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The origins and culture of the Madagascan people

Explore the origins and culture of the Madagascan people

The Malagasy people: diverse in ethnicity and culture

Madagascar is rich in both biodiversity and ethnic diversity. The Malagasy people have 18 different ethnic groups, each with its own culture, but they are united and supportive of one another.

Origin of the Malagasy People

The Vazimba (around 700 BC) and the Vezo


Austronesians: Rewriting the Subtitle

The Malagasy people are mainly of Austronesian and Malagasy origin. They can trace their roots back to the Indonesian archipelago, as confirmed by the discovery of an ancient Polynesian DNA motif (halplogroup B/subgroup B4a1a1a2). This is evident in certain physical characteristics, such as the epicanthal fold in the eyelids, a distinct Asian trait. The Austronesian people, also known as Vahoaka or Ntaolo Malagasy, are responsible for shaping Malagasy language, culture, and traditions.

Throughout history, various immigrant groups including Persians, Arabs, Jews from the Arabian Peninsula and Africans assimilated with the original Vazimba inhabitants. Additionally, Indian and Malay influences contributed to forming different clans and kingdoms among the Vezo people along the coasts. This interaction led to the emergence of diverse ethnicities within Madagascar.

The arrival of immigrants from Eastern origins greatly influenced the formation of different clans and kingdoms among the Vezo people along coastal areas. Furthermore, on high plateaus emerged “the hova,” leading to the birth of various distinct groups such as Merina, Betsileo, Bezanozano,Sihanaka,TsimihetandBara.The blending between the original inhabitants (Ntaolo Austronesians)and incoming immigrants has shaped Madagascar’s population heritage.

The 18 ethnic groups:

The people of Madagascar are made up of 18 main ethnic groups, with additional sub-ethnic groups such as the Mikéa. Each of these ethnic groups has their own customs and traditions. The geographical diversity is closely linked to the ethnic diversity, as each group belongs to a different geographic location.

The Merina people:

The Merina people are originally from Indonesia and mostly from Malaysia. They live in the central highlands around Antananarivo in Madagascar. Physically, they have brown or olive-colored skin, wavy or straight hair, and almond-shaped eyes. They are smaller in stature compared to other ethnic groups. Their language is similar to that of the indigenous people of Southeast Kalimantan in Indonesia, Sulawesi, and the Philippines. The Merina traditionally wear silk fabrics called “lamba landy.” Their staple food is rice, grown in rice fields that dominate their landscape.

One unique aspect of Merina culture is the traditional practice of “famadihana,” which involves periodically reburial of the ashes of the deceased. This ritual sets them apart from other cultures and has significance within their community.

The Betsileo:

The Betsileo people live around Fianarantsoa, their main city. They originally come from Indonesia and make up 12% of the Malagasy population. They are known for their terraced rice cultivation and are related to the Merina people, who also come from Indonesia. The Betsileo have inherited a sophisticated irrigation system from their ancestors. They are famous for producing wine and practice ancestor worship as well as circumcision rituals.

The Bara: Exploring the Culture and Traditions

The semi-nomadic pastoral people living in the region of Ihosy in the southern part of Central Africa are known for their agility and are often armed with spears and guns. They roam with their herds of zebus, which hold significant social value within the tribe, particularly for men. Zebus are a symbol that reflects the worth of each individual in the community.

The Betsimisaraka:

The people known as “those who are numerous and do not separate” live along the East coast, from Mananjary to Sambava. They are a collection of several communities with origins from a mix of Bantu and Austronesian peoples. Their main livelihoods involve cultivating cloves, sugarcane, and coffee.

The Sakalava: A Brief Overview

The Sakalava people are known as “those of the long valleys” or “the people of the long plain.” They live in the largest kingdom in the country, which stretches along the western coast. The Sakalava are divided into two groups: the Boina dynasty in the north and the Menabe dynasty in the south. Unlike other ethnic groups, they are not homogeneous but rather a collection of different ethnicities. They make up a significant percentage of the population of Mahorais.

The Sakalava people have an interesting cultural heritage, with their name reflecting their geographical surroundings. Living in large valleys and long plains has shaped their identity and way of life over generations. Their presence is felt prominently within Mahorais society due to their significant population.

Two distinct dynasties, Boina and Menabe, govern different regions inhabited by Sakalava communities. This division illustrates that despite being part of a larger ethnic group, there are internal distinctions that contribute to diverse cultural practices and traditions among them.

The Antandroy people: A brief overview

The Antandroy people live in the southern part of the island. Their name means “those with thorns” because they live among thorny plants like raketa and cactus. They reside in dry areas and make a living by raising cattle and sheep.

The Vezo: A look into a unique culture

The Vezo people are descendants of the Sakalava of Menabe and inhabit the southwestern part of the island, from Morombe to Tulear. They are known as semi-nomadic sea dwellers who primarily make a living through fishing. Their customs and way of life are deeply intertwined with the sea, with traditions passed down from ancestors who were said to be descendants of a union between a fisherman and a mermaid. The Vezo people are skilled fishermen who craft their own boats for their livelihood.

The Antakarana: Understanding the People of Madagascar’s North

The Antakarana come from the north of the island in Antsiranana. They are originally from the Sakalava tribe. Their name means “those who live in rocky mountains.” What sets them apart is their festive ceremony called “Tsangatsaigny.

The Antaifasy: A Profile

The Antaifasy people live in the southeastern coast of the island, particularly those from the Farafangana region. What sets them apart from other ethnic groups is their unique funeral art, which involves burying the deceased with all their belongings deep in the forest. This tradition distinguishes the Antaifasy and reflects their cultural practices.

The Antambahoaka: A Profile

The people are from a small tribe called Mananjary in the Southeast of Madagascar. The name means “many people.” Their main tradition is Sambatra, commemorating the journey made by Arab ancestors to Mananjary.

The Antemoro: People of Madagascar’s East Coast

The name means “those who come from the shore.” They are people from the southeast of the island, originating from Manakara to Mananjary. They are known for creating Antemoro paper and being able to write in Sorabe.

The Antesaka: Information and Key Points

The people from Farafangana who practice double burial are known as Sakalava. They have the unique tradition of conducting two burials for their deceased.

The Betsimisaraka People:

The ethnic group extends from Mananjary to Sambava.
Their name means “those who are many do not separate.”
This group formed during Ratsimilaho’s rule in the 16th century.

The Bezanozano: The People of Madagascar

They come from Moramanga in the eastern part of Merina. They are descendants of Vazimba, hence their names “zafimbazimba.

The Mahafaly: Characteristics and Culture

The people live in Southeast Madagascar between the Menarandra and Onilahy rivers. They practice “Savatse” and a ritual called Havoria, which involves turning the dead. The name of the people means “makes happy.

The Sihanaka: A Brief Overview

The Alaotra people are originally from the marshy rivers of the Southeast and migrated in the 18th century. They are known for organizing traditional events like “Volam bita” and “Sarabe.

The Tanala: A Profile of the People and Culture

The people from the Southeastern Forests are descendants of the Vazimba. They perform a ceremony called “mamoaka zaza” or children’s outing.

The Tsimihety People:

People from the North of the island who don’t cut their hair are known as Tsimihety. They are descendants of pirates and have mixed with the Vazimba people. The Tsimihety are recognized for their traditional Koro chant, and they come from various places such as Port Bergé, Mampikony, Mandritsara, Antsohihy, Befandriana, and Bealanana.

The Antanosy: Simplified Explanation

The Antandroy people come from the Southeast of Madagascar, specifically settling along the banks of the Onilahy River. They are known for their distinctive funeral art and practice collective burials in structures called Kibory. Additionally, they engage in a possession cult known as Bilo.

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