Madagascar (Malagasy Repoblikan’i Madagasikara)
- August Schmidhofer
- and Michel Domenichini-Ramiaramanana
(Malagasy Repoblikan’i Madagasikara)
Country situated off the coast of south-east Africa. With an area of 587,041 km², it is the fourth largest island in the world. At the end of the 20th century, it had an estimated population of 17·4 million.
The origins of the Malagasy are unknown: many cultural phenomena indicate prehistoric contacts with South-east Asia, in particular the Malagasy language, which is most closely related to Ma'anyan in south Borneo and belongs to the Austronesian family of languages. Arabic, African and European influences were subsequently added to this original South-east Asian foundation. For a long time, the African element in the islanders' culture was thought to be slight, but it is now generally recognized that not only were African slaves brought to Madagascar but free Africans also emigrated to the islands. Elements of Bantu language exist in every Malagasy dialect and seem to have been established for some time.
The Malagasy of Asiatic origin have settled mainly in the highlands (the Merina people), while African influence is strongest among the people of the west of the island (the Sakalava and Makoa) and the south (the Bara, Mahafaly or Maharaly and Antandroy). Muslim communities in Madagascar were reported by early European travellers in the early 16th century; traces of Arab contact occur in groups living on the north-west coast (the Boina-Sakalava and the Antankarana or Tankarana) and the south-east coast (the Antaimoro or Taimoro)....