Madagascar: More Than Just a Movie

Priscilla Le, Managing Editor

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When most people hear the word, “Madagascar”, they immediately think of the DreamWorks movie about talking zoo animals released in 2005. The actual country of Madagascar, however, is a very unique island located in the southeastern coast of Africa. It’s capital, Antananarivo is both the largest and most populated city on the island and the country has a current population of 26M people according to a 2018 census.

Madagascar is an island country in the South Eastern coast of Africa


Geography: Madagascar is 226,658 square miles large and is the fourth largest island in the world (not including Australia). Its highest point is the northern region of Tsaratanana Massif with an elevation of 2,876 meters (9,436 feet) and its lowest point is the Indian Ocean at zero meters. Two of its major rivers include the Mangoky and Betsiboka Rivers. The island is also divided into six provinces: Antananarivo, Antsiranana, Fianarantsoa, Mahajanga, Toamasina, and Toliara. These provinces were subdivided into twenty-two regions: Alaotra Mangoro, Amoron’i Mania, Analamanga, Analanjirofo, Androy, Anosy, Atsimo-Andrefana, Atsimo-Atisinanana, Atisinanana, Betsiboka, Boeny, Bongolava, Diana, Haute Matsiatra, Ihorombe, Itasy, Melaky, Menabe, Sava, Sofia, Vakinankaratra, and Vatovavy Fitovinany.


Culture: Madagascar culture has Malagasy origin from Southeast Asia and East Africa, along with Arabian, Indian, British, French, and Chinese influences. Half of the population believe in traditional Malagasy customs such as honoring family ancestors and Zanahary, a creator deity that acts as a division between heaven and earth in Malagasy mythology. A fourth of the population is Protestant Christian, approximately sixteen percent of the population practices a combination of Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Mormonism, and about seven percent of people in Madagascar are Islamic. To simplify things, it can be concluded that a little over half of Malagasy people follow animist/traditional beliefs, around forty-one percent practice various forms of Christianity, and the remainder are either Islam or Muslim. The reason for such diversity in the Malagasy people is due to the intermingling of immigrants from the above cultural heritages.

Romazava, the national dish of Madagascar. (source:

Rice is a staple food in Madagascar. Most meals consist of rice topped with pork, crab, chicken, peanuts, potatoes, peanuts, or more commonly, zebu, a specific breed of humped cattle with South Asian origins. Koba, a combination of rice, banana, and peanut, is a popular snack across the island. Pictured to the left is Romazava, the infamous national dish of Madagascar. Romazava is a stew of meats (beef, pork, and chicken), chopped vegetables and greens (onions, tomatoes, and spinach), garlic, and ginger.

The official languages of Madagascar are Malagasy and French (spoken by the education population of the island’s former French colony (Colonie de Madagascar et Dependances). Malagasy is part of the East Barito group of the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family. Over 18M people on the island speak Malagasy as a first language, while the remaining speak French as a first language. English, however, the most popular foreign language for the people of Madagascar to learn.


History: The start of Madagascar’s history begins with its physical separation from the large landmass including Africa and India. Humans settled the island by traveling in canoes from the Sunda islands (present-day Indonesia)  between 200 BC and 500 AD. People of Austronesian, Bantu, South Asian, European, Chinese, and Arabian also traveled to Madagascar, eventually leading to the creation of Malagasy peoples. Trade was held with nearby countries like Mozambique and northward such as the European country of France. The island’s primary export goods are: coffee, vanilla, cloves, shellfish, and sugar. From around 1600 and 1800, most of the island’s coasts were ruled by pirates, before British and French powers began making efforts to colonize the area. It wasn’t until 1885 that the Berlin Treaty was signed by Queen Ranavalona III, which made the alliances between France and Madagascar official and also the French claim on Madagascar to the British.

The native people of Madagascar rebelled and revolted until June 26th, 1960, when the island gains independence from the controlling monarchy of France. Since then, the island has had a democratic election system, with temporary governments called the First Republic (1960-1972), the Second Republic (1972-1991), and the Third Republic (1991-2002), until disputes between politicians, Marc Ravalomanana and Didier Ratsirka, fueled political disorder for the country. In September of 2011, eight political parties agreed to hold elections within the year to re-establish a lost democracy. Senate was re-elected in 2015, after being dissolved for six years in 2009.

Conclusion: After all that the people of Madagascar have been through, it is clear that the island is home to millions of unique people with a colorful culture and wide variety of traditions, thus proving that the island of Madagascar is of course, more than just a movie.