Top 50 interesting facts about Madagascar and Malagasy people
Madagascar is an island nation off the coast of Southeast Africa, washed by the waters of the Indian Ocean, which shares many common features with neighbouring countries. But at the same time – it is a unique country, with its own customs, history and culture. In our article, we have collected 50 fascinating facts about this country and its inhabitants, which will help to form a first impression and interestingly plan your holiday in Madagascar.
50 most interesting facts about Malagasy people and Madagascar
So, let’s begin our journey through the history, traditions and sights of this amazing country.
1. The most ancient people appeared on the island about 10 thousand years ago. They were Southeast Asians who came here by canoe.
2. A little later, representatives of the Bantu tribes from East Africa reached the island. Bantu settled on the coast, and Austronesians were pushed to the centre of the island.
3. Arab merchants landed on the island in the 7th century AD. They built forts and settlements on the northwest coast.
4. The first European to hear of Madagascar was the Venetian merchant Marco Polo. He mistook it for Mogadishu, a city in Somalia, and gave the island the name Madagascar.
5. In the 15th century, Madagascar was visited by the Portuguese, later by the French and the Dutch. They all tried to establish settlements on the island, but were forced out by the warlike natives.
6. In the 17th century, Madagascar became famous as a pirate’s paradise. The corsairs plundered ships sailing from India and prospered.
7. In the early 19th century, the Merina people subjugated almost the entire island, creating their own kingdom, Imerina. The first king was Ramada 1 in 1818.
8. Since 1897 the island has been completely under the rule of France, which established here its protectorate.
9. In 1960, the Malagasy Republic gained full independence, and after a series of military coups, the country embarked on a course of building socialism.
10. The end of XX and the beginning of XXI centuries were marked by a new series of coups d’état. The most recent occurred in 2009.
11. The Republic of Madagascar is now the largest single island nation in the world. It is still a very poor country, a member of the UN and the ACP.
12. The population of the republic is almost 25 million, with only 29% living in urban areas – the rest are rural.
13. The capital of the country is the city of Antananarivo, the name of which translates as «A Thousand Villages». It is the largest city of the country and only here is the only international airport in the country.
14. Madagascar is a multinational country. Under the name of Malagasy are united representatives of different ethnic groups speaking one language – Malagasy.
15. The Malagasy are divided into highlanders, who live in the central, highlands of the island, and coastal tribes. There are a few tribes called mixed tribes that live both on the coast and in the mountains.
16. Administratively, the republic is divided into 6 provinces. The most densely populated is the capital province of Antananarivo, where almost one third of the total population of Madagascar lives.
17. Besides Malagasy, French is also recognized as the state language in the country. But the share of French speakers is constantly decreasing, now it is less than 20 per cent.
18. More than half of the population of the country continues to profess the traditional cult of ancestors, the roots of which lie in the beliefs of the peoples of South-East Asia. Approximately 40 per cent of the population are Christians.
19. The national currency of the Republic is the Ariari, which is divided into 5 iraimbilaniya. The word «ariari» translates as «People’s».
20. Madagascar is in the UTC +3 time zone, which means it is 3 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.
21. The country’s iconic landmark is the Baobab Alley, located on the coast of the Strait of Mozambique. It is only 260 metres long and has almost 50 baobabs with a height of up to 30 metres and a trunk girth of 20 metres.
22. Another famous landmark of the country is the Qingqi Stone Forest. The bizarre limestone cliffs were formed by karst weathering.
23. The Ambohimanga Hill in the province of Antananarivo, sacred to Malagasy people, is a place of religious worship and dates back to the heyday of the Merina state. On its summit is a royal fortress built in the late 18th century.
24. Another merina royal palace is located in Antananarivo and is called Ruwa. It was the royal residence of the local monarchs until 1896. The palace burned down in the last century but has been rebuilt in modern times.
25. A separate attraction of the country should be considered its beaches, almost entirely covered with the purest white sand. The most famous beaches are on the islands of Nosy Bee, Ile St Mary and Nat.
Malagasy character and customs
26. The Malagasy as a people were formed from a mixture of representatives of different tribes and peoples – Indonesians, Africans, Vietnamese and many others. They are very friendly and helpful, but obey many religious prohibitions – fadi.
27. Most Malagasy people cherish the traditions of their ancestors and, even after accepting Christianity, do not forget the ancient beliefs. The local cult of ancestors is called fombagazi.
28. The main holiday of Malagasy people is Famadihana, i.e. worship of the dead. During it, Malagasy people take out of the tombs of ancestors’ remains, wrap them in shrouds and carry them through the streets of villages.
29. The ancient Malagasy religion is based on the belief in the transmigration of souls. The soul of the deceased can be reborn not only in the body of a human being, but also in the body of an animal. Therefore, it is not customary on the island to offend and hurt our lesser brothers.
30. To earn the recognition of Malagasy is very simple – it is necessary to make an offering to the burial place of his ancestors, as which will be suitable alcohol, cigarettes, any products, but not money.
31. Being near the holy place for Malagasy, one should observe a number of simple rules: not to drink alcohol, not to laugh loudly and not to behave defiantly.
32. It is a common custom among Malagasy to greet even strangers. Greeting an elderly person shows respect and education.
33. It is not customary to address Malagasy people by their first names or nicknames. They prefer to be addressed by rank or title.
34. When asking for directions in Madagascar, be prepared to be told “north” or “east” because there is no right or left.
35. Another tradition of Malagasy people is their hospitality. If they invite you to visit them, you must not refuse, it is a great insult. You should bring gifts with you – food or alcohol, for example, local ginger rum.
36. By nature, Malagasy people are slow and being late for a meeting is a norm for them. They have nowhere to hurry and have their own designations for the time of day. For example, 14 hours of the day Malagasy people call the Frog Quack.
37. The mysticism of Malagasy people is expressed in the fact that any important event in their lives they hold on special auspicious days appointed by the local astrologer-shaman – Mpanandro.
38. The main value of any Malagasy is family. Families here usually have many children, and their head is often a woman. Matriarchy on the island has deep historical roots.
39. Madagascar cuisine is a mixture of different culinary traditions. The main dish on the island is rice with spicy spices. The most commonly eaten meat is zebu, the African antelope, which is the island’s main farm animal.
40. The traditional national dress of the Malagasy is the lamba, a rectangular piece of cloth that is wrapped around the body of both men and women.
41. Malagasy people are very musical people. There is a band in every village. Play Malagasy on a variety of instruments from guitar to drums djembe, but the national is considered a valiha – a stringed instrument made of bamboo.
42. The national sport on the island is moreinji, the art of wrestling with bare fists.
Nature of Madagascar
43. Madagascar is the world’s fourth-largest island by area and, despite its proximity to the African continent, has never been part of it. About 88 million years ago, the island separated from India and ended up near Africa as a result of continental drift.
44. Madagascar lies entirely within the tropical climate zone. The eastern coast is characterized by monsoon type and the western coast by arid type.
45. The isolated position of the island is the reason for the unique diversity of its flora and fauna. More than 90 per cent of plant and animal species are found nowhere else.
46. The symbol of Madagascar are lemurs, funny and big-eyed half-monkeys. There are 101 species on the island, from the tiny mouse lemur, weighing only 30 grams, to the lemur indri, weighing up to 9 kilograms.
47. Another unusual animal on the island is the fossa. It is Madagascar’s largest predator, belonging to the wyvern family. Individuals reach a weight of 10 kilograms.
48. Among plants, Madagascar is famous for baobabs, of which there are more species here than in Africa, and the tree of travellers – a bizarre fan-shaped palm called ravenala.
49. The relief of the island is predominantly mountainous, with significant lowlands only on the East Coast. The highest point is the Marumukutru volcano (2876 metres).
50. There are many small mountain rivers and lakes on the island. The largest lake is Alaotra, with an area of 200 square kilometres.
Friends! If you know more interesting facts about the tribes of Madagascar and the country itself, please share them in the comments. This country is full of amazing stories, culture and traditions, and many people would be happy to learn something new. We will be very grateful to you!