agricultural exports consist of low-volume high-value products like vanilla, lychees and essential oils. A small but growing part of the economy is based on mining of ilmenite, with investments emerging in recent years, particularly near Tulear and Fort Dauphin.[59]

Natural resources

Autoclave enters Madagascar, 2008, as part of new mining operation

Madagascar's natural resources include a variety of unprocessed agricultural and mineral resources. Key agricultural resources include vanilla, lychees and shrimp. Key mineral resources include various types of precious and semi-precious stones, ilmenite and petrol. Several major projects are underway in the mining and oil and gas sectors that, if successful, will give a significant boost to the Malagasy economy. In the mining sector, these include the development of coal at Sakoa and nickel near Tamatave. In oil, Madagascar Oil is developing the massive onshore heavy oil field at Tsimiroro and ultra heavy oil field at Bemolanga. Mining corporation Rio Tinto Group began operations near Fort Dauphin in 2008, following several years of infrastructure preparation. The mining project is highly controversial, with Friends of the Earth and other environmental organizations filing reports to detail their concerns about effects on the local environment and communities.[60]


International trade

Agriculture, including fishing and forestry, is a mainstay of the economy. Major exports are coffee, vanilla (Madagascar is the world's largest producer and exporter of vanilla), sugarcane, cloves, cocoa, rice, cassava (tapioca), beans, bananas, peanuts and livestock products. Vanilla has historically been of particular importance, and when in 1985 Coca-cola switched to New Coke which involved less vanilla, Madagascar's economy took a marked downturn but returned to previous levels after the return of Coke Classic.[61]

Domestic economy


Embroidered table cloths are produced for sale to tourists at Nosy Komba.

Economic development

Structural reforms began in the late 1980s, initially under pressure from international financial institutions, notably the World Bank. An initial privatization program (1988–1993) and the development of an export processing zone regime in the early 1990s were key milestones in this effort. A period of significant stagnation from 1991 to 1996 was followed by five years of solid economic growth and accelerating foreign investment. Although structural reforms advanced, governance remained weak, and perceived political corruption was high. During the period of solid growth from 1997 to 2001, poverty levels remained high, especially in rural areas.

A six-month political crisis triggered by a dispute over the outcome of the presidential elections held in December 2001 virtually halted economic activity in much of the country in the first half of 2002. Real GDP dropped 12.7% for the year 2002, inflows of foreign investment dropped sharply, and the crisis tarnished Madagascar's budding reputation as an AGOA standout and a promising place to invest. After the crisis, the economy rebounded with GDP growth of over 10% in 2003. Currency depreciation and rising inflation in 2004 have hampered economic performance, but growth for the year reached 5.3%, with inflation reaching around 25% at the end of the year. In 2005 inflation was brought under control by tight monetary policy of raising the Taux Directeur (central bank rate) to 16% and tightening reserve requirements for banks. Thus growth was expected to reach around 6.5% in 2005.

Following the 2002 political crisis, the government attempted to set a new course and build confidence, in coordination with international financial institutions and donors. Madagascar developed a recovery plan in collaboration with the private sector and donors and presented it at a "Friends of Madagascar" conference organized by the World Bank in Paris in July 2002. Donor countries demonstrated their confidence in the new government by pledging $1 billion in assistance over five years. The Malagasy Government identified road infrastructure as its principle priority and underlined its commitment to public-private partnership by establishing a joint public-private sector steering committee.

Rice paddies in Madagascar

In 2000, Madagascar embarked on the preparation of a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. The boards of the IMF and World Bank agreed in December 2000 that the country had reached the decision point for debt relief under the HIPC Initiative and defined a set of conditions for Madagascar to reach the completion point. In October 2004, the boards of the IMF and the World Bank determined that Madagascar had reached the completion point under the enhanced HIPC Initiative.

The Madagascar-U.S. Business Council was formed as a collaboration between the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Malagasy artisan producers in Madagascar in 2002.[62] The U.S.-Madagascar Business Council was formed in the United States in May 2003, and the two organisations continue to explore ways to work for the benefit of both groups.

The government of President Ravalomanana aggressively sought foreign investment and attempted to tackle many of the obstacles to such investment, including combating corruption, reforming land-ownership laws, encouraging study of American and European business techniques, and active pursuit of foreign investors. President Ravalomanana rose to prominence through his agro-foods TIKO company, and attempted to apply many of the lessons learned in the world of business to running the government. In the latter half of his presidency, concerns arose about the conflict of interest between his policies and the activities of his firms. Most notable among them the preferential treatment for rice imports initiated by the government in late 2004 when responding to a production shortfall in the country.


Antananarivo, Madagascar

Madagascar's population is predominantly of mixed Austronesian (i.e. South-East Asian/Pacific Islander) and African origin.[63] Those who are visibly Austronesian in appearance and culture are the minority, found mostly in the highland regions. Recent DNA research shows that the Malagasy people are approximately of half Austronesian and half East African descent, although some Arab, Indian and European influence is present along the coast.[64]

Subsequent migrations from the East Indies and Africa consolidated this original mixture, and over a dozen distinct tribal groups emerged. Austronesian features are most predominant in the Merina (3 million); the coastal people (called côtiers) have relatively stronger African origins. The largest coastal groups are the Betsimisaraka (1.5 million) and the Tsimihety and Sakalava (700,000 each). The Vezo live in the southwest. Two of the southern tribes are the Antandroy and the Antanosy. Other tribes include Tankarana (northern tip), Sihanaka and Bezanozano (east), Tanala (south-east), An-Taimoro, Tambahoaka, Zafisoro, An-Taisaka and Timanambondro (south-east coast), and Mahafaly and Bara (south-west). Chinese and Indian minorities also exist, as well as Europeans, mostly French. In 1958, there were 68,430 European settlers living in Madagascar.[65] The number of Comorans residing in Madagascar was drastically reduced after anti-Comoran rioting in Mahajanga in 1976.[66]

During the French colonial administration (1895–1960) and some time after independence, people were officially classified in ethnic groups. This practice was abandoned in the first census (1975) after independence,[67] so any recent classification and figures for ethnic groups is an unofficial estimate. There is for instance no mention of ethnicity or religion in the national identity cards. Also, territorial divisions (provinces, regions) do not follow any ethnic division lines, despite an attempt by the colonial administration in the early 20th century. Ethnic divisions continue, and may cause violence, but their role is limited in today's society. Political tensions between the highlanders and coastal population periodically flare up into limited violent conflict.[68] Regional political parties are also rare, although some parties receive most of their support in certain areas.

The population has grown from 2.2 million in 1900 to 7.6 million in 1975.[69] Slavery was abolished in 1896, but many of the 500,000 liberated slaves remained in their former masters' homes as servants.[70]

Only two general censuses, 1975 and 1993, have been carried out after independence. In 1993 (last census) there were 18,497 foreign residents on Madagascar, or 0.15% of the population.


The fertility rate is at about 5 children per woman.[71] There are about 29 physicians per 100,000 persons.[71] Infant mortality was at 74 per 1,000 live births in 2005.[71] Life expectancy at birth was at 58.4 in the early 21st century.[71] Expenditure on health was US$29 in 2004.[71] Two-thirds of the population live below the international poverty line of US$1.25 per day.[72]


Recent education reforms have sought to transition from teacher-centered to learner-centered methods of instruction

Prior to the 19th century, all learning in Madagascar was informal and typically served to teach practical skills as well as social and cultural norms, including respect for ancestors and elders.[8] The first formal European-style school was established in 1818 on the east coast of Madagascar at Toamasina by members of the London Missionary Society (LMS). King Radama I (1810–1828) invited LMS missionaries to establish schools throughout Imerina to teach basic literacy and numeracy to the children of andriana (nobles) who would go on to serve as soldiers or royal aides. Because the missionaries insisted on using the Bible to teach literacy in support of their own agenda to spread Christianity, Radama's successor, Ranavalona I, expelled the missionaries and closed the schools in 1835.[73] This policy was reversed upon her death, and by the end of the 19th century Madagascar could boast the most developed and modern school system in pre-colonial Sub-Saharan Africa.[74]

Limited access and poor quality have plagued the schools of Madagascar from the colonial period to the present. During the post-colonial First Republic, a continued reliance on French nationals as teachers and French as the language of instruction created tension among those desiring a complete separation from the former colonial power. Consequently, under the socialist Second Republic, French instructors and other nationals were expelled, Malagasy was declared the language of instruction and a large cadre of young Malagasy were rapidly trained to teach at remote rural schools under the mandatory two-year national service policy. This policy, known as malgachization, coincided with a severe economic downturn and a dramatic decline in the quality of education; people schooled during this period generally failed to master the French language or many other subjects. Struggling in the competitive local employment market, most remained mired in deepening poverty as they were obliged to turn to low-paying jobs in the informal or black market. Excepting the brief presidency of Albert Zafy from 1992 to 1996, Ratsiraka remained in power from 1975 to 1999 and failed to achieve significant improvements in the sector throughout this time.

Education was prioritized under the Ravalomanana administration. During his first term, thousands of new schools and additional classrooms were constructed while many older buildings were renovated. Thousands of new teachers were recruited and trained. The minimum education standard for the recruitment of primary teachers was raised from a middle school leaving certificate (BEPC) to a high school leaving certificate (BAC). School supplies and uniforms were provided at public schools and official school fees were eliminated, although fees are still commonly charged by parent-teacher associations to pay the salaries of teachers hired locally when demand for education exceeds official capacity. Public expenditure on education was at 16.4% of total government expenditure in the 2000-2007 period with per-pupil expenditure at the primary level at about US$57.[71] As a result, primary school enrollment rates jumped from 63% in 2000 to 95% in 2005. Increased access has posed continuing challenges for quality, however, and Madagascar continues to have extremely high rates of grade repetition and student drop-out. Education policy in Ravalomanana's second term focused on quality issues, including a reformed teacher training program to support the transition from traditional didactic instruction to student-centered teaching methods to boost student learning and participation in the classroom.


Ethnic diversity

Malagasy ethnic groups

Following the arrival of Bantu-speaking migrants from East Africa, these newcomers intermixed with the original Austronesian population across the island, eventually settling into ethnic groups numbering from 16 to 20 or more according to various estimations. Today, the genetic makeup of the average Malagasy reflects an equal blend of south Borneo and East African origins,[75] although certain populations such as the predominantly Austronesian Merina or the partially Arab Antaimoro ethnic groups may deviate from this standard.

Malagasy Ethnic Groups
Peoples Regional concentration
Antankarana, Sakalava, Tsimihety Antsiranana Province
Sakalava, Vezo Mahajanga Province
Betsimisaraka, Sihanaka, Bezanozano Toamasina Province
Merina Antananarivo Province
Betsileo, Antaifasy, Antambahoaka, Antaimoro, Antaisaka, Tanala Fianarantsoa Province
Mahafaly, Antandroy, Antanosy people, Bara, Vezo Toliara Province


The Malagasy language is of Malayo-Polynesian origin and is generally spoken throughout the island. Madagascar is a francophone country, and French is spoken among the educated population. English, although still rare, is becoming more widely spoken, and in 2003 the government began a pilot project of introducing the teaching of English into the primary grades of 44 schools, with hopes of taking the project nationwide. Many Peace Corps volunteers are serving to further this effort and train teachers.

In the first Constitution of 1958, Malagasy and French were named the official languages of the Malagasy Republic.[76] No official languages were recorded in the Constitution of 1992. Instead, Malagasy was named the national language; however, many sources still claimed that Malagasy and French were official languages, as they were de facto. In April 2000, a citizen brought a legal case on the grounds that the publication of official documents in the French language only was unconstitutional. The High Constitutional Court observed in its decision[77] that, in the absence of a language law, French still had the character of an official language.

In the Constitution of 2007, Malagasy remained the national language while official languages were reintroduced: Malagasy, French, and English. The motivation for the inclusion of English was partly to improve relations with the neighbouring countries where English is used and partly to encourage foreign direct investment.[78] English was removed as an official language from the constitution approved by voters in the November referendum 2010. These results are not recognized by the political opposition or the international community, who cite lack of transparency and inclusiveness in the organization of the election by the High Transitional Authority.[79]


Approximately 50% of the country's population practice traditional religion, which tends to emphasize links between the living and the dead. The Merina in the highlands particularly tend to hold tightly to this practice. A powerful individual may establish a fady (taboo) in his or her lifetime that all their descendents or those of community members will be required to respect well after their death, meaning that when traveling in Madagascar it is advisable to seek out village elders or authorities and inquire into local fady in order not to inadvertently transgress and offend the local population. This veneration of ancestors has also led to the tradition of tomb building and the famadihana, a practice whereby a deceased family member's remains may be taken from the tomb to be periodically re-wrapped in fresh silk shrouds known as lamba before being replaced in the tomb.[80] The event is an occasion to celebrate the loved one's memory, reunite with family and community, and enjoy a festive atmosphere. Residents of surrounding villages are often invited to attend the party, where food and rum are often served and a hiragasy troupe or other musical entertainment is typically present.[81]

Roman Catholic cathedral in Antsirabe

About 45% of the Malagasy are Christian, divided almost evenly between Catholics and Protestants. In 1818 the London Missionary Society sent the first Christian missionaries to successfully install themselves on the island, building churches, translating the Bible into Malagasy language and winning over numerous converts. Beginning in 1835 Queen Ranavalona I vigorously persecuted early converts to Christianity in an attempt to halt European cultural and political influence on the island. In 1869 a successor, Queen Ranavalona II, converted the court to Christianity and encouraged Christian missionary activity, burning the sampy (royal idols) in a symbolic break with traditional beliefs.[82] Today, many Christians integrate their religious beliefs with traditional ones relating to honoring the ancestors. For instance, they may bless their dead at church before proceeding with traditional burial rites or invite a Christian minister to consecrate a famadihana (traditional reburial ceremony). Many of the Christian churches are influential in politics. The best example of this is the Malagasy Council of Churches comprising the four oldest and most prominent Christian denominations (Roman Catholic, Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar, Lutheran, and Anglican).

Muslims constitute 10-15% of the population of Madagascar.[83] Muslims are concentrated in the provinces of Mahajanga and Antsiranana (Diego Suarez). Muslims are divided between those of Malagasy ethnicity, Indians, Pakistanis and Comorians. The Arab and Somali Muslim traders who first brought Islam to Madagascar in the Middle Ages, although few in number compared to the Indonesians and Bantus, had a deep influence on the island and the coastal regions in particular.[84] The Malagasy names for seasons, months, days, and coins are Arabic in origin, as is the practice of circumcision, the communal grain pool, and different forms of salutation. The Antaimoro people of southeastern Madagascar claim to be direct descendants of early Arab immigrants, and over at least the past five hundred years, the acclaimed ombiasy (astrologers) of this ethnic group have served as privileged counselors to the nobles of various communities across the island.

Hinduism was introduced to Madagascar through Gujarati immigrants from the Saurashtra region of India. Most Hindus in Madagascar speak Gujarati or Hindi.

Culture and recreation

Malagasy culture reflects a blend of Southeast Asian, Arab, African and European influences.


Zébus of Madagascar

The zebu, or humped cattle, occupies an important place in traditional Malagasy culture. The animal can take on sacred importance and constitutes the wealth of the owner, a tradition originating on the African mainland.[85] Cattle rustling, originally a rite of passage for young men in the plains areas of Madagascar where the largest herds of cattle are kept, has become a dangerous and sometimes deadly criminal enterprise as herdsmen in the southwest attempt to defend their cattle with traditional spears against increasingly armed professional rustlers. Where African influences are strongest, as in the southern region around Tulear, wealth and social status are measured in cattle,[85] and the zebu can outnumber the inhabitants by two or three to one. Zebu are a popular motif on aloalo, the carved wooden poles that decorate tombs among some tribes in the southwestern part of the country.


Oral traditions

The country has rich oratory traditions in the form of hainteny, kabary and ohabolana.[86] An epic poem showcasing these traditions, the Ibonia, has been handed down over the centuries in several different forms across the island and offers insight into the diverse mythologies and beliefs of traditional Malagasy communities.[87] Storytelling and proverbs enabled traditional communities to express and preserve their histories and worldview and transmit it to future generations. The supernatural is featured in many of these stories, including witchcraft, the intercession of god or the ancestors, and the existence of a variety of fantastical creatures. Chief among these are the vazimba, the supposed first inhabitants of Madagascar who have in popular memory been transformed into capricious spirits that, if angered, will interfere in the lives of the living.[88]


Houses in Madagascar are typically four-sided with a peaked roof, in a style commonly seen in Southeast Asia, rather than the circular style of hut construction more commonly found in Eastern Africa. Malagasy architecture varies widely depending on locally available materials and practical needs. Most traditionally, homes are built from plant materials; this form of construction remains prevalent outside of the central Highlands and major urban areas. In the Highlands, houses are most often two-story brick structures, occasionally with pillars supporting a front veranda. Tombs are culturally significant in many regions and tend to utilize stone in their construction.[89]

The orientation and interior layout of homes in traditional communities often followed certain cosmological norms. This tradition has been increasingly abandoned over the past century, as has the use of traditional building materials among the upper classes for whom imported materials and foreign construction styles are associated with modernity and prestige.[90]

Two-story brick house with peaked roof and simple second-floor covered veranda supported by four equidistant pillars
Several large decoratively carved houses with peaked roofs made entirely of fitted wooden planks
Photograph of a small, one-room rectangular thatch hut with peaked roof
Typical brick houses near Antananarivo (left), Zafimaniry wooden houses (center) and coastal raffia houses (right).


Jaojoby performing salegy for an audience in Paris

Madagascar has a distinctive and rich musical heritage. The early Austronesian settlers brought with them the predecessor to the bamboo tube zither known as the valiha as well as other instruments that would form the basis for traditional Malagasy music in the Highlands.[91] The influence of Africans is evident in certain drumming and polyharmonic singing styles, particularly among the western and southern coastal communities, while the tendency toward minor chords in these regions reflects an Arab musical influence.[92] Europeans likewise contributed to Malagasy musical traditions, importing the guitar, accordion, piano and the instruments used in hiragasy performance including the violin, trumpet and clarinet.[93]


Voanjobory sy henakisoa is a common laoka made of bambara groundnut cooked with pork.

Rice forms the basis of every meal in most parts of the country as in Asia.[94] The dishes prepared to accompany the rice vary depending on local availability of food products and are known as laoka. Many of these dishes reflect the culinary influences of Indian, Chinese, French and other arrivals to the island. A wide variety of snacks and street foods are eaten, particularly mofo (fritter or cake-like treats).[95] In the arid south and west, rice may be supplanted by cassava (yuca), sweet potatoes and corn and supplemented with curdled or fresh zebu milk.[96]

Rum (toaka gasy) and betsabetsa are two forms of traditional spirits produced on the island. Wine and beer are also locally produced, as are cocoa, tea and coffee, the latter widely consumed throughout the island. Herbal teas, sodas and fruit juices are also popular drinks.[97]

Sport and recreation

Maraingy is a traditional sport popular in some coastal regions of Madagascar

A number of traditional pastimes have emerged in Madagascar. Maraingy, a type of hand-to-hand combat, is a popular spectator sport in coastal regions. It is traditionally practiced by men, but women have recently begun to participate. The wrestling of zebu is also practiced in many regions. In addition to sports, a wide variety of games are played. Fanorona is a board game that is associated with the Merina sovereigns and is widespread throughout the Highland regions. According to folk legend, the succession of King Andrianjaka after his father Ralambo was partially due to the unhealthy obsession that Andrianjaka's older brother may have had with playing fanorona to the detriment of his other responsibilities.

Western sports were introduced to Madagascar over the past two centuries. Football and rugby are especially popular. Pétanque, a French game similar to lawn bowling, is also widely played in urban areas and particularly throughout the Highlands. Madagascar has produced a world champion in pétanque.

Scouting is popular among boys and girls alike and is represented in Madagascar by its own local association.

See also


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  7. ^ University of Berkeley: Understanding Evolution (October 2009). "Where did all of Madagascar's species come from?". Archived from the original on March 19, 2011. http://www.webcitation.org/5xIlRolGu. Retrieved March 19, 2011. 
  8. ^ a b c Metz, Helen Chapin (1994). "Library of Congress Country Studies: Madagascar (Education)". Archived from the original on February 1, 2011. http://www.webcitation.org/5wBtCIo0q. Retrieved February 1, 2011. 
  9. ^ Benstead, Jonathan P.; Goodman, Steven D. (2003). The natural history of Madagascar. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-30306-3. 
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