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Madagascar is one of the nations on earth privileged to be an island. It is located in southern Africa specifically the southeast part of Africa east of Mozambique in the Indian Ocean. It is also reputed to be the world’s fourth largest island. According to geologists, the island was a result of the breaking away of a mass of land from the continent of Africa 50 million years ago (Hagget, 2002). It covers an area of approximately 590,000 square kilometers. According to the 2009 estimates, the population of Madagascar is about 20 million people (Heale & Latif, 2009). The capital city of the island is known as Antananarivo.
Madagascar has a wonderful terrain of mountainous central plateau despite the challenges of deforestation and illegal logging facing its environment. In addition, it has a beautiful coastal plain. Blagdon (1805) described the country in his literary works as a naturalist’s true land of promise where nature seems to have retired as into a sanctuary. The moderate climate of the tropical coasts of the country allows the growth and survival of a number of rare plant species, which sources record to be approximately 12,000 species (Heale & Latif, 2009). Moreover, the isolation of the island allowed for the evolution of unique and diverse wildlife such as the lemurs. Madagascar is an island that is fortunate to have diversity not only in the plant species, but also in various animal species.
Madagascar has a great cultural diversity due to the numerous ethnic sub-groups that form the culture of the people. A stranger in the island would find different people throughout the country all with different practices, beliefs and lifestyles. There are approximately 18 recognized ethnic groups in the country with characteristics that vary from one place to another. For example, the habits, fashions, dialects, taboos and favorable kinds of foods vary from one ethnic group to another. However, despite the numerous ethnic groups, some common practices cut across the cultures of all the groups. This helps in fostering unity among the people of Madagascar. The ethnic groups have embraced a common language, Malagasy, and common practices such as the circumcision of the boy child as an initiation into maturity.
The people of Madagascar display a considerable level of ethnic diversity because the habitation of the island was a process that occurred overtime. This allowed for the intermingling of the migrants who happened to stumble upon the island while they travelled in the Indian Ocean. It is believed that sea travellers from Indonesia came across the Island and were the first inhabitants in the 10th century. About four centuries later, the Africans from the mainland found their way into the island. Due to the soaring trading activities of the 14th century, the Asians and Arabs also came into the island (Hagget, 2002).
With time, these different groups interrelated and the intermarriages among them led to the development of new cultural groups. Since culture is dynamic, these people eventually formed the many ethnic groups that exist presently in Madagascar. Although there are many other local dialects that have emerged in Madagascar, the common language, Malagasy, is of Indonesian origin. This language has borrowed heavily from the Indonesians. The ethnic groups in the island include the Tanala, Antanosy, Antaisaka, Antandroy, Antaifasy, Mahafaly, Bara, Tsimihety, Antakarana, Makoa, Sakalava, Sihanaka, Bezanozano, Antaimaro, Amtambahoaka, Betsileo, Betsimisaraka and Merina. It is estimated that only 27% of the people of Madagascar live in the urban towns while the rest, 73%, live in the countryside and practice farming (Heale & Latif, 2009).
Religion in Madagascar
A collection of beliefs that have an ethical and moral code that regulate the undertakings of the people in a given society is called religion. Madagascar has several religious affiliations due to the diversity of the populace. The adherents of traditional beliefs constitute 47% of the total religious affiliations in the country. Christianity also commands a significant number of followers, which constitutes 51% of the total religious affiliations. In addition, Christianity is composed of 26 % Catholics, 22.8 % Protestants, and 2.2% of other Christians. The Muslims comprise 1.7% of the population with the other uncategorized religious affiliations constituting 0.3 % ( Hagget, 2002).
The cohorts of traditional beliefs fueled the practice of sorcery and witchcraft in the island. This was due to the explicit nature of some of their practices such as the exhumation of dead people for a fresh rewrapping of the decayed bodies and then holding reburial ceremonies. This reburial ceremony is called famadiahana. These traditional believes also believe in the presence of the dead ancestors, called razana in Malagasy, and have formed a practice of consulting the ancestors through a medium or diviner. They offer sacrifices to the ancestors especially to appease them for specific favors or for them to avert crisis such as famine or floods.
There are also systems of traditional religious rules that have been devised that ought not to be broken. These rules were called fady. The breaking of a fady would be a taboo punishable severely. In some cases, the offenders in this regard used to be burnt alive. An example of fady includes not pointing at a tomb or grave. The fady allowed one to point at the tomb only on special occasions and it would have to be done with a curled finger. The traditional believers are also against the touching of people on the head and whistling while eating. However, the practices of the Christians and Muslims in the island are similar to the practices in other countries universally.
The History of Madagascar
According to Copland (1822), the Europeans discovered the island of Madagascar in the year 1506. However, the island had inhabitants who had migrated to the island in the 10th century. Copland (1822) said that a Portuguese by the name Lawrence Almeida discovered the island on his way to East Indies. What is interesting is that Vasco de Gama had taken the same route earlier but never saw the island. It is said that Vasco de Gama failed to see the island because he sailed close to the coastal lines of the continent and not in the deep waters (Copland, 1822).
The Arabs introduced trade in the island and brought Islam to the country. The island made actual contact with the Europeans around the 1500. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to take interest in the Island followed by the French in the late 17th century. In the year 1895, the island of Madagascar, then called Malagasy, was colonized by the French.The then Prime Minister and Queen Ranavalona III were captured and exiled in Algeria. The French then set up a governing body to rule in the land.
Rebellions emerged to fight against the oppression of the French. This marked the genesis of the people of Madagascar in their path towards independence. Movements such as the Malagasy uprising lost several of their loyal members to the clashes between them and the French soldiers. The effort of the struggle for independence bore fruit in June 26, 1960. On this day, the people of Madagascar gained their independence from France. The first Madagascarn president to serve was called Philibert Tsiranana. He reigned from 1960-1972. Over the years, Madagascar has had eight presidents. The current president is Andry Rajoelina who took office in 2009.