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Society and Culture of Madagascar

According to anthropological studies, it is assumed that the first humans arrived in Madagascar about 2000 years ago and they were mostly from regions like India, Arabia and the continent of Africa. During that time the land was the abode of various wild creatures like lemurs, giant tortoise, dwarf hippos and many other unique species of animals found nowhere else in the world.

The ancestors of the Madagascar society lived in harmony with each other and they were against the idea of segregation. These peoples were the initiators of Madagascar Society and Culture and throughout the years they formed an incredible amalgamation of tradition, language, and religion. In the 16th century, the Portuguese arrived and invaded the island but very soon they were succeeded by the arrival of the French and English. In 1794, King Andrianampoinimerina came to power and he united the various tribes to form a single kingdom in the country.

Modern Madagascar society presents a perfect blend of traditionalism and modernism. In earlier times the society in Madagascar used to follow the hierarchical order. The society was divided into the noble class, commoner class and the slave class. But with time, these differences were wiped out and now Madagascar has a homogeneous social set-up. In Madagascar society women enjoy equal rights like their male counterparts. Recently various women organization came to the forefront to help the women in need in the rural areas and also for the overall development of women.

Thus the Madagascar's society and culture is a rich combination of various ethnic groups, religions and languages that make the country a united entity.

Languages Spoken in Madagascar : 
The main Madagascar Language is the "Malagasy language" which is spoken widely by the entire population. Linguists believe that the origin of Malagasy is closely related to Maanyan which is spoken in South East of Borneo.

The origin of Malagasy language is related to several other Indonesian languages. The origin of Malagasy language is related to several other Indonesian languages. Different other dialects of Madagascar exist in the different regions of the country yet they all are mutually intelligible with words having same roots and origin.

The Malagasy vocabulary is quite interesting and various foreign words are found in this vocabulary. The naming of the days and weeks of the year are taken from the Arabic while the names of animals were taken from the Swahili dialects. Numerous English and French words were included in the language of Madagascar.

French emerged as one of the dominant Madagascar language in the colonial period and Malagasy was given an inferior position mainly in the academic and official fields. Malagachization was included in the Madagascar language and ultimately it included the denunciation of French culture. French still remains one of the most important languages in Madagascar and it was due to the international status of the language. Hence both the Malagasy and French language were used in the official government publications in Madagascar.

The island of Madagascar is planning to introduce English as the third official language after the French and Malagasy. The three main dialects of the Madagascar give the visitors an easy way of communicating while visiting Madagascar.

People of Madagascar : 
The people of Madagascar are of various races and follow their own traditional beliefs. Population of this country is approximately about 21,926,221 and people of Madagascar mostly follow the French and Malagasy dialects. The Madagascar people are mainly of the mixed Asian and African origins. Malagasy is the original language of the people of Madagascar yet French is the second popular language and it is due to the prevalent French colonies in Madagascar from the very beginning.

The Madagascar people constitute an amalgamation of races like Indonesians, Black Africans, Christians and Muslims respectively. About 55 % of the followers are of traditional beliefs whereas 40% are the followers of Christianity. Muslims form a small minority of the population and they barely constitute 5% of the population. Most of the Madagascar people reside in rural areas and only one third of the population lives in cities or towns.

Madagascar people love wearing traditional clothes and they prefer various shades of vibrant color. European styled outfits are quite prevalent in Madagascar dressing. The staple food of the Madagascar people generally consists of rice, vegetables, meat, fish and fruits.

Education is compulsory for five years in the Madagascar society and each area has its own individual schools and the highest literacy rate in Africa is in Madagascar itself Traditionalism and culture is much prevalent among the Madagascar people and they strictly follow their faith and age old rituals.

The land of Madagascar is a hub of various exotic rare flora and fauna of the world and is really a country of hidden secrets. The Madagascar people form a very colorful and vibrant Madagascar society and culture and it is unique in the whole world.

Ethnic Groups of Madagascar : 
The Ethnic groups of Madagascar form the integral part of Madagascar society and culture. The Malagasy group of people of Madagascar comprise of the intermingling of various immigrants from different parts of the world. The original immigrants are said to be the Afro-Malagasy race. Later on the immigrants from African, Arabs, China, Europe and India arrived and settled in Madagascar.

The main Madagascar ethnic groups, according to the 1998 survey, are the Malayo-Indonesian, Merina (formed about 25% of the population), Betsileo (about 12%) and the Cotiers. These African ethnic groups of Madagascar were initially demarcated on the basis of political groupings but later on the Europeans included them under the Madagascar ethnic groups.

The Austronesian people are the major group living in Madagascar and they constitute about 57% of the total population. The territories occupied by the Austronesian peoples were together known as Austronesia. The Malagasy ethnic group forms a good number of the population and they are sub divided into two racial and socio-economic groups namely the Betsileo and the Merina. Merina, the Madagascar natives, have been the descendant groups from the late 18th century but the colonialism in Madagascar strengthened them politically in Madagascar.

Betsileo are the third largest among the Madagascar ethnic groups and they are the highland tribe of Madagascar. The word Betsileo means "the invincible one". The population of Betsileo is about one million. Other than Merina and Betsileo, other significant populations are of French, Indian, Comoran and the Creole origin.

Traditional Clothing of Madagascar : 
The traditional clothing of Madagascar is the style statement of the natives of Madagascar and is generally influenced by the European style of dressing. The clothing in Madagascar is usually a rich combination of various colors. The dye use in the clothes is natural and they are extracted from berries, minerals and various such natural resources.

The textile art of Madagascar adds another interesting facet to Madagascar attire and these special clothes forms the very part of Madagascar clothing. The elegantly weaved clothes are known as "lamba" and serves as traditional ceremonial gift in Madagascar. The Malagasy offers clothes to the rulers, spirits and ancestors to receive blessings. Exchange of clothing as gifts is done to demonstrate the mutual respect among the ethnic groups.

As per the tradition of Madagascar, men offer clothes to brides in the marriage ceremony and the bride and groom are encircled in single cloth as a symbol of their union forever. Clothes are also offered to the ancestors and it forms the part of the marriage ceremony.

The clothing of Madagascar is not just traditional as the country has numerous western wear outlets. There are stores selling western clothes for children and adults alike. The European influence on Madagascar clothing is a result of French and British colonization. Thus clothing in Madagascar is various and there traditional Madagascar clothing is just the reflection of the island's rich culture.

Last Updated : December 09, 2013


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