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Malagasy people

The island of Madagascar has existed completely isolated from the mainland for millions of years.

It was only when man first set foot in Madagascar for the long term, about 2,000 years ago, that this began to change. The researchers assume that the first humans in Madagascar probably came from Indonesia, Malaysia and Polynesia. They continue to assume that people have travelled to the island with canoes and that they have probably been relatively surprised by the island’s extraordinary and amazing biodiversity. But quickly, they seemed to acclimatize and settle in different parts of the island. For the animals and plants that live there, it was not necessarily a lucky day, because in 1000 years, Madagascar’s hunters have managed to exterminate at least two dozen different animal species. And this information is only an estimate, as it is possible that many more species have been exterminated, of which only no trace can be found.

Diversity and tolerance among the Malagasy population

Gradually, more and more different people from different parts of the world came to Madagascar. They came from Africa, India, the Arab countries and later also from Europe. Many of today’s indigenous peoples and tribes have preserved their independent cultures, rituals and customs to this day. What is particularly remarkable, however, is the fact that the different population groups in Madagascar, despite their differences, can live together peacefully and almost in symbiosis. Above all, the uniform language has probably contributed significantly to this. If you are planning a holiday in Madagascar, you too can be welcomed by the impressive tolerance that prevails on this island. During a trip through Madagascar, you will meet people with different cultural roots and backgrounds who present themselves as open, gay and friendly. It is exactly for this reason that the 18 different tribes, who live in Madagascar, are briefly presented below. If you have any further questions about the language or population of Madagascar, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Antaifasy – “Who live with many prohibitions”

The name of this very small tribe, which represents just over one percent of the Malagasy population, already leaves a good impression of what is formative: the Antaifasy have many prohibitions, called “fady”. Antitaifasy, for example, is not allowed to have money. Where exactly this tribe, which currently consists of only three clans on the southeast coast near Farafangana, comes from, can no longer be rebuilt exactly. However, the researchers suppose that the ancestors of Antaifasy may have come once from India to Madagascar.

Antaimoro – “The one on the coast”

The Antaimoro live mainly in the Manakara region on the east coast of Madagascar. The ancestors of these inhabitants of Madagascar probably come mainly from Arab countries, as the Antaimoro are Muslims and practice other customs, which may come from Arab countries. The Antaimoro have a thorough knowledge of astrology and have therefore earned the respect of the other inhabitants of Madagascar. In addition, the Antaimoro are the first tribe in Madagascar to have developed their own writing. Antaimoro also invented a certain type of paper, which is still produced today.

The Antambahoaka – “Those of Rabevahoaka origin”

The Antambahoaka also seem to have ancestors in Arab countries because they have integrated well-known rituals into their lives in Madagascar. This includes, for example, the ritual of circumcision, which the Antambahoaka still practice today. The Antambahoaka live mainly on the east coast of Madagascar and are most often found in the Mananjary region. Another particularity of Antambahoaka is that the twins are taboo there, on the Malagasy called “Fady Kambana”.

Antandroy

L’Antandroy – “The Thorny Men”

The Antandroy are a semi-nomadic people who live mainly in the thorny and very dry steppes of the south. The Antandroys are best known as livestock breeders and struggle for their livelihood in the arid and hot regions of the island. But it is not only the desire to stay in these inhospitable areas that made Antandroy so famous in Madagascar. The members of this tribe are characterized above all by their audacity. Many members of other tribes also speak of the Antandroy with magical powers. The particular audacity, which appears especially among the men of this people, is manifested in the fact that the Antandroys are not afraid to leave their homes even at night. The origin of Antandroy has not yet been clearly proven by researchers.

Antankarana – “The one of the rock

Antankarana are found mainly in northern Madagascar, in the Tsaratsanana mountains. There lives this rather small tribe, which is mainly composed of shepherds and farmers. Nowadays, the Antankarana are best known for their somewhat strange religious rituals and customs. The Antankarana are dominated by Islam, which is mixed with animist cults. The researchers assume that the Antankarana once belonged to the Sakalava, then separated over the years.

The Antambahoaka – “Those of Rabevahoaka origin”

The Antambahoaka also seem to have ancestors in Arab countries because they have integrated well-known rituals into their lives in Madagascar. This includes, for example, the ritual of circumcision, which the Antambahoaka still practice today. The Antambahoaka live mainly on the east coast of Madagascar and are most often found in the Mananjary region. Another particularity of Antambahoaka is that the twins are taboo there, on the Malagasy called “Fady Kambana”.

Antandroy

L’Antandroy – “The Thorny Men”

The Antandroy are a semi-nomadic people who live mainly in the thorny and very dry steppes of the south. The Antandroys are best known as livestock breeders and struggle for their livelihood in the arid and hot regions of the island. But it is not only the desire to stay in these inhospitable areas that made Antandroy so famous in Madagascar. The members of this tribe are characterized above all by their audacity. Many members of other tribes also speak of the Antandroy with magical powers. The particular audacity, which appears especially among the men of this people, is manifested in the fact that the Antandroys are not afraid to leave their homes even at night. The origin of Antandroy has not yet been clearly proven by researchers.

Antankarana – “The one of the rock

Antankarana are found mainly in northern Madagascar, in the Tsaratsanana mountains. There lives this rather small tribe, which is mainly composed of shepherds and farmers. Nowadays, the Antankarana are best known for their somewhat strange religious rituals and customs. The Antankarana are dominated by Islam, which is mixed with animist cults. The researchers assume that the Antankarana once belonged to the Sakalava, then separated over the years.

Antanosy – “The one of the island”

The Antanosy are a rather rich tribe, which is mainly found in the Taolanaro region. The Antanosy live mainly as livestock breeders and rice farmers, but represent only about 2% of Madagascar’s total population. If you meet the Antanosys on a trip to Madagascar, you will notice that this tribe has a deep knowledge of medicine and astrology. In combination with the care of many Islamic rites, which are still practiced by Antanosy today, researchers assume that this tribe has its roots in the Arab world.

Antehiroka – “the historical population”.

The Antehiroka descend from King Andriandruka and have submitted to Merina domination. The origin of Antehiroke is located north of Antananarivo. They are no longer considered as an independent population group although even today, some Merina groups still claim to be their ancestors, the Antehiroka.

The Bara- “semi-nomaniacs of the savannah”

The Bara tribe is a small population group in Madagascar that is mainly found in the southern highlands region around Ihosy, the historic capital of their tribe. Today’s researchers assume that the Bara are most likely descended from the Bantu of Africa. This genetic or cultural link is mainly attributed to the fact that the Bara worship zebu as well as the Bantu. Such a cult cannot be found in any other ethnic group. The Bara are not so much a peaceful people, but rather a population group, who know how to offend other groups. Thus, the individual clans of this people are partly hostile to each other with blood, the magic arts are feared with other ethnic groups and especially the traditional ritual of stealing cattle, which is done with the Bara, lets this tribe appear very unsympathetic with other population groups. But of course, there is also something very positive to say about the Bara: many of Madagascar’s famous singers come from this tribe and some of them have even achieved international success.

 The Betsileo – “Too many to be defeated” – “Too many to be defeated” – “Too many to be defeated” – “Too many to be defeated”.

The Betsileo are the second largest indigenous tribe in Madagascar. About twelve percent of Madagascar’s total population belongs to the Betsileo tribe, which lives mainly in the central highlands. The origin of the Betsileo is clear to most people because of their appearance, as they seem to come from Indonesian-Malaysian regions such as Merina. The Betsileo are a very harmonious people, famous for their many facets. They are considered as excellent winegrowers and craftsmen, but are also known for their music and especially for their rice cultivation. In general, the Betsileo are the founders of a terrace cultivation for rice cultivation in Madagascar.

The Betsimisaraka – “Many who never separate”

The Betsimisaraka are the fourth largest tribe on the island and if you spend your holidays in Madagascar and also travel on the east coast, you can be almost certain to meet at least one member of this tribe. The Betsimisaraka are a very proud people, whose religious culture is mainly characterized by animist rites. Already with the Merina, the Betsimisaraka fought long and intense battles, which they continued during the French colonization. In fact, the Betsimisaraka are actually composed of four different tribes that are still known today as Ratsimilaho.

The Bezanozano – “Who make a lot of braids”.

The name of the Bezanozano already reveals that this tribe attaches great importance to its own hair and knows how to embellish it appropriately. The Bezanozano live near Moramanga and were once often known as porters or perhaps as carters. The religious rites of the Bezanozano are sometimes a little unusual by Western standards, but this rather large tribe has been there for centuries.

Le Mahafaly – “The untouchables

The Mahafaly are a very small tribe that lives mainly on the other southwestern coast of Madagascar. The Mahafaly are above all shepherds and farmers, but they are also known for their artistic veins. During a trip through Madagascar, it is worth visiting one of their tombs, which are decorated with a carved sculpture. Mahafaly’s mohair rugs are also worth looking at, as they are particularly fine and carefully manufactured.

The Merina – “The one of the high plateaus”

The Merinas are not only Madagascar’s most famous ethnic group, but they also represent the largest part of the population. About 26 percent of Madagascar’s population can be affected by Merina. Their native language clearly shows that the Merina’s ancestors are from Asia. Merinas are mainly known as rice farmers and have an internal monarchy and an extremely complex caste system that structures their social life. The Merinas also practice what is called syncretism, which is composed of Christianity and animism. The Merina of Madagascar are particularly famous because they brought large parts of the island under their control at the end of the 18th century. At that time, Madagascar was a kingdom ruled by the Merina kings. Only the French were able to put an end to this rule.

Mikea

La Mikea, the fabulous indigenous population

The Mikea are a very small people who live near Lake Ihotry. The Mikea are a forest people who have only been explored in a rudimentary way so far. Forest fruits form the basis of Mikea’s nutrition, active agriculture on cleared arable land is not practiced by Mikea, as they live in symbiosis with the forest. The Mikea pretend to come down from the legendary Vazimba!

The Sakalava – “The one of the long valley”

The Sakalava are one of Madagascar’s largest tribes and live on the country’s west coast. The Sakalava are enthusiastic about a very independent and diverse culture, which they probably brought from the African continent to Madagascar. The Sakalava are characterized by erotic motifs on their funeral sculptures and also by trance conditions, which belong to certain religious rites. The Sakalava, like the Merina, are a so-called royal people and once ruled two distinct empires in Madagascar. The worship of the king’s relics is still very important for the Sakalava today, which is why there are many rituals that deal with these relics.

The Sihanaka – “The one of the lake

The name Sihanaka is characteristic, because this small tribe lives in the proximity </forte of Lake Alaotra, which is the largest inland water in Madagascar. Little is known about the Sihanaka, probably because they are a tribe, which has been composed of different groups over time. It is probably a tribe of Merina and Betsimisaraka dispersed. The Sihanaka live mainly from rice cultivation and therefore enjoy a relatively lucrative life.

Tanala

The Tanalas – “Who live in the woods”

The Tanalas live on the east coast of Madagascar and are also one of the smallest tribes. Also Tanala probably consists of different smaller groups and many individuals. In Madagascar, the Tanalas are considered as true refugees who have a great knowledge of the art of healing and live mainly from the collection of honey. The Tanalas, on the other hand, are somewhat feared because of their migratory agriculture, which is accompanied by slash-and-burn farming, which is very harmful to the environment.

The Tsihimety – “They never cut their hair”

The Tsihimety tribe lives in northwestern Madagascar. The name of this people goes back to a very memorable Tsihimety custom: when a loved one dies, family members let their hair grow for several years to commemorate the person’s death. Today, agriculture is the main source of income for the Tsihimety, with cotton and tobacco also being part of the products grown. They are at home in the central region of the northern province.

Le Vezo – “The nomads of the sea

The Vezo live mainly from fishing and probably come from the Sakalava. The Vezo are one of the few peoples of Madagascar who have actively fished in the sea and made it their theme in many customs and rituals. Moreover, the Vezo are not circumcised, which is a real exception for the tribes of Madagascar. The Vezo live in the region between Tulear and Morondava and are the only ethnic group in Madagascar with a strong tendency towards the sea, which is reflected in their rites and religion. They are the only inhabitants of Madagascar who do not practice circumcision.

Les Zafimaniry – “Children of the Wishers

The small Zafimaniry tribe (about 20,000 people) is a true tribe of artists. These people, descendants of the Betsileo, live in the Ambositra region and are known for their wood carvings. A few years ago, they were even declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and upon request, they can form an important part of your personal trip to Madagascar.

Non-indigenous peoples in Madagascar

Of course, Madagascar is by no means the exclusive homeland of the so-called indigenous peoples. In addition to the various tribes that began settling in Madagascar several hundred years ago and have since settled there with their independent cultures, Madagascar is also home to various other ethnic groups and nationalities. These include, for example, the Comorians, a very rich ethnic group, who are mainly found in the north of the country. Comorians earn their money mainly as traders and landowners or owners and are therefore rather the upper classes in Madagascar. The Karana and Bamians are mainly immigrants from India or Pakistan, who are active in the textile and gemstone trade. Chinese immigrants, on the other hand, are playing an increasingly important role in Madagascar’s economy, as they increasingly dominate large plantations and are responsible for imports and exports. It is also worth mentioning the French in Madagascar. As a former colonial power, they now play an important role not only in the tourism sector – many French people stayed in Madagascar at that time and have integrated very well today. Even members of the French Foreign Legion now like to choose Madagascar as their retirement home, which testifies to the great tranquility and unconditional tolerance of the Malagasy people. For these and many other reasons, you should also get to know these warm and versatile people during a trip through Madagascar. We would be happy to organize a holiday in Madagascar so that the cultural aspects of the trip would be the focus of attention. To do so, simply consult our travel offer and contact us.