King AdrianaThe written history of Madagascar began in the seventh century A.D – when Arabs established trading posts along the northwest coast. However, the first people who came to Madagascar were from Southeast Asia , mostly from the Indonesian islands. These people arrived in around the fourth century, probably via East Africa . This explains the Malagasy features which are a mixture of Asian (Austronesian) and African, as well as of the Arabs who came later. Because of tropical storms which commonly affect the coast, some of the early settlers left the coast and went to live in the centre of the island in the mountains where the weather was cooler and less windy. The people who live in the mountains today have preserved many of the Asian features.

The first humans arrived on Madagascar around 2,000 years ago, most likely using outrigger canoes hailing from India , Africa, and Arabia . The newcomers were greeted by dense rainforests and an abundance of wildlife – strange monkey-like creatures known as lemurs, dwarf hippos, giant tortoises, ten-foot tall elephant birds (their enormous, thousand-year old eggs are still being found to this day), and over 100 other exotic species of animal found nowhere else on earth.

Although they lived in tribes, the African, Indian, and Arabic races managed to avoid segregation. Over many hundreds of years, an incredible synthesis of tradition, religion, language, and genetics took place, creating a society remarkable in its uniformity of language and beliefs, and striking in its physical beauty.

In 1500, Portuguese explorers landed on the island of Madagascar , did a little exploration, and returned to Europe . Word of the Portuguese “discovery” spread to France and England , and both countries rushed to establish settlements on the island. The local tribes formed loose coalitions to successfully defend themselves against the invading Europeans again and again.

In 1794, King Andrianampoinimerina managed to unite the various tribes of Madagascar , forming a single kingdom. Each of his subjects was given enough land to meet the nutritional needs of his family, and the practice of burning rainforests (to obtain additional land) was banned.

By 1817, Andrianampoinimerina’s son, King Radama I, formed friendly relationships with the major European powers, and invited British missionaries to his country. Led by David Jones, the missionaries introduced the Roman alphabet and Christianity to Radama’s subjects.

Immediately after Radama’s death in 1828, his widow (Queen King Andrianampoinimerina Ranavalona) took the throne. Referred to even to this day as the wicked queen, Ranavalona forced the missionaries out of Madagascar , and executed her subjects with a zeal never before seen in this land. Queen Ranavalona died in 1861, turning the reigns of power over to a succession of largely ineffective monarchs.

In 1890, England and France signed a Treaty granting France the occupation of Madagascar . In 1896, the French colonists invaded from the northwest coast and Madagascar became a French colony until June 1960.

Madagascar ‘s population is estimated at 20 million inhabitants (2009). Famous for their hospitality and friendliness, Malagasy people put a high value on the land and the traditions handed down by their ancestors. There are 18 main tribes speaking different dialects which have the official Malagasy language (Merina Language) as their root.

Their culture is primarily based on having a great respect for the elders, the ancestors, the family and religion.



Pirate Map

Madagascar , with its many quiet coves and its proximity to the Indian Ocean trade routes, was a haven for many of the fiercest pirates that ever sailed the seven seas. Tales of buried treasure and stories of the swashbuckling buccaneers’ deeds and misdeeds have become a colorful part of the national folklore. This is an incredibly detailed map of the island, carefully charted by pirates almost two hundred years ago.





Rice is the staple of the Madagascar diet. The resourceful natives have developed literally dozens of delicious preparatory techniques for this plentiful grain. But the Malagasy diet is a varied one, and heaping mounds of rice are usually topped with zebu, an excellent local beef, as well as pork, chicken, crab, fish, corn, peanuts, and potatoes. Fresh fruits and vegetables abound. Spicy curries are popular, as are the numerous exquisite French dishes served at the island’s finest restaurants and hotels. When in Madagascar , you’ll be urged to try the national snack: Koba, a pate of rice, banana, and peanut. Unless you’re a fan of that peculiar combination of flavors, skip the Koba and order one of the island’s famous seafood salads. You’ll be handed a heaping plateful of luscious ginger-and-lime flavored crab and lobster meat, resting on a bed of fresh greens. Akoho sy voanio, a chicken dish prepared with rice and fresh coconut, is also quite delicious, as is the Foza sy hena-kisoa, a stir-fried crab, pork, and rice dish.



Kids-6More than anything else, the people of Madagascar love oratory. The colorful language, Malagasy, like the people who use it, is a living synthesis of Indonesian, African, and Arabic elements. No conversation is complete without a liberal sprinkling of clever euphemisms and timeworn proverbs. The British missionaries attempted to codify this lyrical language, using the letters of the English alphabet. The Malagasy alphabet is therefore quite similar to the English alphabet, with the following exceptions: The Malagasy alphabet is missing the letters C, Q, U, W, and X. The letter A is always short (as in watch). The letter E sounds like a long A (as in pace). The letter I is pronounced like a long E (as in bean). The letter J sounds like dz. Finally, the letter O sounds like oo. Here’s a list of English phrases and the Malagasy translation:

  • HelloManao ahoana
  • I’m hungryNoana aho
  • I’m thirstyMangetaheta aho
  • I’m tiredVizako aho
  • Where is Aiza
  • RoadLalana
  • VillageVohitra
  • RiverOny
  • How much?Ohatrinona
  • Go away!Mandehana!
  • Thank youMisaotra
  • GoodbyeVeloma
Music plays an important part in Malagasy people’s life. One Malagasy proverb says that if you do your work with music, it will be completed in a flash. So, people always mingle everything they do with music. In Madagascar , cab drivers play music all the time in their cab, kids who frolic in the backyard habitually sing and dance together, men and women in the rice field used to finish their labour with songs, people who work in the office listen regularly to music while working, and so on and so forth. Music is everywhere. You can always catch a mixed bag of joyful music in the very heart of Antananarivo as well as in the midst of Horombe desert, thanks to thousands of exuberant rhythms that exist all over the Island. In general, music from provinces other than Antananarivo have fast rhythms, whereas the ones from the capital are relatively cool. Described below are just two types of Malagasy music but there are lots more.


This is the most popular music from Madagascar . It comes from the northern region of the Island — Antsiranana, Mahajanga, Nosy Be — in which the Sakalava and Antakarana tribes live. Salegy has vivacious rhythm that makes it totally uplifting. As a Malagasy folk music, salegy was traditionally played during moonlight festivities with homemade instruments. Now, scores of artists play it with modern instruments like guitar, drums, keyboard, bass, etc. If you attend a soirée in Madagascar , or go to any pub or night club, you’ll always hear some salegy music. It was first recorded in the 1950s and has been improved and exported since then. There exists today countless first-class locally made and International salegy CD recordings. Famous bands that play salegy include Jaojoby — the King of salegy, Mily Clèment, Ninie, lego, Din Rotsaka, and Tianjama just to name a few.


Horija originated among the Betsileo tribe of Fianarantsoa. The music is called horija, whereas the kind of dance that goes with horija is known as kidodo — pronounced kidood. It was traditionally played by the mpiarakandro — the men who watch zebu cattle — without instruments. Although numerous bands play it now with modern instruments, there still exists some prominent artists that keep on using traditional ones like kabosy, korintsana, and jejy voatavo. The lyrics which accompany the music play a major role in horija since it’s a rhapsodic type of music that conveys a sense of joy, sadness, or nostalgia. It also narrates historical or folk tales replete with Malagasy proverbs, making it a source of muse backed by melody. Horija always has breezy rhythm whether it expresses joy or sadness. This music has not yet achieved international fame like salegy. Nevertheless, you can find some CD recordings of horija on the market. Famous bands that play horija include, among others, Senge, Tsivahiny, Jean Emilien, and Niraina.


Fady means ‘taboo or forbidden‘. The fady are beliefs that have influenced and modeled much the Malagasy society and tribes for several centuries until now. They were created by the elders and the soothsayers to harmonise the society, to educate the children, to safeguard the natural resources of the island and for various religious reasons. Malagasy people believe in God that one calls “Zangahari” or “my Creator” (Yang Harei in Tiam language and Yang Hâri in Malays language). They say that the fady has contributed much to the conservation of nature since several parts of forest and lakes were considered impenetrable as they keep the ancestors’ spirits.