Sunday, March 20, 2016


Oh, how my kids loved the Madagascar movies. We have seen it a million times. Not as much as the Cars movies, but certainly enough times to last me for a while. And how true of a representation of Madagascar it is, I don’t know right now. Probably only a small amount, I’m venturing to guess. So, I’m hoping that part of this enlightens me (and perhaps others who read this) on the true Madagascar. 
Baobab trees
Both the people and the language of Madagascar are called Malagasy. And in the Malagasy language, the word for their island is called Madagasikara. However, the word as we know it was brought to us courtesy of Marco Polo, who confused the area and totally mispronounced the name of Mogadishu [Somalia] (which seems strange, because I can’t imagine they look that similar?). 

The island of Madagascar is the fourth largest island, located off of the southeast coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. It’s separated from mainland Africa by the Mozambique Channel, almost directly across from Mozambique itself. In fact, if you look at the shape of the island, it looks like it could almost fit right into Mozambique, which is where it originally was millions of years ago. The Comoros Islands are also in the Mozambique Channel between the northern end of Madagascar and Mozambique. The islands of Reunion and Mauritius are found to the east of Madagascar. To the northeast lies the Seychelles Islands, almost directly east from Kenya and Tanzania. 

Toliara Coral Reef
The eastern side of the island is hit with a lot of rain coming across the Indian Ocean, which supports its rain forests. Trade winds and monsoons help create a hot rainy season (Nov-Apr), contrasting with a cooler dry season (May-Oct, which is when I would definitely go). The central highlands remains slightly cooler. The island also gets hammered with tornados, causing millions of dollars in damage each year. The tropical locale allows the flora and fauna to thrive. The vast majority of the plant and animal life on Madagascar are unique to the island, including its famed lemurs. It’s also home to the Toliara Coral Reef, the third largest coral reef system in the world. 
King Radama I
It’s widely believed that the original inhabitants migrated here from Borneo. Arab traders later arrived, followed by Bantu migrants. By several centuries later, Madagascar had become quite the trade hub. The Arabs were the ones who introduced written language. It was essentially the Malagasy language written using Arabic script. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive on the island. The French were next to arrive and quickly established their own trading posts. From the late 1700s, the island became part of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and piracy. The British recognized King Radama I as the King of Madagascar, who abolished their role in the slave trade. The London Missionary Society later established schools and worked on transcribing the Malagasy language into Roman letters instead of the Arabic script. Both France and Britain pressured the local government into the establishment of Christianity. France invaded the country in 1883, and Madagascar ceded the northern section of the island to them. They put in place plantations and additional schools. During WWI, Madagascar fought for the French, but during WWII it was the site of the Battle of Madagascar between the British and the Vichy [French] government. After an uprising in 1958, the island became an autonomous region of France, reaching its full independence in 1960. Madagascar aligned itself with the Eastern Bloq and along with the after effects of the oil crisis and other failed policies, its economic state and living standards fell in the toilet. A change in government in the early 1990s made significant changes to how their government is set up. However, since then, it’s been a cycle of growth and corruption, especially with the political riots in 2010.  

The capital city, Antananarivo, is located roughly in the middle of the island. Under French control, the city was known as Tananarive, or Tana for short. The name Antananarivo literally means “City of a Thousand,” in reference to a garrison of 1000 soldiers. Although it was originally the capital of the Merina people, today it is a highly multicultural city comprised of all native ethnic groups, European, Indian, and Chinese populations. This city of 1.6 million people is the center of government, media, commerce, finance, and higher education. 

Drying vanilla beans. Yes, vanilla starts out black, not white.
Once Madagascar declared independence and decided to follow a Marxist take on their economy, it practically fell out. There were several failed policies that didn’t work at all. The IMF helped them get on a plan to manage their debt (apparently Peter Francis Geraci was busy). And things have turned around for Madagascar. Eco-tourism is a hot market to be in, although the numbers have declined slightly due to the political unrest. Fishing and forestry are important products Madagascar depends on, along with vanilla, cloves, ylang-ylang, coffee, lychees, and shrimp productions. Nearly half the world’s sapphires come from the island. 

Nearly half of the population still practices indigenous religions, which is highly dependent on ancestral homage. They’re known for their reburial ceremony called famadihana. About half the population also practices Christianity, namely Roman Catholicism. There are a lot of people who also cross over to practice both. Other Christian denominations are also found on the island along with Islam and Hinduism. 

The Malagasy language is in the Malayo-Polynesian family. There are several dialects, but it’s all generally understood. (Like the difference between Texan English and Minnesotan English, I suppose.) Officially, Malagasy and French are listed as the official languages of Madagascar, and English was just removed from the list in 2010. English only made the list because of its historical significance, but seeing how the British really haven’t been involved for quite some time, it’s just time to let that mess go.  

As I combed through several websites about Madagascar, it kind of struck me that Malagasy names can be very long. Like, incredibly long. And that goes for both the names of both people and places. For example, the current president Hery Rajaonarimampianina has a longer surname than any other president/leader of a country. I can only imagine how long it takes for kids to learn how to spell their names. According to a 1999 BBC article I came across, it’s because of two things: 1) the meaning of their names, and 2) originally, people just had one name and only utilized two names when the Europeans introduced it to them. The article cited one of the longest names that belonged to a 19th century king whose full name was King Andrianampoinimerinatompokoindrindra and meant  “the prince who was given birth by Imerina and who is my real lord.” What a mouthful! The only thing that should be a mouthful is their food.

Up next: art and literature

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