7 Interesting Things About the Malagasy People

Source: Telegraph

Interesting things about Malagasy People

One of the first things that may come to mind when we say ‘Madagascar’, may be King Julian and his epic dance moves from the famous animated feature film, “Madagascar.” We get it. That was a very popular movie and we loved it, too! However, our mission is a bit different. We’re here to take a deep dive into some fascinating facts about the Malagasy people. One thing the popular animated film did manage to do, however, was to display some of the absolute beauty that this island has to offer. Madagascar has largely remained a hidden gem in the bosom of Mother Nature for thousands or perhaps even hundreds of thousands of years. That’s quite fascinating!

Located about 400 kilometers (~248.5 miles) off the coast of East Africa, Madagascar was initially known as the Republic of Malagasy until it was declared as the Democratic Republic of Madagascar, and later, as the Republic of Madagascar.

Antananarivo is the capital city of Madagascar. It has around 2 million residents. The people of Madagascar are called Malagasy, and they are divided into Highlanders and Coastal Dwellers.

The Austronesian settlers, though not confirmed to be true, are believed to have been the first of the residents who came to the island of Madagascar, between the third and tenth centuries, and they started dominating the Highland regions by growing paddy (semi-aquatic crops, such as rice and taro). These people came from Borneo, and they established their own ways and principles to settle firmly on these lands. Some time around this era, the East Africans also came to Madagascar and began establishing their kingdoms. These people were largely found on the coastlines in which there was hardly any population.

According to popular belief, the Malagasy people are comprised of Bantu Africans that came and joined their hands with the Austronesian settlers. Both these groups of people do not differ much in terms of culture and ethnicity. Mostly everyone there speaks both French and Malagasy. One of the best highlights about this land is the cost of living. You can live quite comfortably for less than $1,000 per month!

As they did show in the movie mentioned above, this country is filled with abundant wildlife, pristine mountains, lush green forests, and a variety of Flora and Fauna. The animals found here aren’t found anywhere else, and that’s part of the beauty of this place. There are a lot of interesting facts that surround the land of Madagascar and the Malagasy people.

Before we dive into some of the interesting things about the Malagasy people, let us first examine some of the interesting things about Madagascar, in general.

The Mother of Forests is in Madagascar

Baobab Tree | Source: nuts.com

Baobab, one of the most special species of trees, is known as the Mother of Forest. This tree is found only in Madagascar. The canopies formed by these Baobabs have become extremely popular not just in Madagascar but also in other parts of Africa. The landscape formed by these trees represents the cultural identity of Madagascar. If you are interested in Botany and want to learn more about them, talk to the Malagasy people.

Get introduced to the indigenous fight clubs

Moraingy is one of the most popular sports in Madagascar, and this fight has its roots from Madagascar. It will not be an exaggeration if we call it their patent too. People here are known to fight using their hands without any weapons. For all you fighters out there, when you’re here, you must definitely try the Moraingy at least once (but only if you’re up to it).

Don’t fear the hissing noise

If you enjoy a good thriller movie or perhaps an animal flick from Hollywood, you’ll be all too familiar with the strange sounds that go ‘bump’ in the night. Well, in Madagascar, you just might have a chance to experience some of those sounds in real life. We tell you this so you don’t freak out if you hear a cockroach hissing around you. Yes, you read it right! That’s totally a thing out there! In Madagascar, it’s not just the snakes that hiss. The cockroaches do, too. So, when you’re out roaming around rotten logs or wherever else cockroaches may be, keep this in mind, as they live there, too.

However, one thing to put your mind at ease about these hissing cockroaches is that they are harmless. They’re nocturnal creatures and so they come out only during the night. Also, it may be worth noting that they are vegans, and thus, you are safe! They do tend to get eaten by humans, so they show up only during the night times. 

Unfortunate Truth

For all the fanatics of the movie, “Madagascar”, this island is no abode to Lions, Zebras, Hippos, or Giraffes. This can be quite a heart-breaking moment for all those who have followed and watched the movie Madagascar and its spin-offs / sequels, like “Lunatics”. That’s the bitter truth. That being said, you can find a lot of “King Julien” roaming freely in their natural habitat, and being worshiped by the Malagasy people. Lemurs are quite prevalent in Madagascar.

The Jungles can be Eerie and Very Strange

The Jungles reveal their true forms as we venture deep inside them. This is true to every letter in the Forests of Madagascar.  You’ll certainly experience a bit of the movie, ‘Life of Pi’, when you’re roaming the jungles in Madagascar.

Don’t be surprised if you run into a flat-tailed gecko. This reptile is indigenous to Madagascar, and it has the ability to just change it’s appearance to match the environment. Do not jump in fear if you accidentally lay your hands on this gecko, assuming that it’s tree bark or a leaf or something else. 

Did You Know About this Spider?

Silk produced by Darwin’s Bark Spider is known to be one of the finest and the strongest silks of the world. This silk is even stronger than the synthetic fiber silk that’s made using the maximum amount of tensile. These spiders are largely found in Madagascar along with the other strange species. These spiders are known by some to be the scariest and creepiest spiders among all other spider species.  Also worth mentioning, they weave the largest known orb webs. They live in huge nests that may be a bit off-putting to those who are arachnophobic. Beware, when you’re hiking or exploring the trails in Madagascar, as you just might certainly come across these spiders and their massive webs. Remember that spider scene from “Harry Potter”? Thankfully it’s not that bad.

Now that we have gathered a few details of the most beautiful island in the world, it is important to know about the people. The next section of this write-up is going to be filled with the interesting facts of the Malagasy people. We hope you enjoy reading through them and also experience them when setting off to explore Madagascar, popularly known as the ‘Eighth continent of the World’. 

Malagasy People
Image Source: americamagazine.org

1. The Malagasy People Survived the Rule of a Mad Queen

Ranavalona, the lady who is famous amongst the fans of the “Flashman” novel, was known as the mad queen of Madagascar. Ranavalona worked diligently for 33 years, to rid Madagascar of the European efforts and Christianity. She was completely against the rivals that surrounded the island of Madagascar. During her rule, which was between 1833-1839, the population of Madagascar was drastically reduced, from 5 million to 2.5 million people.

This was because of her brutality. In her reign, the accused were made to eat three slices of poisoned chicken skin, and the ones who opposed the punishment or the guilty would be pushed into ravines.

This queen employed the labors and enjoyed slavery to a great extent.  She made all her people work in the palace that she dreamt of and also on the other public works. This is when the population of Madagascar saw a major decline. If you visit Madagascar, you can see the remains of her massive palace, the Rova of Antananarivo, in the capital city even to this day.

2. Malagasy People Enjoy Complex Communication

People adapt to colloquial languages to compose the poems and prose as they are simple to understand. On the contrary, the Malagasy people love to speak something so complex, and you would be taken by surprise when you get to hear the dialect.

They call this oral literature poetry as Hainteny, and it means “knowledge of words.” The usage of metaphors, riddles, folktales, and fables, may honestly leave you mind-boggled. There is seemingly no other form of poetry or prose as complex as Hainteny. Technically, these people are used to bring in the poems of the bygone era in their everyday conversation. When you hear it for the first time, be ready to count the stars during daylight! 

3. It’s Sometimes Difficult to Differentiate Between Male and Female Attire

If you go to Madagascar without understanding their traditions, you may be surprised in knowing that both men and women wear similar kinds of ethnic clothing. Both wear attire called “Lamba”. This garment is worn for many special and not so special occasions. 

You’ll find people wearing Lambas during weddings, work, and even at burial grounds.  The elderly, the youthful, and everything in between, all wear Lambas.

4. They Sincerely Respect The Lemurs

The Malagasy people have tend to have an emotional connection with the Lemurs of their lands. Lemurs. While there are about 100 species of Lemurs in Madagascar, there are no species of Lemur natively known to any other land. The people of Madagascar treat these adorable animals with great respect for a number of reasons. One of which, is that Lemurs help the island to flourish. For example, Lemurs eat fruits but their digestive systems do not allow them to digest the seeds, so within their droppings, they leave both fertilizer and seed. If you ever decide to travel to Madagascar, please take care not to offend the Lemurs. Aside from that, they are an endangered species.

5. The Malagasy People Love to Indulge in Indirect Conversation

The Malagasy people practice an interesting communication ritual called, “Kabari”, where two or more people engage in a debate-like conversation. The thing is, if you, as an outside observer, look at them, you’d probably find yourself confused because no one would appear to be speaking directly to anyone. It’s an important thing, but they do have fun doing it – much like a game. A game in which the rule is to indirectly counter people, and even verbally attacking anyone engaged, by indirectly using idioms, phrases, and other words in such a manner. A person can raise their objection indirectly when some other person speaks illogically or totally goes off on a tangent. Have you ever tried a debate like this? If not, you should. It can be fun.

6. Africa’s First Modern Poet of the 20th Century

Jean-Joseph Rabearivelo, a very famous poet of Africa, is known to have his roots from Madagascar. Although he was born to a poor family, his poetry skills were quite rich. This earned him the title of ‘National Poet of Madagascar‘, in the year 1960. Jean was an expert in composing poetry in both African and French languages. If you understand French, you must certainly try your hands reading some of the poems written by this man. 

7. They Honor the Dead

Here’s something intriguing… In some countries, people allocate equal importance to spirits to that of living beings. The Malagasy people of Madagascar do this as well. They show great respect to their loved ones who have passed on. According to the Malagasy culture, they have a strong belief that those spirits continue onward to look after their lands and so the Malagasy people believe it their responsibility to take care of and honor such spirits. This almost sounds like a peace treaty signed between the two worlds. It’s beautiful.

Hopefully you’ve now learned a thing or two (or seven) about the Malagasy people and some of their traditions, rituals, communicative practices, wardrobe, and their land. When you’re touring around this region, we hope you have a great time. Don’t harm the Lemurs! Oh, and please be sure to say hello to “Marty” and “Alex”. It’s a joke. Unfortunately, those are roles from the animated film that do not exist on the island known as Madagascar.

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