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   Information Center Madagascar
Madagascar General Information
 
History of Madagascar
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People, Languages & Religions in Madagascar
 
 
 

People

Madagascar's population is predominantly of mixed Austronesian (i.e. South-East Asian/Pacific Islander) and African origin. Those who are visibly Austronesian in appearance and culture are the minority, found mostly in the highland regions. Recent research suggests that the island was uninhabited until Austronesian seafarers arrived about 1,500 to 2,000 years ago. Recent DNA research shows that the Malagasy people are approximately of half Austronesian and half East African descent, although some Arab, Indian and European influence is present along the coast.

Languages

The Malagasy language is of Malayo-Polynesian origin and is generally spoken throughout the island. Madagascar is a francophone country, and French is spoken among the educated population of this former French colony. English, although still rare, is becoming more widely spoken, and in 2003, the government began a pilot project of introducing the teaching of English into the primary grades of 44 schools, with hopes of taking the project nationwide. Many Peace Corps volunteers are serving to further this effort and train teachers.

In the first Constitution of 1958, Malagasy and French were named the official languages of the Malagasy Republic.

No official languages were recorded in the Constitution of 1992. Instead, Malagasy was named the national language; however, many sources still claimed that Malagasy and French were official languages, as they were de facto. In April 2000, a citizen brought a legal case on the grounds that the publication of official documents in the French language only was unconstitutional. The High Constitutional Court observed in its decision that, in the absence of a language law, French still had the character of an official language.

In the Constitution of 2007, Malagasy remained the national language while official languages were reintroduced: Malagasy, French, and English. The motivation for the inclusion of English was partly to improve relations with the neighbouring countries where English is used and partly to encourage foreign direct investment. English was removed as an official language from the constitution approved by voters in the November referendum 2010. These results are not recognised by the political opposition or the international community, who cite lack of transparency and inclusiveness in the organisation of the election by the High Transitional Authority.

Religions

Over half of the Malagasy are traditional tribal religionists, some exclusively and others practising in conjunction with Christian beliefs. Although there are many variations in detail, nearly all Malagasy share certain basic religious ideas, the central one being belief in the soul and its immortality. Besides the almighty (Andrianahary or Zanahary), secondary divinities are recognised, especially the earliest inhabitants of the island (Vazimba), legendary kings and queens, and other great ancestors. The burial places and other places of special significance in the lives of these secondary deities are objects of veneration and pilgrimages, during which special rites are performed.

Christianity was introduced to the Malagasy in the early 19th century, and it is influenced to a large extent by traditional beliefs. According to a 2002 report, most of the population is at least nominally Christian. Of the 15.9 million-person population, about 4.5 million are Roman Catholics; 3.5 million are Protestants belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (mostly from Fianarantsoa North); 2 million are Lutherans (mostly from Fianarantsoa South); and less than 1 million are Anglicans (mostly in Antananarivo and Toamasina). Muslims, concentrated mostly in the north and northwest, constitute approximately 10% of the population. There is also a small number of Hindus among the Indian population.