Facts About the Culture, Geography, and History of Madagascar
Madagascar is nature’s wonder. It has one of the most unique biodiversities in the world. It is a melting pot of Afro-Australasian cultures.
There is so much about Madagascar that can hardly fit into one article. Nonetheless, we have captured the 13 most interesting facts that will give you an overview of this island nation.
13. Republic of Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world.
Madagascar comes fourth after Borneo. Greenland is the largest, followed by New Guinea and then Borneo. Great Britain can fit into Madagascar 2 ½ times. Combined with its unique biodiversity and culture, Madagascar appear as a sub-continent on its own.
12. Almost all of the plant and animal species found on the Madagascar Island are unique to this island.
Madagascar has a unique biodiversity without about 90% of its wildlife not found anywhere else in the world. Also, over 80% of its plant species has no any other place to be found. Visitors are almost assured that they will meet unique animals and plants never seen before.
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11. Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in Africa. The people in this territory face many problems including poor health care, a poor educational system, economic problems and malnutrition.
Over 70% of people in Madagascar live below the internationally recognized poverty line of $1.25 per day. The poverty levels are due to low literacy among its populations, lack of infrastructure and over-dependence on raw primary agricultural output for consumption.
This over-dependence means that industrial agriculture does not get enough demand for its finished products. Here is a huge mass of land with largely unexplored industrial potential that can greatly uplift the welfare of its people and the world.
10. Madagascar has two official languages, first is Malagasy and second is French.
Malagasy is a Malayo-Polynesian language (originated in Indonesia) where the first inhabitants of Madagascar originated from. Its tongue is widely spoken in Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines. Malagasy is natively spoken as a first language by over 18 million people.
The French language originated from the colonial heritage. Madagascar was colonized by France and this became the official language of instruction and communication.
9. Madagascar has lost more than 80% of its original forest land since humans arrived on this place about two thousand years ago.
Due to high poverty levels that force many to cut down forest in order to till the land and also burn charcoal as a cheap source of energy, Madagascar has continue to lose its forest cover.
This losing streak has been made worse by unstable political climate which has negated sustainable development policy. Despite cutting down forests for cultivation, it is estimated that deforestation costs Madagascar $300 million dollars in lost yields per annum.
8. Lemurs are sacred in Madagascar.
Lemurs are a part of those species that are endemic to Madagascar. The largest of lemur species is known as Indri. Lemurs are regarded as sacred with several myths about them. One of these myths is about a boy who climbed high a tree to fetch honey. Unfortunately, he slid and fell.
Those who were on the ground knew this was a tragic end to his life. However, while on a free fall, a giant Indri extended itself and held him mid-air. It is this saving of the boy’s life that made it sacredly revered. There are many more myths about it from one region to another.
The good thing about these myths is that they have helped to save Lemurs for generations.
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7. Madagascar was settled by Asians before mainland Africans.
Despite Madagascar being close to the East African coast, its first inhabitants were not Africans. Instead, they were people from places several times farther than the East African coast. The first inhabitants were natives of Borneo, an island in Malaya-Polynesian region.
They are believed to have been a family of sailors on adventure who, probably due to loss of direction, ended up landing in Madagascar. It took several centuries before Africans from the mainland started landing there.
6. Before French colonial rule, Madagascar was ruled by a woman.
Queen Ranavalona III was the last reigning monarch of Madagascar. She was deposed by the French colonial government and sent into exile in Reunion before eventually being exiled in Algiers, Algeria. Her mother and grandmother were also rulers. This was one of the few traditional dynasties in Africa that allowed women to become rulers.
5. Many native plants of Madagascar have medicinal properties.
The diversity of Madagascar’s uniquely endemic flora has one great potent – its medicinal value. These medicinal plants have not only promoted the health of the people of Madagascar but also earned them foreign income through ecotourism and export of essential oils.
Some of the popular medicinal plants include Afiafi (Avicennia marina), Tangogo (Cyathula uncinulata), Vonenina (Catharanthus lanceus). They are used to remedy various ailments including stomach ulcers, diabetes, allergies, diarrhea, coughs, hepatitis, among many other ailments.
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4. There may have been an anarchist pirate utopia in Madagascar.
Libertatia is one of the best-known fictional private utopia established in Madagascar towards the end of 17th Century. While this is fictional work by Peter Lamborn Wilson, who defined piracy utopia as a secret island used for resupply by pirates in their missions abroad, this is not far off from the description of Madagascar.
In the 17th and 18th Century, Madagascar become a pirate’s haven along the pirate’s round from Western Atlantic via Cape Town targeting ships from Yemen and India passing through the Southern Cape. This is when British East India Company thrived in ferrying commodities from India to Western Europe and vice versa.
3. Madagascar has strong human rights protections.
The Constitution of Madagascar has strong protection of people’s human rights. These rights include democratic rights, right to equality of gender, and a host of civil rights. However, due to turbulent political climate witnessed between 2009 and 2010, most of these rights were violated.
Poverty and political instability are the greatest stumbling blocks to strong human rights protections. As such, child labor, dehumanizing slave-like conditions for prisoners, discrimination against women especially when it comes to land ownership, among others, are some of the leading violations of human rights.
Politically, a climate that allows people to choose their leaders through a free, fair, transparent, and credible elections remains a mirage.
2. Madagascar has its own brand of fight clubs. Moraingy is a popular sport in the coastal regions, consisting of hand-to-hand combat without any weapons.
Hand-to-hand combat is a common sports activity in Madagascar. The most popular of these is Moraingy, which, in Malagasy means ‘boxing’. However, this is unlike ordinary boxing. It is a traditional form of bare-knuckles martial arts. In essence, it is Kickboxing.
Traditionally, Moraingy is held between neighboring villages. It is popular in the Bemahara region. These days, the Moraingy tournaments are a common Sunday fixture on Sambava beaches.This is one activity that you can train to engage in while in Madagascar if you are a lover of bare-knuckles engagement. At least you can watch.
1. Music is not viewed as a luxury, but a sacred part of the Malagasy daily life.
Every society has its own music. Music is considered the language of the soul. In Madagascar music is a language of speaking to both the ancestors and the deities (including God). The sacredness of music is revealed in its words and ceremonies in which a particular set of music is performed. The kind of instruments used and their form of dancing also reveals this reverence of the sacred music.
Valiha, is oldest traditional music instrument. It has been adopted by the State as symbol of the nation. Valiya is a flute whose body is made from bamboo stalk.
This music is part of ceremonies performed to evoke the spirits of Tromba (ancient royalty) in order to summon them. They are summoned to intervene and help when a community is faced with problems such as illness, foreign invasion, and wars, among others.