The large island country of Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world. It is located off of the southeastern coast of Africa in the Indian Ocean. Its official name is the Republic of Madagascar and it was previously known as the Malagasy Republic. Madagascar was once part of India when the ancient supercontinent of Gondwana existed. Because of its early separation from India, plant and animal life evolved in relative isolation from the rest of the world and thus created many of the unique species in existence today. Madagascar was originally settled between 350 BC and 550 CE by people from Borneo. In the late 1800s it became part of the French empire and remained a colony of France until 1960. Today's population is around 22 million and the government is a constitutional democracy with the capital resting in the ancient city of Antananarivo.


As the world's fourth largest island, Madagascar's area is 592,800 square kilometers (228,900 sq mi). Nearby are a number of smaller islands including the French territories of Réunion and Mayotte. To the east are the islands of Mauritius and the state of Comoros. To the west is the nearest mainland country Mozambique. The eastern coast of Madagascar is made up of what remains of the lowland rainforest, which exists in a steep escarpment. The center of the island is a highland region with a large plateau. The west coast consists of mangrove swamps. The southern portion of the island is in the rain shadow of the central highlands and is mainly made up of drier, deciduous forests, some desert areas and xeric scrub regions.


Due to the unique and varied geography of Madagascar, the country also features a varied climate. The eastern coast is tropical and then becomes more and more temperate when progressing across the island to the west. The southern portion of the island is very dry and arid. The weather is significantly influenced by the trade winds and the country sees two seasons each year - a wet, warm season and a dry, cooler season. The warm season is from November to April and the cool season is from May to October. During the cool season frosts are common at the higher central elevations and Ankaratra massif occasionally sees snow. Madagascar also occasionally experiences cyclones.


By CIA worldfact book (Wikipédia francophone) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons Ninety percent of all of the plant and animal species found on Madagascar are endemic and completely unique to the island. These species include lemurs, fossa and many birds. Regarding plant species, there are five entire families of plants that are found nowhere else in the world. Two-thirds of the world's chameleon species exist only on Madagascar along with over 200 other species of reptile. There are two families of endemic fish that inhabit the inland freshwater areas. There are also hundreds of species of snails, butterflies, beetles, spiders, dragonflies and other insects. There is a high likelihood that not all species have even been cataloged and the country is thought of by conservationists and ecologists as a biodiversity hotspot. There are 103 species and subspecies of lemur that have been officially identified. Thirty-nine of those species were not identified until 2008. It is believed that at least seventeen other species have gone extinct since man first settled the island. All other species have been classified as either endangered, rare or vulnerable.

The Breakup of Gondwana

The ecology of Madagascar is thought to stem from it once being part of the prehistoric continent of Gondwana. Gondwana was the southernmost supercontinent with Laurasia the northernmost. Both were previously part of the single continent of Pangaea. Gondwana origianlly consisted of India, Antarctica, what would today be known as the island of Madagascar, along with Africa and South America. The supercontinent broke apart again and Africa and South America moved away from India, Antarctica and Madagascar approximately 135 million years ago. Madagascar broke away from India 88 million years ago. As a result the island has long been separated from all neighboring land.

Early History

The isolation of Madagascar also caused it to be one of the last land masses settled by humans. Archaeologists believe that the earliest people came in a series of waves between 350 BC and 550 CE. Some will argue though that humans did not arrive until at least AD 250. In 420 there is documented human presence in Andavakoera. The earliest of the settlers came in canoes from Borneo. Studies of the genetics of the Malagasy today indicate Africans in their lineage as well, but it has not been determined when Africans first arrived on the island. The first settlers extensively engaged in slashing-and-burning techniques which took a devastating toll on the original wildlife. Animals like giant lemurs, giant fossa, elephant birds and the Malagasy hippopotamus soon became extinct as the rainforests were cut down for agricultural purposes. Clearing of forests began to take place farther and farther inland and eventually the central highlands were turned into grasslands. The zebu was introduced around 1000 CE by a group of Bantu-speaking settlers. The species of cattle requires a great deal of land as pasture.

The Kingdom of Imerina

Around the year 1600, the various people of Madagascar began to establish assorted kingdoms all over the island. In the central region the people began to make use of irrigated paddy fields. The irrigation techniques coupled with clearing of land for zebu completely transformed the landscape and set up the human population for further advancement. The Kingdom of Imerina emerged in the central region where they founded the capital city of Antananarivo. Much of their history was oral, but one of the other groups of people during the same time period were called the Vazimba. They were less technologically advanced and the two cultures eventually assimilated. At this same time the island became a transoceanic trading post. Arab people first stumbled upon the island, introducing Islam and other aspects of their own culture such as writing and a form of astrology. The French also founded several trading posts along the eastern coast. Soon after, in the 1700s and 1800s, Madagascar became popular with pirates in the region and smaller island off of the coast, Nosy Boroha, may be the pirate utopia of legend known as Libertalia.

French Colonization

The kingdoms of Madagascar all began to grow gradually weaker as well as see increased European influence. The Merina King Radama I (1810–28) managed to unite the entire country under his rule and he was recognized as the King of Madagascar by the British. He established a treaty with the British governor of Mauritius for assistance in 1817. The London Missionary Society arrived the following year. Radama's successor, Queen Ranavalona I (1828–61), was less accepting of British and French encroachment. She pressed the Europeans to leave the nation and prohibited the practice of Christianity. The following years saw increased turmoil and tension on the island. Then in 1883 France launched an invasion stemming from a violation of the Lambert Charter, which was a controversial slave agreement signed by Prince Radama II. The battle that followed became known as the Franco-Hova War and the end result was France gaining control of the northern part of the island. The British agreed to a French protectorate of Madagascar and France again invaded, annexing the whole of the island in 1896.


Troops from Madagascar fought for France during World War I and then during World War II, the island became a potential site for deportation of European Jews by the Nazis. It also became the site of the Battle of Madagascar between the Vichy government and the British. An independence movement began to grow during this time and lead to the Malagasy Uprising of 1947. The movement for independence continued after the end of the war and the French established the Overseas Reform Act to help Madagascar obtain independence peacefully. In 1958 the Republic of Madagascar was created and recognized as an autonomous state, but it remained a part of the French Community. Full independence was obtained in 1960.

Modern Madagascar

Madagascar experienced four periods of transition after regaining independence. The transitional periods have become known as the Four Republics. The First Republic saw a French-appointed president, Philibert Tsiranana, and the country was still strongly influenced by France both economically and politically. The First Republic came to an end in 1972 when Tsiranana was overthrown. The Second Republic existed from 1975 to 1993 and Madagascar became a socialist-Marxist nation. The country went bankrupt in 1979 and Didier Ratsiraka began to become increasingly unpopular with the people. In 1991 following the presidential guards opening fire on a group of protesters a transitional government was established and then elections were held in 1992. Albert Zafy was elected as president and remained in power until 1996. The Third Republic began with his election and then ended in 2010 with a new constitution and the start of the Fourth Republic. The constitution retained the multi-party democratic system that the Third Republic established, but lead the nation away from the authoritarianism that it was leaning toward under Zafy's successor, Marc Ravalomanana.


Madagascar today is a democratic, multi-party republic that is thought of as semi-presidential. The constitution dictates that the president is to be elected by popular vote and then select a prime minister. The prime minister then recommends candidates for the president's cabinet of ministers. Legislative power is divided among the cabinet, Senate and National Assembly. According to the constitution, presidents can be elected for a maximum of three five-year terms. Marc Ravalomanana was elected as president in 2006, but transferred his power to Andry Rajoelina in 2009, following a coup. The most recent election of 2013, was intended to restore the democracy and saw Robinson Jean Louis and Hery Rajaonarimampianina as frontrunners.


During the First Republic, France participated a great deal in maintaining the economy of Madagascar. France acted as the country's major trading partner and there were government programs in place boosting production of major commodities like rice, coffee, palm oil and silk. The Second-Republic stemmed from popular dissatisfaction with these initiatives, but lead to state monopolies and a decrease in exports. The economy declined and there was a period of inflation as well as an increase in the government debt. After the country went bankrupt privatization of industry took place and the World Bank stepped in. The 1991 political crisis lead to a suspension of assistance, but after meeting a number of criteria in 2005 Madagascar received benefits from the Millennium Challenge Account, created by the International Monetary Fund. Around sixty-nine percent of the population lives below the poverty line, which is only $1 per day. The economic situation is beginning to increase due to tourism, but the tourist industry has been negatively impacted by political tensions.

Imports and Exports

Madagascar is one of the world's major suppliers of vanilla, ylang-ylang and cloves. Forestry and fishing are also important with shrimp being another major export, as well as raffia, coffee and lychees. Half of the world's sapphires originate from Madagascar and there are also large titanium reserves. France is still one of the nation's main trading partners, but the United States, Germany and Japan have also created economic ties. The main imports into the country come from France, China, Iran and Hong Kong. They consist largely of foodstuffs, fuel, consumer goods, electronics and vehicles.


Medical centers in Madagascar are concentrated in the urban areas and significant parts of the population do not have access to medical care. Medical care is expensive and the country has a lack of trained medical professionals to provide care. Malaria, schistosomiasis and sexually transmitted diseases are a problem in many areas, but hepatitis B, diphtheria and measles have decreased due to child immunizations. In 2009 the adult life expectancy for men was sixty-three and sixty-seven for women.


The London Missionary Society established the first school in 1818 at Toamasina. Prior to the influence of the LMS education was centered around practical skills and cultural values. King Radama wanted to expand literacy, but Queen Ranavalona closed all European schools in 1935. The colonial period saw the schools reopened and Madagascar's education was comparable to that of other French colonies. The French education system continued until the Second Republic when French nationals were removed from the country. As the economy began to collapse, so did the the education system. Ravalomanana put significant emphasis on education from 2002 to 2009 and many of his educational reforms have remained in place. Education is current free and required for children between the ages of six and thirteen. Primary school lasts for five years and is followed by four years of lower secondary school then three years of upper secondary school. Despite this, education quality is relatively weak. The dropout rate is high and classrooms are extremely crowded with a student to teacher ratio of 41:1.


The Malagasy of Madagascar are a unique ethnic group made up of a fairly equal blend of Austronesian and Bantu genes. Some groups also show traces of Arab, Indian and European ancestry. In general, the coastal people show a larger predominance of Bantu origins while the people of the central highlands lean more Austronesian. The Malagasy make up ninety percent of the population of Madagascar today with the remaining ten percent consisting of Indian, Chinese, Comorian and people of European origin. The European population is mostly French. The most populated areas are the eastern coast and eastern highlands while the western plains are very sparsely populated. There many Malagasy dialects and the language is derived from Malayo-Polynesian. Both Malagasy and French are the official languages of the country. French is mainly spoken only by the more educated population. Around half of the population continues to practice traditional Malagasy religion while the other half has adopted Christianity with Protestants slightly outnumbering Roman Catholics.


The many Malagasy sub-groups of Madagascar all have unique identities and their own unique traditions. They share a number of significant commonalities though which have resulted still in a united people and identifiable cultural identity. All Malagasy traditional beliefs revolve around ancestor veneration and a single creator god. There is also a great deal of emphasis on solidarity, karma, destiny and a sacred life force. There is a persistent belief in magic, astrology, other forms of divination and witch doctors. Social castes were once prominent, but have become less so in modern times. Although castes are not legally recognized they still play a role in some communities. Stemming from the ancient Merina oral traditions there is a strong emphasis on oratory arts like poetry. Silk weaving and wood carving are also popular traditional art forms. A form of hand-to-hand combat called moraingy also originated with the Malagasy people and is a popular spectator sport, especially in the coastal regions. Zebu cattle-wrestling is practiced throughout the country and many western activities have caught on. Rugby is actually thought of as the national sport today.

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