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definitions - Madagascar

Madagascar (n.)

1.an island in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa; the 4th largest island in the world

2.a republic on the island of Madagascar; achieved independence from France in 1960

3.(MeSH)One of the Indian Ocean Islands off the southeast coast of Africa. Its capital is Antananarivo. It was formerly called the Malagasy Republic. Discovered by the Portuguese in 1500, its history has been tied predominantly to the French, becoming a French protectorate in 1882, a French colony in 1896, and a territory within the French union in 1946. The Malagasy Republic was established in the French Community in 1958 but it achieved independence in 1960. Its name was changed to Madagascar in 1975. (From Webster's New Geographical Dictionary, 1988, p714)

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see also - Madagascar

Madagascar (n.)

Madagascan, Madegascan


analogical dictionary

Indian Ocean[Situé]

Madagascar (n.) [géographie]

Madagascar (n.)



Republic of Madagascar
Repoblikan'i Madagasikara
République de Madagascar
Flag Seal
Motto: Fitiavana, Tanindrazana, Fandrosoana  (Malagasy)
Amour, patrie, progrès  (French)
"Love, Fatherland, Progress"
Anthem: "Ry Tanindrazanay malala ô!"
Oh, Beloved Land of our Ancestors!

Location of Madagascar
Location of Madagascar
(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[2]
Government Caretaker government
 -  President of the High Transitional Authority Andry Rajoelina
 -  Prime Minister Omer Beriziky[3]
Legislature Parliament
 -  Upper house Senate
 -  Lower house National Assembly
Independence from France 
 -  Date 26 June 1960 
 -  Total 587,041 km2 (47th)
226,597 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 0.009%
 -  2011[4] estimate 21,926,221 (53rd)
 -  1993 census 12,238,914 
 -  Density 35.2/km2 (174th)
91.1/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2011 estimate
 -  Total $20.400 billion[5] 
 -  Per capita $933[5] 
GDP (nominal) 2011 estimate
 -  Total $10.025 billion[5] 
 -  Per capita $458[5] 
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[6] (UTC+3)
Drives on the right
ISO 3166 code MG
Internet TLD .mg
Calling code +261[6]

Madagascar, officially the Republic of Madagascar (older name Malagasy Republic, Malagasy: Repoblikan'i Madagasikara [republiˈkʲan madaɡasˈkʲarə̥], French: République de Madagascar) is an island country located in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa. The nation comprises the island of Madagascar (the fourth-largest island in the world), as well as numerous smaller peripheral islands. Following the prehistoric breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana, Madagascar 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 90% of its wildlife is found nowhere else on Earth. The island's diverse ecosystems and unique wildlife are threatened by human settlement.

Initial human settlement of Madagascar occurred from 350 BCE and 550 CE by Austronesian peoples arriving on outrigger canoes from Borneo who were later joined around 1000 CE by Bantu migrants crossing the Mozambique Channel. Other groups continued to settle on Madagascar over time, each one making lasting contributions to Malagasy cultural life. The Malagasy ethnic group is often divided into eighteen or more sub-groups of which the largest are the Merina of the central highlands.

Until the late 18th century, the island of Madagascar was ruled by a fragmented assortment of shifting socio-political alliances. Beginning in the early 19th century, the majority of the island was united and ruled as the Kingdom of Madagascar by a series of Merina nobles. The monarchy collapsed when the island was conquered and absorbed into the French colonial empire in 1896, from which the island gained independence in 1960. The autonomous state of Madagascar has since undergone four major constitutional periods, termed Republics. Since 1992 the nation has officially been governed as a constitutional democracy from its capital at Antananarivo. However, in a popular uprising in 2009 the last elected president Marc Ravalomanana was made to resign and presidential power was transferred in March 2009 to Andry Rajoelina in a move widely viewed by the international community as a coup d'état.

In 2011, the population of Madagascar was estimated at around 21.9 million, 90% of whom live on less than two dollars per day. Malagasy and French are both official languages of the state. The majority of the population adheres to traditional beliefs or Christianity. Ecotourism and agriculture, paired with greater investments in education, health and private enterprise, are key elements of Madagascar's development strategy. Under Ravalomanana these investments produced substantial 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.[7] However, the island's appellation "Madagascar" is not of local origin but rather was popularized in the Middle Ages by Europeans.[8] 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 Somali port with which Polo had confused the island. On St. Laurence's Day in 1500, Portuguese explorer Diogo Dias landed on the island and christened it São Lourenço, 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.[9]


At 592,800 square kilometres (228,900 sq mi),[10] Madagascar is the world's 47th largest country[4] and the fourth largest island.[10] The country lies mostly between latitudes 12°S and 26°S, and longitudes 43°E and 51°E.[11] The prehistoric breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana separated the Madagascar-Antarctica-India landmass from the Africa-South America landmass around 135 million years ago. Madagascar later split from India about 88 million years ago, allowing plants and animals on the island to evolve in complete isolation.[12] Along the length of the eastern coast runs a narrow and steep escarpment containing much of the island's remaining tropical rain forest. To the west of this ridge lies a plateau region in the center of the island ranging in altitude from 750 to 1,500 m (2,460 to 4,920 ft) above sea level. These central highlands, traditionally the homeland of the Merina people and the location of their historic capital at Antananarivo, are the most densely populated part of the island and are characterized by terraced, rice-growing valleys lying between grassy, deforested hills. To the west of the highlands, the increasingly arid terrain gradually slopes down to the Mozambique Channel.[13]

Madagascar's highest peaks arise from three prominent highland massifs: Maromokotro 9,436 ft (2,876 m) on the Tsaratanana Massif is the island's highest point, followed by Boby Peak 2,658 m (8,720 ft) on the Andringitra Massif and Tsiafajavona 2,643 m (8,671 ft) on the Ankaratra Massif. To the east, 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 600 km (370 mi). 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 central plateau. The western coast features many protected harbors, but silting is a major problem caused by sediment from the high levels of inland erosion carried by rivers crossing the broad western plains.[14]

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
White sand beach lined with palm trees along a turquoise sea
The diversity of the Madagascan landscape (left to right): 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, the spiny forests of the south and the Indian Ocean coastline.


The combination of southeastern trade winds and northwestern monsoon winds produce a hot rainy season (November—April) with frequently destructive cyclones, and a relatively cooler dry season (May—October). Rain clouds originating over the Indian Ocean discharge much of their moisture over the island's eastern coast, where the heavy precipitation supports the area's rain forest ecosystem. The central highlands are both drier and cooler while the west is drier still, with high aridity in the southwest and southern interior of the island where a semi-desert climate prevails.[13] Tropical cyclones annually cause damage to infrastructure and local economies as well as loss of life.[15] In 2004 Cyclone Gafilo became the strongest cyclone ever recorded to hit Madagascar. The storm killed 172 people, left 214,260 homeless[16] and caused over 250 million USD in damage.


  The island's iconic traveler's palm (ravenala) features in the national emblem.

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.[17][18] Approximately 90% of all plant and animal species found in Madagascar are endemic,[19] including the lemurs (a type of prosimian primate), the carnivorous fossa and many avian species. This distinctive ecology has led some ecologists to refer to Madagascar as the "eighth continent",[20] and the island has been classified by Conservation International as a biodiversity hotspot.[17]

Over 80% of Madagascar's 14,883 plant species are found nowhere else in the world, including five plant families that are only found on the island.[21] The plant family Didiereaceae, composed of four genera and 11 species, is limited to the spiny forests of southwestern Madagascar.[13] Four-fifths of the world's Pachypodium species are endemic to the island.[22] Three-fourths[23] of Madagascar's 860[21] orchid species are found here alone, as are six of the world's eight baobab species.[24] 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.[23] Many native plant species are used as effective herbal remedies for a variety of afflictions. This includes the Madagascar periwinkle, from which the drugs vinblastine and vincristine have been derived to effectively treat Hodgkin's disease, leukemia and other cancers.[25] The traveler's palm, endemic to the eastern rain forests,[26] is highly iconic of Madagascar and is featured in the national emblem as well as the Air Madagascar logo.[27]

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.[28]

Like its flora, Madagascar's fauna is diverse and exhibits a high rate of endemism. Lemurs have been characterized as "Madagascar's flagship mammal species" by Conservation International.[17] 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 were officially 99 species and subspecies of lemur, 39 of which have been described by zoologists between 2000 and 2008.[29] They are almost all classified as rare, vulnerable, or endangered. At least 17 species of lemur have become extinct since man arrived on Madagascar, all of which were larger than the surviving lemur species.[30]

The biodiversity of fauna in Madagascar extends beyond prosimians to the wider animal population. A number of other mammals, including the cat-like fossa, are endemic to Madagascar. Over 300 species of birds have been recorded on the island, of which over 60% (including four families and 42 genera) are endemic.[17] 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[31] (including one endemic family).[17] The island is home to two-thirds of the world's chameleon species,[31] including the smallest one known to date,[32] and researchers have proposed that Madagascar may represent the origin of all chameleon species. Endemic fishes on Madagascar include two families, 14 genera and over 100 species, primarily inhabiting the island's freshwater lakes and rivers. Although invertebrate species remain poorly studied on Madagascar relative to other wildlife, researchers have found high rates of endemism among the known species. All 651 species of terrestrial snail are endemic, as are a majority of the island's butterflies, scarab beetles, lacewings, spiders and dragonflies.[17]

Environmental challenges

Madagascar's varied fauna and flora are endangered by human activity.[33] Since the arrival of humans around 2,350 years ago, Madagascar has lost more than 90% of its original forest.[34] Key contributors to the loss of forest cover include the use of coffee as a cash crop,[35] illegal logging, and slash-and-burn activities, locally called tavy. This traditional practice was imported to Madagascar by the earliest settlers and has strong cultural meaning, in addition to its practical value as an agricultural technique.[36]

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. This process is exemplified by the extinction of the elephant bird, an endemic giant ratite that was once the world's largest bird. This species, whose average height was over 3 metres (10 ft), has been extinct since at least the 17th century, most likely due to human hunting of adult birds and poaching of their large eggs for food.[37] Numerous extinct giant 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 become extinct over the course of the centuries, as a growing population put greater pressures on lemur habitats and, among some populations, increased the rate of lemur hunting for food.[38]

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 (6,600 sq mi) to over 60,000 km2 (23,000 sq mi) (an increase from 3% to 10% of Madagascar's area). As of 2011, areas protected by the state included five Strict Nature Reserves (Réserves Naturelles Intégrales), 21 Wildlife Reserves (Réserves Spéciales) and 21 National Parks (Parcs Nationaux).[39] In 2007 six of the national parks were declared a joint World Heritage Site under the name Rainforests of the Atsinanana. These six parks are Marojejy, Masoala, Ranomafana, Zahamena, Andohahela and Andringitra.[40] Local timber merchants 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.[41] To raise public awareness of Madagascar's environmental challenges, the Wildlife Conservation Society opened an exhibit entitled "Madagascar!" in June 2008 at the Bronx Zoo in New York.[42]


Early period

  Malagasy ancestry reflects a blend of Southeast Asian and East African roots

Most archaeologists estimate that the earliest settlers arrived in outrigger canoes from southern Borneo in successive waves throughout the period between 350 BCE and 550 CE, making Madagascar one of the last major landmasses on Earth to be settled by humans.[43] Upon arrival, early settlers practiced slash-and-burn agriculture to clear the coastal rainforests for cultivation. The first settlers encountered Madagascar's abundance of megafauna, including giant lemurs, elephant birds, giant fossa and the Malagasy hippopotamus, which have since become extinct due to hunting and habitat destruction.[44] By 600 CE groups of these early settlers had begun clearing the forests of the central highlands.[45] Arabs first reached the island between the seventh and ninth centuries,[46] and a wave of Bantu-speaking East African migrants arrived around 1000 CE and introduced zebu which were kept in large herds.[36]

Irrigated rice paddies emerged in the central highland Betsileo Kingdom by 1600 and were extended with terraced paddies throughout the neighboring Kingdom of Imerina a century later.[45] The rising intensity of land cultivation and the ever-increasing demand for zebu pasturage in the central highlands had largely transformed the central highlands from a forest ecosystem to grassland by the 17th century.[36] The oral histories of the Merina people, who may have arrived in the central highlands between 400 and 1000 years ago, describe encountering an established population they called the Vazimba. Probably the descendants of an earlier and less technologically advanced Austronesian settlement wave, the Vazimba were expelled from the highlands by Merina kings Andriamanelo, Ralambo and Andrianjaka in the 16th and early 17th centuries.[47] Today the spirits of the Vazimba are revered as tompontany (ancestral masters of the land) by many traditional Malagasy communities.[48]

  Pirate cemetery at Île Sainte-Marie

Madagascar was an important transoceanic trading hub connecting ports of the Indian Ocean in the early centuries following human settlement. The written history of Madagascar began with the Arabs, who established trading posts along the northwest coast by at least the 10th century 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.[15] European contact began in 1500, when the Portuguese sea captain Diogo Dias sighted the island.[10] The French established trading posts along the east coast in the late 17th century.

From about 1774 to 1824, Madagascar gained prominence among pirates and European traders, particularly those involved in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The small island of Nosy Boroha off the northeastern coast of Madagascar has been proposed by some historians as the site of the legendary pirate utopia of Libertalia.[49] Many European sailors were shipwrecked on the coasts of the island, among them Robert Drury, whose journal is one of the few written depictions of life in southern Madagascar during the 18th century.[50] The wealth generated by maritime trade spurred the rise of organized kingdoms on the island, some of which had grown quite powerful by the 17th century.[51] 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, emerged at around the same time under the leadership of King Andriamanelo.[52]

Kingdom of Madagascar

  King Andrianampoinimerina (1787–1810)

Upon its emergence in the early 17th century, the highland kingdom of Imerina was initially a minor power relative to the larger coastal kingdoms[52] and grew even weaker in the early 18th century when King Andriamasinavalona divided it among his four sons. Following a century of warring and famine, Imerina was reunited in 1793 by King Andrianampoinimerina (1787–1810).[53] From his initial capital Ambohimanga, and later from the Rova of Antananarivo, this Merina king rapidly expanded his rule over neighboring principalities, with the intention of bringing the entire island under his control,[54] an ambition largely achieved by his son and successor, King Radama I (1810–1828). Radama concluded a treaty in 1817 with the British governor of Mauritius to abolish the lucrative slave trade in return for British military and financial assistance. Artisan missionary envoys from the London Missionary Society began arriving in 1818 and included such key figures as James Cameron, David Jones and David Griffiths, who established schools, transcribed the Malagasy language using the Roman alphabet, translated the Bible, and introduced a variety of new technologies to the island.[55]

Radama's successor, Queen Ranavalona I (1828–1861), responded to increasing political and cultural encroachment on the part of Britain and France by issuing a royal edict prohibiting the practice of Christianity in Madagascar and pressuring most foreigners to leave the territory. Among those who continued to reside in Imerina were Jean Laborde, an entrepreneur who developed munitions and other industries on behalf of the monarchy, and Joseph-François Lambert, with whom then-Prince Radama II signed a controversial trade agreement termed the Lambert Charter. Succeeding his mother, Radama II (1861–1863) attempted to relax the queen's stringent policies, but was overthrown two years later by Prime Minister Rainivoninahitriniony (1852–1865) and an alliance of noble courtiers, who sought to end the absolute power of the monarch.[15] Following the coup, the courtiers offered Radama's queen Rasoherina (1863–1868) the opportunity to rule, if she would accept a power sharing arrangement with the Prime Minister—a new social contract that would be sealed by a political marriage between them.[56] Queen Rasoherina accepted, first wedding Rainivoninahitriniony, then later deposing him and wedding his brother, Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony (1864–1895), who would go on to marry Queen Ranavalona II (1868–1883) and Queen Ranavalona III (1883–1897) in succession.[57]

Over the course of Rainilaiarivony's 31-year tenure as Prime Minister, numerous policies were adopted to modernize and consolidate the power of the central government.[58] Schools were constructed throughout the island and attendance was made mandatory. Army organization was improved, and British consultants were employed to train and professionalize soldiers.[59] Polygamy was outlawed and Christianity, declared the official religion of the court in 1869, was adopted alongside traditional beliefs among a growing portion of the populace.[58] Legal codes were reformed on the basis of British Common Law and three European-style courts were established in the capital city.[59] In his joint role as Commander-in-Chief, Rainilaiarivony also successfully ensured the defense of Madagascar against several French colonial incursions.[59]

French colonization

Primarily on the basis that the Lambert Charter had not been respected, France invaded Madagascar in 1883 in what became known as the first Franco-Hova War.[60] At the war's end, Madagascar ceded the northern port town of Antsiranana (Diego Suarez) to France and paid 560,000 francs to Lambert's heirs.[61] In 1890, the British accepted the full formal imposition of a French protectorate on the island, but French authority was not acknowledged by the government of Madagascar. To force capitulation, the French bombarded and occupied the harbor of Toamasina on the east coast, and Mahajanga on the west coast, in December 1894 and January 1895 respectively.[62] A French military flying column then marched toward Antananarivo, losing many men to malaria and other diseases. Reinforcements came from Algeria and Sub-Saharan Africa. Upon reaching the city in September 1895, the column bombarded the royal palace with heavy artillery, causing heavy casualties and leading Queen Ranavalona III to surrender.[63] France annexed Madagascar in 1896 and dissolved the 103-year-old Merina monarchy, sending the royal family into exile on Reunion Island and in Algeria.[64]

Under colonial rule, plantations were established for the production of a variety of export crops.[65] Slavery was abolished in 1896, but many of the 500,000 liberated slaves remained in their former masters' homes as servants.[66] Wide paved boulevards and gathering places were constructed in the capital city of Antananarivo[67] and the Rova palace compound was turned into a museum.[68] Additional 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.[69] The Merina royal tradition of taxes paid in the form of labor was continued under the French and used to construct a railway and roads linking key coastal cities to Antananarivo.[70] Malagasy troops fought for France in World War I.[10] In the 1930s the island was identified by Nazi leadership as a potential site for the deportation of Europe's Jews,[71] and during the Second World War was the site of a battle between the Vichy government and the British.[72] The occupation of France during the Second World War tarnished the prestige of the colonial administration in Madagascar and galvanized the growing independence movement, leading to the Malagasy Uprising of 1947.[73] This movement led the French to establish reformed institutions in 1956 under the Loi Cadre (Overseas Reform Act), and Madagascar moved peacefully towards independence. In 1958, there were 68,430 European settlers living in Madagascar.[74] The Malagasy Republic was proclaimed on 14 October 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 26 June 1960.[75]

Independent state

Since regaining independence, Madagascar has transitioned through four republics with corresponding revisions to its constitution. The First Republic (1960–1972), under the leadership of French-appointed President Philibert Tsiranana, was characterized by a continuation of strong economic and political ties to France.[15] Many high-level technical positions were filled by French expatriates, and French teachers, textbooks and curricula continued to be used in schools around the country. Popular resentment over Tsiranana's tolerance for this "neo-colonial" arrangement inspired a series of student protests that overturned his administration in 1972.

Gabriel Ramanantsoa, a Major General in the army, was appointed interim President and Prime Minister that same year, but low public approval forced him to step down in 1975. Colonel Richard Ratsimandrava was appointed to succeed him but was assassinated six days into his tenure. General Gilles Andriamahazo ruled after him for four months before being replaced by another military appointee: Vice Admiral Didier Ratsiraka, who ushered in the socialist-Marxist Second Republic that ran under his tenure from 1975 to 1993. This period saw a political alignment with the Eastern Bloc countries and a shift toward economic insularity. These policies, coupled with economic pressures stemming from the 1973 oil crisis, resulted in the rapid collapse of Madagascar's economy and a sharp decline in living standards.[15]

Ratsiraka's dwindling popularity in the late 1980s reached a critical point when presidential guards opened fire on unarmed protesters during a rally in 1991. Within two months, a transitional government had been established under the leadership of Albert Zafy (1993–1996), who went on to win the 1992 presidential elections and inaugurate the Third Republic (1992–2010).[76] The new constitution established a multi-party democracy and a separation of powers that placed significant control in the hands of the National Assembly. The new constitution also emphasized human rights, social and political freedoms, and free trade for economic development.[15] Zafy's term, however, was marred by economic decline, allegations of corruption, and his introduction of legislation to give himself greater powers. He was consequently impeached in 1996, and an interim president, Norbert Ratsirahonana, was appointed for the three months prior to the next presidential election. Ratsiraka was then voted back into power on a platform of decentralization and economic reforms, but only gradual progress was made during his second tenure, which lasted from 1996 to 2001.[77]

The contested 2001 presidential elections in which then-mayor of Antananarivo, Marc Ravalomanana, eventually emerged victorious, caused a seven-month standoff in 2002 between supporters of Ravalomanana and Ratsiraka. The negative economic impact of the political crisis was gradually overcome by Ravalomanana's progressive economic and political policies, which encouraged investments in education and ecotourism, facilitated foreign direct investment, and cultivated trading partnerships both regionally and internationally. National GDP grew at an average rate of 7% per year under his administration. In the later half of his second term, Ravalomanana was criticised by domestic and international observers who accused him of increasing authoritarianism and corruption.[77]

Opposition leader and then-mayor of Antananarivo, Andry Rajoelina, led a movement in early 2009 in which Ravalomanana was pushed from power in an unconstitutional process widely condemned as a coup d'état. In March 2009, Rajoelina was declared by the Supreme Court as the President of the High Transitional Authority, an interim governing body responsible for moving the country toward presidential elections. In 2010, a new constitution was adopted by referendum, establishing a Fourth Republic, which sustained the democratic, multi-party structure established in the previous constitution. By early 2012, a fixed date for presidential elections had not been set by the Rajoelina administration.[76]



  Antananarivo is the political and economic capital of Madagascar.

Madagascar is a semi-presidential representative democratic multi-party republic, wherein the popularly elected president is the head of state and selects a prime minister, who recommends candidates to the president to form his cabinet of ministers. According to the constitution, executive power is exercised by the government while legislative power is vested in the ministerial cabinet, the Senate and the National Assembly, although in reality these two latter bodies have very little power or legislative role. The constitution establishes independent executive, legislative and judicial branches and mandates a popularly elected president limited to three five-year terms.[10]

The last presidential election was held on 3 December 2006 and resulted in the re-election of Marc Ravalomanana, from whom executive power was unconstitutionally transferred to Andry Rajoelina in March 2009. There is currently no legitimately elected head of state in Madagascar. The public also elects the 127 members of the National Assembly to five-year terms. The last National Assembly election was held on 23 September 2007. All 33 members of the Senate serve six year terms, with 22 senators elected by local officials and 11 appointed by the president. After taking power, Rajoelina dissolved both the National Assembly and the Senate, leaving the nation without a constitutional legislative body.[10] At the local level, the island's 22 provinces are administered by a governor and provincial council. Provinces are further sub-divided into regions and communes. The judiciary is modeled on the French system, with a High Constitutional Court, High Court of Justice, Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, criminal tribunals, and tribunals of first instance.[78]

Antananarivo is the administrative capital and largest city of Madagascar.[10] It is located in the highlands region, near the geographic center of the island. King Andrianjaka founded Antananarivo as the capital of his Imerina Kingdom around 1610 or 1625 upon the site of a captured Vazimba capital on the hilltop of Analamanga.[47] As Merina dominance expanded over neighboring Malagasy peoples in the early 19th century to establish the Kingdom of Madagascar, Antananarivo became the center of administration for virtually the entire island. In 1896 the French colonizers of Madagascar adopted the Merina capital as their center of colonial administration. The city remained the capital of Madagascar after independence, in 1960. In 2011, the capital's population was estimated at 1,300,000 inhabitants. By comparison, the next largest cities are Antsirabe (500,000), Toamasina (450,000) and Mahajanga (400,000).[10]

Administrative divisions

  Map of the regions and former provinces of Madagascar

As part of an effort to decentralize administration, Madagascar's six administrative provinces (faritany mizakatena), established under the French colonial authority in 1946,[79] were subdivided into 22 regions (faritra) in 2004. The regions became the highest subdivision level when the provinces were dissolved in accordance with the results of the 2007 referendum.[10] The regions are further subdivided into 119 districts, 1,579 communes, and 17,485 fokontany.[80]

Regions and former provinces[81]
New regions Former provinces Population 2004 estimate
Diana (1), Sava (2) Antsiranana 1,291,100
Itasy (3), Analamanga (4), Vakinankaratra (5), Bongolava (6)
Sofia (7), Boeny (8), Betsiboka (9), Melaky (10) Mahajanga 1,896,000
Alaotra Mangoro (11), Atsinanana (12), Analanjirofo (13) Toamasina 2,855,600
Amoron'i Mania (14), Haute-Matsiatra (15), Vatovavy-Fitovinany (16), Atsimo-Atsinanana (17), Ihorombe (18)
Fianarantsoa 3,730,200
Menabe (19), Atsimo-Andrefana (20), Androy (21), Anosy (22) Toliara 2,430,100


The political situation in Madagascar has been marked by struggle for control. Since Madagascar gained independence from France in 1960, the island's political transitions have been marked by numerous popular protests, several disputed elections, an impeachment, two military coups and one assassination. The island's recurrent political crises are often prolonged, with detrimental effects on the local economy, international relations and Malagasy living standards. The eight-month standoff between incumbent Ratsiraka and challenger Marc Ravalomanana, following the 2001 presidential elections, cost Madagascar millions of dollars in lost tourism and trade revenue as well as damage to infrastructure, such as bombed bridges and buildings damaged by arson.[82] A series of protests led by Andry Rajoelina against Ravalomanana in early 2009 became violent, with more than 170 people killed.[83] The installation of Rajoelina's transitional regime has, since March 2009, caused many bilateral donors and intergovernmental organizations to freeze aid and suspend regular diplomatic relations with Madagascar, causing economic development to stagnate and reversing many of the gains achieved under the previous administration. In addition, modern politics in Madagascar are colored by the history of Merina subjugation of coastal communities under their rule in the 19th century. The consequent tension between the highland and coastal populations has periodically flared up into isolated events of violence.[84]

Madagascar has historically been perceived as being on the margin of mainstream African affairs despite being a founding member of the Organisation of African Unity, which was established in 1963 and dissolved in 2002 to be 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.[85] Madagascar is a member of the International Criminal Court with a Bilateral Immunity Agreement of protection for the United States military.[10] Eleven countries have established embassies in Madagascar, including France, the United Kingdom, the United States, China and India.[86]

Human rights in Madagascar are protected under the constitution and the state is a signatory to numerous international agreements including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The extent to which such rights are reflected in practice remains open to debate. The 2010 Human Rights Report by the United States Department of State noted concerns over the suspension of democratic electoral processes following recent political unrest.[87] Furthermore, reports of corruption, arbitrary arrest, widespread underage prostitution and child labor have demonstrated the prevalence of human rights issues in the country.[88] Accusations of media censorship have arisen since 2009 due to the allegedly increasing restrictions on the coverage of opposition to the government.[87]


The rise of centralized kingdoms among the Sakalava, Merina and other ethnic groups produced the island's first standing armies by the 16th century, initially equipped with spears but later with muskets, cannon and other firearms.[89] By the early 19th century, the Merina sovereigns of the Kingdom of Madagascar had brought much of the island under their control by mobilizing an army of trained and armed soldiers numbering as high as 30,000.[90] French attacks on coastal towns in the later part of the century prompted then-Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony to solicit British assistance to provide training to the queen's army. Despite the training and leadership provided by British military advisers, the Malagasy army was unable to withstand French weaponry and was obliged to surrender following an attack on the royal palace at Antananarivo. Madagascar was declared a colony of France in 1897.[91]

The political independence and sovereignty of the Malagasy armed forces, which comprises an army, navy and air force, was restored with independence from France in 1960.[92] Since this time the Malagasy military has never engaged in armed conflict with another state or within its own borders, but has occasionally intervened to restore order during periods of political unrest. Under the socialist Second Republic, Admiral Didier Ratsiraka instated mandatory national armed or civil service for all young citizens regardless of gender, a policy that remained in effect from 1976 to 1991.[93][94] The armed forces are under the direction of the Minister of the Interior.[78] and have remained largely neutral during times of political crisis, as during the protracted standoff between incumbent Ratsiraka and challenger Marc Ravalomanana in the disputed 2001 presidential elections, when the military refused to intervene in favor of either candidate. This tradition was broken in 2009, when 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.[76]

The Minister of the Interior is also responsible for the national police force, paramilitary force (gendarmerie) and the secret police.[78] These bodies are stationed and administered at the local level. However, in 2009 fewer than one-third of all communes had access to the services of the national police or gendarmerie, with most lacking local-level headquarters for either corps.[80]


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

During Madagascar's First Republic, France heavily influenced Madagascar's economic planning and policy and served as its key trading partner. Key products were cultivated and distributed nationally through producers' and consumers' cooperatives. Government initiatives such as a rural development program and state farms were established to boost production of commodities such as rice, coffee, cattle, silk and palm oil. Popular dissatisfaction over these policies was a key factor in launching the socialist-Marxist Second Republic, in which the formerly private bank and insurance industries were nationalized; state monopolies were established for such industries as textiles, cotton and power; and import-export trade and shipping were brought under state control. Madagascar's economy quickly deteriorated as exports fell, industrial production dropped by 75%, inflation spiked and government debt increased; the rural population was soon reduced to living at subsistence levels. Over 50% of the nation's export revenues was spent on debt servicing.[14]

The IMF forced Madagascar's government to accept structural adjustment policies and liberalization of the economy when the state became bankrupt in 1982 and state-controlled industries were gradually privatized over the course of the 1980s. The political crisis of 1991 led to the suspension of IMF and World Bank assistance. Conditions for the resumption of aid were not met under Zafy, who tried unsuccessfully to attract other forms of revenue for the State before aid was once again resumed under the interim government established upon Zafy's impeachment. The IMF agreed to write off half Madagascar's debt in 2004 under the Ravalomanana administration. Having met a set of stringent economic, governance and human rights criteria, Madagascar became the first country to benefit from the Millennium Challenge Account in 2005.[10]

Madagascar's GDP in 2009 was estimated at 8.6 billion USD, with a per capita GDP of $438.[10] Approximately 69% of the population lives below the national poverty line threshold of one dollar per day.[95] The agriculture sector constituted 29% of Malagasy GDP in 2011, while manufacturing formed 15% of GDP. Madagascar's sources of growth are tourism, agriculture and the extractive industries.[96] Tourism focuses on the niche eco-tourism market, capitalizing on Madagascar's unique biodiversity, unspoiled natural habitats, national parks and lemur species.[97] An estimated 365,000 tourists visited Madagascar in 2008, but the sector has declined as a result of the political crisis with 180,000 tourists visiting in 2010.[96]

Natural resources and trade

  Toy animals made from raffia

Madagascar's natural resources include a variety of unprocessed agricultural and mineral resources. Agriculture, including raffia, fishing and forestry, is a mainstay of the economy. Madagascar is the world's principal supplier of vanilla, cloves and ylang-ylang.[16] Other key agricultural resources include coffee, lychees and shrimp. Key mineral resources include various types of precious and semi-precious stones, and Madagascar currently provides half of the world's supply of sapphires, which were discovered near Ilakaka in the late 1990s.[98] The island also holds one of the world's largest reserves of ilmenite (titanium ore), as well as important reserves of chromite, coal, iron, cobalt, copper and nickel.[14] Several major projects are underway in the mining, oil and gas sectors that are anticipated to give a significant boost to the Malagasy economy. These include such projects as coal mining at Sakoa and the extraction of nickel near Tamatave by Rio Tinto, as well as the development of the massive onshore heavy oil field at Tsimiroro and ultra heavy oil field at Bemolanga by Madagascar Oil.[99]

Exports formed 28% of GDP in 2009.[10] Most of the country's export revenue is derived from the textiles industry, fish and shellfish, vanilla, cloves and other foodstuffs.[96] The Madagascar-U.S. Business Council was formed in May 2003, as a collaboration between USAID and Malagasy artisan producers to support the export of local handicrafts to foreign markets.[100] France is Madagascar's main trading partner, although the United States, Japan and Germany also have strong economic ties to the country.[14] Imports of such items as foodstuffs, fuel, capital goods, vehicles, consumer goods and electronics consume an estimated 52% of GDP. The main sources of Madagascar's imports include France, China, Iran, Mauritius and Hong Kong.[10]


Running water and electricity is supplied at the national level by a government service provider, Jirama, which is unable to service the entire population. As of 2009, only seven percent of Madagascar's 22 districts had access to water provided by Jirama, while nine percent had access to its electricity services. Mobile telephone and internet access are widespread in urban areas but remain limited in rural parts of the island. Approximately one-third of the districts are able to access the nations' several private telecommunications networks via mobile telephones or land lines.[80] Two-thirds of Madagascar's power is supplied by hydroelectric power plants with the remaining one-third supplied by coal-burning plants.[14]

In 2010, Madagascar had approximately 7,617 km (4,730 mi) of paved roads, 854 km (530 mi) of railways and 432 km (270 mi) of navigable waterways.[6] The majority of roads in Madagascar are unpaved, with many becoming impassable in the rainy season. Largely paved national routes connect the six largest regional towns to Antananarivo, with minor paved and unpaved routes providing access to other population centers in each district. There are several rail lines on the island. Antananarivo is connected to Toamasina, Ambatondrazaka and Antsirabe by rail, and another rail line connects Fianarantsoa to Manakara. The most important port in Madagascar is located on the east coast at Toamasina. The next largest is located at Mahajanga but is significantly less used.

The port at Antsiranana is considered one of the finest natural harbors in the world, although the volume of shipping through it is limited due to the town's remoteness and limited ground access to the capital. Air Madagascar services the island's many small regional airports, which offer the only practical means of access to many of the more remote regions of the island during rainy season road washouts.[15]


  Child immunization is rising

Medical centers, dispensaries and hospitals are found throughout the island, although they are concentrated in urban areas and particularly in Antananarivo. Access to medical care remains beyond the reach of many Malagasy. In addition to the high expense of medical care relative to the average Malagasy income, the prevalence of trained medical professionals remains extremely low. In 2010 Madagascar had an average of three hospital beds per 10,000 people and a total of 3,150 doctors, 5,661 nurses, 385 community health workers, 175 pharmacists and 57 dentists for a population of 21.9 million. 14.6% of government spending in 2008 was directed toward the health sector. Approximately 70% of spending on health was contributed by the government, while 30% originated with international donors and other private sources.[101] The government provides at least one basic health center per commune. Private health centers are concentrated within urban areas and particularly those of the central highlands.[80]

Despite these barriers to access, health services have shown a trend toward improvement over the past twenty years. Child immunizations against such diseases as hepatitis B, diphtheria and measles increased an average of 60% in this period, indicating low but increasing availability of basic medical services and treatments. The Malagasy fertility rate in 2009 was 4.6 children per woman, declining from 6.3 in 1990. Rapid population growth remains a challenge, however, with teen pregnancy rates of 14.8% in 2011 much higher than the African average.[101] In 2010 the maternal mortality rate was 440 per 100,000 births, compared to 373.1 in 2008 and 484.4 in 1990, indicating a decline in perinatal care following the 2009 coup. The infant mortality rate in 2011 was 41 per 1,000 births,[10] with an under-five mortality rate at 61 per 1,000 births.[102] Schistosomiasis, malaria and sexually transmitted diseases are common in Madagascar, although infection rates of AIDS remain low relative to many countries in mainland Africa, at only 0.2% of the adult population. The malaria mortality rate is also among the lowest in Africa at 8.5 deaths per 100,000 people, in part due to the highest frequency use of insecticide treated nets in Africa.[101] Adult life expectancy in 2009 was 63 years for men and 67 years for women.[101]


  Education access and quality were prioritized under Ravalomanana

Prior to the 19th century, all learning in Madagascar was informal and typically served to teach practical skills as well as social and cultural values, including respect for ancestors and elders.[15] The first formal European-style school was established in 1818 at Toamasina by members of the London Missionary Society (LMS), who were invited by King Radama I (1810–1828) to expand their schools throughout Imerina to teach basic literacy and numeracy to aristocratic children. The schools were closed by Ranavalona I in 1835[103] but reopened and expanded in the decades after her death. By the end of the 19th century Madagascar could boast the most developed and modern school system in pre-colonial Sub-Saharan Africa. Access to schooling was expanded in coastal areas during the colonial period, when French language and basic work skills were the focus of the curriculum. 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.[15] 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.[104] 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 2001 and failed to achieve significant improvements in the sector throughout this time.[105]

Education was prioritized under the Ravalomanana administration (2002–2009), and is currently free and compulsory from ages 6 to 13.[106] The primary schooling cycle is five years, followed by four years at the lower secondary level and three years at the upper secondary level.[15] During Ravalomanana's first term, thousands of new primary schools and additional classrooms were constructed, older buildings were renovated, and tens of thousands of new primary teachers were recruited and trained. Primary school fees were eliminated and kits containing basic school supplies were distributed to primary students.[106] Government school construction initiatives have ensured at least one primary school per fokontany and one lower secondary school within each commune. At least one upper secondary school is located in each of the larger urban centers.[80] The three branches of the national public university are located at Antananarivo (1961), Mahajanga (1977) and Fianarantsoa (1988). These are complemented by public teacher training colleges and several private universities and technical colleges.[15]

As a result of increased educational access, enrollment rates more than doubled between 1996 and 2006. Quality of education remains a challenge in Madagascar and student repetition and drop-out rates are high.[106] Education policy in Ravalomanana's second term focused on quality issues, including an increase in minimum education standards for the recruitment of primary teachers from a middle school leaving certificate (BEPC) to a high school leaving certificate (BAC), and 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.[107] Public expenditure on education was 13.4% of total government expenditure and 2.9% of GDP in 2008. Classroom overcrowding remains a challenge in Madagascar, where the 2008 pupil to teacher ratios were 47:1 at the primary level.[108]


Largest cities

Ethnic diversity

The Malagasy ethnic group forms over 90% of Madagascar's population and is divided into eighteen ethnic sub-groups.[10] Recent DNA research revealed that the genetic makeup of the average Malagasy person constitutes an approximately equal blend of Austronesian and East African genes,[109][110] although the genetics of some communities show a predominance of Austronesian or African origins or some Arab, Indian or European ancestry.[111] Austronesian origins are most predominant among the Merina of the central highlands,[84] who form the largest Malagasy ethnic sub-group at approximately 26% of the population, while certain communities among the coastal peoples (collectively called côtiers) have relatively stronger African origins. The largest coastal ethnic sub-groups are the Betsimisaraka (14.9%) and the Tsimihety and Sakalava (6% each).[15]

Malagasy ethnic groups 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

Chinese, Indian and Comorian minorities are present in Madagascar, as well as a small European (primarily French) expatriate community. Emigration in the late 20th century has reduced these minority populations, occasionally in abrupt waves, such as the exodus of Comorans in 1976, following anti-Comoran riots in Mahajanga.[15] By comparison, there has been no significant emigration of Malagasy peoples.[14] In the mid-1980s, the number of ethnic minorities in Madagascar was estimated at 25,000 Comorans, 18,000 French, 17,000 Indians, and 9,000 Chinese.[15]

The annual population growth rate in Madagascar was approximately 2.9% in 2009.[10] The population grew from 2.2 million in 1900[15] to an estimated 21.9 million in 2011.[4] Approximately 42.5% of the population is younger than 15 years of age, while 54.5% are between the ages of 15 and 64. Those aged 65 and older form three percent of the total population.[96] Only two general censuses, 1975 and 1993, have been carried out after independence. The most densely populated regions of the island are the eastern highlands and the eastern coast, contrasting most dramatically with the sparsely populated western plains.[15]


The Malagasy language is of Malayo-Polynesian origin and is generally spoken throughout the island. The numerous dialects of Malagasy, which are generally mutually intelligible,[112] can be clustered under one of two sub-groups: eastern Malagasy (spoken along the eastern forests and highlands, including the Merina dialect of Antananarivo) and western Malagasy, spoken across the western coastal plains. French became the official language, during the colonial period when Madagascar came under the authority of France. In the first national Constitution of 1958, Malagasy and French were named the official languages of the Malagasy Republic. Madagascar is a francophone country, and French is spoken among the educated population.[15]

No official languages were recorded in the Constitution of 1992, although Malagasy was identified as the national language. Nonetheless, many sources still claimed that Malagasy and French were official languages, eventually leading a citizen to initiate a legal case against the state in April 2000, on the grounds that the publication of official documents only in the French language was unconstitutional. The High Constitutional Court observed in its decision that, in the absence of a language law, French still had the character of an official language.[113] In the Constitution of 2007, Malagasy remained the national language while official languages were reintroduced: Malagasy, French, and English.[114] English was removed as an official language from the constitution approved by voters in the November referendum 2010.[1] The outcome of the referendum, and its consequences for official and national language policy, are not recognized by the political opposition or by the international community, who cite lack of transparency and inclusiveness in the organization of the election by the High Transitional Authority.[76]


  Famadihana reburial ceremony

Approximately half of the country's population practice traditional religion,[10] which tends to emphasize links between the living and the razana (ancestors). The veneration of ancestors has led to the widespread tradition of tomb building, as well as the highlands practice of the famadihana, whereby a deceased family member's remains may be exhumed to be periodically re-wrapped in fresh silk shrouds before being replaced in the tomb. The famadihana is an occasion to celebrate the beloved ancestor'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.[115] Consideration for ancestors is also demonstrated through respect for fady, taboos that are respected during and after the lifetime of the person who establishes them. It is widely believed that by showing respect for ancestors in these ways, they may intervene on behalf of the living. Conversely, misfortunes are often attributed to ancestors whose memory or wishes have been neglected. The sacrifice of zebu is a traditional method used to appease or honor the ancestors. In addition, the Malagasy believe in a creator god, called Zanahary or Andriamanitra.[116]

Almost half the Malagasy (roughly 41%) are Christian, with about 20 percent practicing Roman Catholicism and over one-fourth of the population adhering to Protestantism.[10] In 1818 the London Missionary Society sent the first Christian missionaries to the island, where they built churches, translated the Bible into the Malagasy language and began to gain converts. Beginning in 1835 Queen Ranavalona I persecuted these converts as part of 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.[117]

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 reburial.[115] 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).[118]

Eastern religions are also present on the island. Islam was first brought to the island in the Middle Ages by Arab and Somali Muslim traders, who established several Islamic schools along the eastern coast. While the use of Arabic script and loan words and the adoption of Islamic astrology would spread across the island, the Islamic religion failed to take hold in all but a handful of southeastern coastal communities. Today, Muslims constitute 7% of the population of Madagascar and are largely concentrated in the northwestern provinces of Mahajanga and Antsiranana (Diego Suarez). Muslims are divided between those of Malagasy ethnicity, Indians, Pakistanis and Comorians. More recently, Hinduism was introduced to Madagascar through Gujarati people immigrating from the Saurashtra region of India in the late 19th century. Most Hindus in Madagascar speak Gujarati or Hindi.[119]


  Hiragasy dancer

Each of the many ethnic sub-groups in Madagascar adhere to their own set of beliefs, practices and ways of life that have historically contributed to their unique identities. However, there are a number of core cultural features that are common throughout the island, creating a strongly unified Malagasy cultural identity. In addition to a common language and shared traditional religious beliefs around a creator god and veneration of the ancestors, the traditional Malagasy worldview is shaped by values that emphasize fihavanana (solidarity), vintana (destiny), tody (karma), and hasina, a sacred life force that traditional communities believe imbues and thereby legitimates authority figures within the community or family. Other cultural elements commonly found throughout the island include the practice of male circumcision; a traditional division of social classes into nobles, commoners, and slaves; strong kinship ties; and a widespread belief in the power of magic, diviners, astrology and witch doctors.[15][116] Malagasy people traditionally consult Mpanandro ("Makers of the Days") to identify the most auspicious days for important events such as weddings or famadihana, according to a traditional astrological system introduced by Arabs. Prior to French colonization the nobles of many Malagasy communities would commonly employ advisers known as the ombiasy (from olona-be-hasina, "man of much virtue") of the southeastern Antemoro ethnic group,who trace their ancestry back to early Arab settlers.[120]

The diverse origins of Malagasy culture are evident in its tangible expressions. Houses in Madagascar are typically four-sided with a peaked roof and are traditionally constructed following a design, orientation and interior layout very similar to houses found in southeastern Borneo.[121] Reflecting a widespread veneration of the ancestors, tombs are culturally significant in many regions and tend to be built of more durable material (typically stone) and display more elaborate decoration than the houses of the living.[122] The zebu (humped cattle), introduced to Madagascar by Bantu-speaking East African migrants about 1,000 years ago, have taken on sacred importance and embody the wealth of the owner, a tradition originating on the African mainland. 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.[45] The production and weaving of silk can be traced back to the island's earliest settlers, and Madagascar's national dress, the woven lamba, has evolved into a varied and refined art.[123] The Southeast Asian cultural influence is also evident in Malagasy cuisine, in which rice is consumed at every meal, typically accompanied by one of a variety of flavorful vegetable or meat dishes.[124]


A wide range of aural artistic traditions have developed in Madagascar. One of the island's foremost artistic traditions is its oratory, as expressed in the forms of hainteny (poetry), kabary (public discourse) and ohabolana (proverbs).[125][126] An epic poem exemplifying 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;[127] this tradition was continued in the 20th century by such artists as Jean Joseph Rabearivelo, who is considered Africa's first modern poet,[128] and Elie Rajaonarison, an exemplar of the new wave of Malagasy poetry.[129] Madagascar has also developed a rich musical heritage, embodied in dozens of regional musical genres such as the coastal salegy or highland hiragasy that enliven village gatherings, local dance floors and national airwaves.[130]

The plastic arts are also widespread throughout the island. In addition to the tradition of silk weaving and lamba production, the weaving of raffia and other local plant materials has been used to create a wide array of practical items such as floor mats, baskets, purses and hats. Wood carving is a highly developed art form, with distinct regional styles evident in the decoration of balcony railings and other architectural elements. Sculptors create a variety of furniture and household goods, aloalo funerary posts, and wooden sculptures, many of which are produced for the tourist market. The decorative and functional woodworking traditions of the Zafimaniry people of the central highlands was inscribed on UNESCO's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2008.

Among the Antaimoro people, the production of paper embedded with flowers and other decorative natural materials is a long-established tradition that the community has begun to market to eco-tourists. Embroidery and drawn thread work are done by hand to produce clothing, as well as tablecloths and other home textiles for sale in local crafts markets. A small but growing number of fine art galleries in Antananarivo, and several other urban areas, offer paintings by local artists, and annual art events, such as the Hosotra open-air exhibition in the capital, contribute to the continuing development of fine arts in Madagascar.

Sport and recreation

A number of traditional pastimes have emerged in Madagascar. Moraingy, 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.[131] The wrestling of zebu cattle 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.[132]

Western recreational activities were introduced to Madagascar over the past two centuries. Football and rugby are especially popular. Madagascar has produced a world champion in pétanque, a French game similar to lawn bowling, which is widely played in urban areas and throughout the Highlands.[133] School athletics programs typically include soccer, track and field, judo, boxing, women's basketball and women's tennis. Madagascar sent its first competitors to the Olympic Games in 1964 and has also competed in the African Games.[14] Scouting is represented in Madagascar by its own local federation of three scouting clubs. Membership in 2011 was estimated at 14,905.[134]

See also


  1. ^ a b Le Comité Consultatif Constitutionnel (1 October 2010). "Projet de Constitution de la Quatrième République de Madagascar". Madagascar Tribune. Archived from the original on 24 August 2011. http://www.webcitation.org/61BvMnZmH. Retrieved 24 August 2011.  (French)
  2. ^ "Malagasy" is the correct form in English; Embassy of Madagascar, Washington D.C. "Madagascan" is used only for the island, not its people National Geographic Style Manual
  3. ^ Razafison, Rivonala (29 October 2011). "Madagascar: Rajoelina appoints a 'consensus' prime minister". Africa Review (National Media Group, Kenya). Archived from the original on 22 January 2012. http://www.webcitation.org/64rETpM5a. Retrieved 29 October 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c Central Intelligence Agency (2011). "Madagascar". The World Factbook. Archived from the original on 24 August 2011. http://www.webcitation.org/61BpMkYSR. Retrieved 24 August 2011. 
  5. ^ a b c d "Madagascar". International Monetary Fund. http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2012/01/weodata/weorept.aspx?pr.x=25&pr.y=14&sy=2009&ey=2012&scsm=1&ssd=1&sort=country&ds=.&br=1&c=674&s=NGDPD%2CNGDPDPC%2CPPPGDP%2CPPPPC%2CLP&grp=0&a=. Retrieved 2012-04-19. 
  6. ^ a b c Bradt (2011), p. 2
  7. ^ Government of Madagascar. "Website of the Embassy of Madagascar, Washington D.C.". Archived from the original on 20 March 2011. http://www.webcitation.org/5xJKICHn7. Retrieved 30 April 2006. 
  8. ^ Cousins (1895), pp. 11–12
  9. ^ Room (2006), p. 230
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Bureau of African Affairs (3 May 2011). "Background Note: Madagascar". U.S. Department of State. Archived from the original on 24 August 2011. http://www.webcitation.org/61Be3ZCkK. Retrieved 24 August 2011. 
  11. ^ Moriarty (1891), pp. 1–2
  12. ^ University of Berkeley: Understanding Evolution (October 2009). "Where did all of Madagascar's species come from?". Archived from the original on 19 March 2011. http://www.webcitation.org/5xIlRolGu. Retrieved 19 March 2011. 
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Coordinates: 20°S 47°E / 20°S 47°E / -20; 47



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