The second wave of immigrants was the arrival of the Arabs’ between the 7th to the 12th century and the colonising Bantu in the 12th century on the West coast of the Island. Europeans arrived only in the 16th century. The Portuguese, Diego Diaz, discovered the Island in the year 1500. He noted the prevalence of the Merina tribes based in the central Highlands. From that period onwards the trade with slaves and weapons started. This trade supported four large kingdoms: the Sakalava Menabe, the Merina, the Zanamalata and the Betsimisaraka
Madagascar’s actual population is estimated at 20 million inhabitants. Famous for their hospitality and friendliness, Malagasy people put a high value on the land and the traditions handed down by their ancestors. There are 18 main tribes speaking different dialects which have the official Malagasy language (Merina Language) as their root. Our culture is primarily based on having a great respect for the elders, the ancestors, the family and God the Creator.
Madagascar Culture & Customs
Formerly a French colony, Madagascar still retains much of its French heritage. French is the official language of the nation, French style breakfasts are still very much in vogue, and it is customary to kiss people on the cheek when you see one another.
Despite this European influence, Madagascar still very much maintains its own local flavor – both in terms of customs and in terms of traditional dress. The recognizable lamba (a wraparound sheet with everyday designs of slogans) and straw hats are examples of this.
One unique element of Madagascan culture that people find intriguing is that of fady – a large assortment of taboos that vary from village to village. These can be as seemingly unusual as it being bad luck to sing while eating to more straightforward ones like staying away from burial sites. While foreigners are not expected to know and abide by all of the fady, many find it a fascinating insight into local culture and seek to learn more about it.
National Parks & Reserve
The environnemental movement in Madagascar began in earnest in 1985, with an International conference of scientists, funding organizations and Malagasy government officials. Biologist knew Madagascar was an oasis of amazing creatures and plants, but devastation, logging and the burning of Malagasy forests were threatening these treasures. Concerned international donors and the Malagasy government joined together to plan a major conservation program.
By 1989 Madagascar had the world’s first country-wide Environmental Action Plan, which offered a blueprint for biodiversity action for the next 20years.The first order of the day was to create a national park system, called the “Association National pour la Gestion des Aires Protégées” (ANGAP National Association for the Management of Protected Areas), and then set ANGAP to work on creating new parks and training new staff; but now they change their name as Madagascar National Parks or MNP. You can find their website here
The fauna is an equally important part of the Island of Madagascar. 97% of mammals and 98% of amphibians are found nowhere else in the world making its level of endemism astonishing. The island has numerous varieties of mammals and amphibians and it is quite easy to spot them. A wildlife safari is your best bet to encounter these friendly wild creatures of the island. The parks and reserves of Madagascar house numerous varieties of lemurs the most striking among other wild life species. Most famous for its 50species of lemurs, these bright eyed mammals are easily seen on any tour of the island .With over 300endemic reptiles species Madagascar is known for its geckoes and chameleons (of which it has over half of the world’s species) It is also home to iguanids, which are usually found in South America and do not live anywhere on the mainland of Africa, thus providing unique biological evidence of the great continental shift. For the Ornithologist, Madagascar presents a relatively small number of species, only around 270. However, nearly half are endemic and 5 entire families are unique only to Madagascar, making the country an absolute must see for the serious birder.
Madagascar is most famous for its baobab-tree and holds seven of the world’s eight species. These magnificent trees can be found in the dry forest and scrub areas of the island.
While several countries can compete with the endemic biodiversity levels of Madagascar fauna, the same cannot be said for its flora when Madagascar‘s over 12,000species make it the most important biological hotspot in the world. So far, nearly 1,000species of orchid have been found and that number continues to grow.
The endemic ferns and palms are just as unique and there are 03 times as many species of palm in Madagascar than on the whole of continental Africa. The cactus like Didierea family found in the arid southwest is a botanist’s delight and a family unique to Madagascar.
Some of the unique flora of Madagascar is mentioned below:
- The Alluaudia Procera
- The Rosy Periwinkle
- The Aloe Vaombe
- The Euphorbia Viguieri
- The Moist Cucurbitaceae
- The Adansonia Grandidieri
A visit to any garden centre in Europe or North America will reveal a wide range of Madagascar plants and flowers, and Royal Botanical Garden of Kew –London, has a dedicated programme appeal fund to research and protect the island many endemic species.
Generally the climate of Madagascar is subtropical, with a hot and rainy season between November and April, and a cooler dry season from May to October. However, there is a big variation in climate depending on altitude and geographical position. The west coast is drier than the east coast and the central highlands, while the far south and south west is a semi-desert region that experiences very little rainfall. The east coast receives the most rain and is hot and humid during the wet season, and also prone to cyclones between February and March. Temperatures are much cooler in the highlands. In Antananarivo the temperature can drop to as low as 08°C at night, though it is usually around 20°C during the day. If you plan to hike in the highlands the temperature may be even lower at night and there are occasional frosts on higher peaks. Along the coast temperatures range from 81°F to 90°F (27°C to 32°C) in the wet season and 64°F to 72°F (18°C to 22°C) in the dry season. May to October is the most pleasant time to travel to and in Madagascar, with cooler temperatures and little rain.
With the Mozambique Channel on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other, Madagascar has more than 4,500 kilometres of coastline and various tranquil islands. The result is a whole host of idyllic beaches perfect for relaxation or continuing to appreciate the island’s biological richness above and below the waves.
Popular as they may be, the beaches and islands around Nosy Be (known as the Perfumed Isle, from the heady scent of ylang-ylang blossom in the air) offer beautiful beaches in the most exotic of settings. Tsara Komba is perfect for honeymooners, Tsarabanjina for the more active or Eden Lodge for those who want wildlife and beach, you can take your pick. Anjanjavy offers its own private nature reserve, reached by private plane where the hosting and options are second to none. The rustic east coast beaches at Masoala Forest Lodge or the superb boutique option at Princesse Bora, with great whale watching, there are plenty of choices to consider, depending on how much, or how little you want to do.