|The Island of Madagascar has many influences: from the original discovery
of the island in the first century A.D., by Indonesian seafarers who came
by way of southern India and East Africa, the European contact; when
Diego Dias sighted the island when he got lost from his fleet, the French;
when they established trading posts along the eastern coast and from
about 1774-1824, Madagascar was a favorite haunt for pirates; including
Americans, who brought Malagasy Rice to South Carolina.
The ruling party or government of Madagascar has a varied history as well;
Nobility rule with the Merina tribe; the British influence and Treaty that
helped to abolish slavery; then the hand off to the French and full circle to
an independent nation: The Republic of Madagascar.
The nationality of Madagascar is Malagasy, the population today is
20,042,551, the official languages are Malagasy, French and English.
Larger than California and Oregon combined, Madagascar is the world's fourth largest island, after Greenland, New
Guinea and Borneo. Located 250 miles off the south-east coast of Africa, the island extends 1,000 miles in length and
360 miles at its largest width.
The island can be divided into three main parts: the East Coast, a narrow coastal strip abutting the steep slopes of the
North-South mountain range, home of the rain forest; the Central Highlands, averaging 2500 to 4500 feet in altitude
and culminating at 9430 feet, decorated with immense rice fields; and the West Coast, home of the baobabs and thorny
forest. Coral reefs fringe a portion of the coast. Most plants and animals found in Madagascar exist only there.
Thirteen million Malagasy inhabit Madagascar. Exactly how and when the early Malagasy discovered and settled the
island is not known. They have a dual Indonesian and African origin, attested by their physical features, language,
agricultural practices, and customs. In spite of their diversity, they are united by a common language, rooted in the
ancient Malayo-Polynesian, ancestor of the tongues spoken in the vast area bounded by Hawaii, the Tuamotu and
Madagascar. The modern language has been enriched by words imported from Bantu tongues, Swahili, Arabic, English
"Ny havany efa maty no ataoan'ny Malagasy hoe: Razana." This quote from the philosopher Rahajarizafy comes from
a passage extolling his compatriots' cult of the ancestors. The profound veneration of the Malagasy for their ancestors,
the closeness of the former to the latter, are an extraordinary trait. This attachment to the ancestors coupled with a
deep love and respect for their children, this orientation toward both the past and the future, seems to give the
Malagasy a serene tranquility and sense of continuity in life.
Travelling in Madagascar is not for everybody.
The most ancient road is not yet 100 years old and tourism is a very young industry. Many conveniences available and
expected in heavily-travelled places like Greece or Japan simply do not exist. If you insist on exact schedules,
well-planned itineraries and plush accomodations, if you want to be able to hop on the next plane or place an urgent
long-distance phone call, this country is not for you.
However, if you are flexible and looking for the unexpected, if you want to meet an extraordinary people, then go and
discover this fascinating island! You will certainly agree with the characterization made by world-explorer Dervla
Murphy: "Apart from the Tibetans, I have never travelled among a people as endearing as the Malagasy." You will
become attached to the country, verifying once more the Malagasy proverb: "They who drink the water from the
Manangareza river always come back to Madagascar".
Jean-Marie de La Beaujardière
Honorary Consul of Madagascar in California
Getting the Names Straight
• Malagasy (noun and adjective) is the name of the people and of the language.
• Madagascar is the name of the island in English, French, and a number of other languages.
• Madagasikara is the name of the island in Malagasy.
• Repoblikan'i Madagasikara, Republic of Madagascar, République de Madagascar, are the
official names of the government in Malagasy, English, and French respectively.
• Malgache is the French word for Malagasy.
• Madécasse is an obsolete French word, synonym of Malagasy.
• Madagascan is used by writers who need an adjective and don't know about Malagasy.
Red stands for sovereignty. White
represents purity. Green recalls the coastal
inhabitants and is a symbol of hope.
Effective date: 14 October 1958
Some information on this page has been reprinted from the On-Line Information Service of the
Embassy of Madagascar, Washington D.C.