The 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.
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.
More 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:
- Hello — Manao ahoana
- I’m hungry — Noana aho
- I’m thirsty — Mangetaheta aho
- I’m tired — Vizako aho
- Where is — Aiza
- Road — Lalana
- Village — Vohitra
- River — Ony
- How much? — Ohatrinona
- Go away! — Mandehana!
- Thank you — Misaotra
- Goodbye — Veloma