oa Africa Insight - Country profiles - Madagascar

Volume 15, Issue 4
  • ISSN : 0256-2804



Madagascar - one of the world's largest islands - is separated from the African continent by the Mozambique Channel. It was named by European cartographers after a reference to the Indian Ocean island of Madagascar in the reports of Marco Polo who had explored the Orient many years before the first Portuguese navigators visited the island early in the 16th century, Subsequently, various seafaring nations, who were trying to control the sea routes to the East, became interested in Madagascar, It was also used by pirates as a base for attacks on trading ships, During the 19th century the British and the French competed for the favours of the Merina rulers who had dominated the island since ancient times, France annexed Madagascar in 1896, The Malagasy people are the descendants of successive waves of immigrants from such diverse areas as Indonesia, Malaysia, Africa and Arabia, There are at least 18 groups, all speaking the Malagasy language, The most numerous are the Merina, who account for about one quarter of the population, Together with the Betsileo they inhabit the highlands around the capital, Antananarivo, Traditional antagonism still exists between the Merina and the predominantly negroid tribes of the coastal areas who are collectively known as cotiers. Prominent among the coastal tribes is the Betsimisaraka, the second largest population group, who live in and around the main port of Toamasina.

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