Madagascar Geography - History

Madagascar Geography - History



Madagascar is located in Southern Africa. It is an island in the Indian Ocean, east of Mozambique. The terrain of Madagascar is a narrow coastal plain, high plateau and mountains in center.
Climate: Madagascar is tropical along coast, temperate inland, arid in south

Madagascar Geography - History

Where did all of Madagascar's species come from?
October 2009

Where's the evolution?
Conservationists are concerned about Madagascar because of the uniqueness of its biota, most of which is endemic — i.e., found nowhere else on Earth. Why is Madagascar home to so many unique plants and animals? Because the island's geography, geology, and climate have provided opportunities for species to evolve and diversify in isolation. Its species are a mix of those that have been living and evolving there for many tens of millions of years and those that arrived more recently and subsequently diversified.

Understanding where all of Madagascar's species came from (i.e., its biogeography) requires understanding Madagascar's own geologic history. One hundred and seventy million years ago, Madagascar was landlocked in the middle of the supercontinent Gondwana, sandwiched between land that would eventually become South America and Africa and land that would eventually become India, Australia, and Antarctica. Through movements of the Earth's crust, Madagascar, along with India, first split from Africa and South America and then from Australia and Antarctica, and started heading north. India eventually smashed into Asia — forming the Himalayas in the process — but Madagascar broke away from India and was marooned in the Indian Ocean. Madagascar has been on its own for the past 88 million years.

Some of Madagascar's present species are there because they "rode there" on the continents and were left on the island when it separated from India. Others arrived on the island after its split, immigrating from other places. In biogeography, these two scenarios are known as vicariance and dispersal. To understand the difference, imagine a species living on a continent, which is then split into two through tectonic action. When the continent splits, the two halves of the population are separated, and over many generations, they evolve into separate species. These species' distribution is the result of vicariance. Many different processes can cause vicariance — plate tectonics, the rise of mountain ranges, a shift in the course of a river, or just climate change that causes an unfavorable habitat to develop that ends up splitting a species' range into two. Dispersal, on the other hand, occurs when a species spreads or immigrates from one area to another. If part of a population moves to a new area, the two subpopulations may eventually evolve into separate species.

One key line of evidence for investigating biogeography is phylogenetics. We can use evidence gathered from living and fossil organisms to reconstruct their phylogeny — or evolutionary relationships. These phylogenies, combined with an understanding of the geologic history of a particular region, can help us figure out which lineages are where they are because of vicariance and which are there because of dispersal. For an example, examine the diagram below. One land mass splits sequentially into three separate islands, and then a mountain range rises on one of these islands, effectively splitting it. If a group of organisms was widespread on the original land mass and was sequentially split along with the geologic changes, we'd expect the sequence of splits in the phylogeny to match the sequence of splits in the geography (stages 1-4 in the diagram). Now imagine that additional tectonic action causes one more split. After that split, some members of species C disperse to the new island, and they evolve into a separate species (stage 5 in the diagram). The relationships of species A-D match the geographic splits, but species E's relationships do not. It is most closely related to C, but it lives on an island that split off from a distant land mass. This suggests that E must have arrived at its present location by dispersal.

An elephant bird skeleton and egg.
So what about Madagascar? Do the phylogenies of Madagascar natives and their close relatives suggest that vicariance or dispersal has been at work? There are certainly some examples of vicariance. For example, the elephant bird — a ten foot tall relative of the ostrich that went extinct several hundred years ago — was endemic to Madagascar. Phylogenetic, genetic, and fossil evidence all suggest that the elephant bird, along with the ostrich, arrived on Madagascar and India when these land masses were still connected to Australia and Antarctica via a land bridge. When India and Madagascar split, the elephant bird wound up surviving on Madagascar, while the ostrich was carried north with India (and was eventually introduced to Eurasia when India collided with this continent). The presence of the elephant bird on Madagascar can be chalked up to vicariance it was living on Madagascar land already, when Madagascar broke off of India.

The evolutionary and biogeographic processes experienced by the lemurs are not unusual. Madagascar is home to many groups of endemic organisms with close within-group relationships. The simplest — or most parsimonious — explanation for this pattern is that, like the lemurs, the groups first arrived on the island by dispersal as a single lineage and then rapidly diversified. This diversification was likely spurred on by other geologic and climactic characteristics of Madagascar. The east coast of the island is lined with a mountain range — and this causes different parts of the island to get drastically different amounts of rain. Hence, the island is made of many different habitat types — from deserts to rainforests — that have shifted and changed over the past 88 million years. This likely provided many opportunities for subpopulations to become isolated and evolve traits for specializing in different niches. And that likely encouraged lineages to diversify.

Today, Madagascar is one of the most diverse places on Earth. Understanding where that diversity comes from requires understanding not just the living world, but the geologic, geographic, and climactic histories that have shaped the evolution of lineages on the island. Now, human history in the making threatens to undo tens of millions of years of evolution in just a few years of political turmoil — unless safeguards can be put in place to protect Madagascar's unique biota from the instabilities of human institutions.

    Cooper, A., Lalueza-Fox, C., Anderson, S., Rambaut, A., Austin, J., and Ward, R. (2001). Complete mitochondrial genome sequences of two extinct moas clarify ratite evolution. Nature 409:704-707.


The English pronunciation of Antananarivo is / ˌ æ n t ə ˌ n æ n ə ˈ r iː v oʊ / or / ˌ ɑː n t ə ˌ n ɑː n ə ˈ r iː v oʊ / . [3] The Malagasy pronunciation is [antananaˈrivʷ] , and the pronunciation of the old French name Tananarive is / t ə ˌ n æ n ə ˈ r iː v / [4] or / ˌ t æ n ə n ə ˈ r iː v / [5] in English and [tananaʁiv] in French.

Antananarivo was originally the site of a town called Analamanga, meaning "Blue Forest" in the Central Highlands dialect of the Malagasy language. [6] Analamanga was established by a community of Vazimba, the island's first occupants. Merina King Andrianjaka, who migrated to the region from the southeast coast, seized the location as the site of his capital city. According to oral history, he deployed a garrison of 1,000 soldiers to successfully capture and guard the site. [6] The hill and its city retained the name Analamanga until the reign of King Andriamasinavalona, who renamed it Antananarivo ("City of the Thousand") in honor of Andrianjaka's soldiers. [7]

Kingdom of Imerina Edit

Antananarivo was already a major city before the colonial era. After expelling the Vazimba who inhabited the town at the peak of Analamanga hill, Andrianjaka chose the site for his rova (fortified royal compound), which expanded over time to enclose the royal palaces and the tombs of Merina royalty. [8] The city was established in around 1610 [9] or 1625 [10] according to varying accounts. Early Merina kings used fanampoana (statute labor) to construct a massive system of irrigated paddy fields and dikes around the city to provide adequate rice for the growing population. These paddy fields, of which the largest is called the Betsimitatatra, continue to produce rice. [11]

Successive Merina sovereigns ruled over the Kingdom of Imerina from Analamanga through King Andriamasinavalona's reign. This sovereign gave the growing city its current name he established the Andohalo town square outside the town gate, where all successive sovereigns delivered their royal speeches and announcements to the public, and assigned the names of numerous locations within the city based on the names of similar sites in the nearby village of Antananarivokely. [7] Andriamasinavalona designated specific territories for the hova (commoners) and each andriana (noble) subcaste, both within the neighborhoods of Antananarivo and in the countryside surrounding the capital. These territorial divisions were strictly enforced members of subcastes were required to live within their designated territories and were not authorized to stay for extended periods in the territories reserved for others. [12] Numerous fady (taboos), including injunctions against the construction of wooden houses by non-nobles [13] and the presence of swine within the city limits, were imposed. [14]

Upon Andriamasinavalona's death in 1710, Imerina split into four warring quadrants, and Antananarivo was made the capital of the southern district. [15] During the 77-year civil war that followed, the eastern district's capital at Ambohimanga rose in prominence. [16] The last king of Ambohimanga, Andrianampoinimerina, successfully conquered Antananarivo in 1793 [17] he reunited the provinces of Imerina, ending the civil war. He moved the kingdom's political capital back to Antananarivo in 1794, [15] and declared Ambohimanga the kingdom's spiritual capital, a role it still maintains. [18] Andrianampoinimerina created a large marketplace in Analakely, establishing the city's economic center. [19]

Kingdom of Madagascar Edit

By the time Andrianampoinimerina's son Radama I had ascended the throne upon his father's death in 1810, Antananarivo was the largest and most economically important city on the island, with a population of over 80,000 inhabitants. [20] Radama opened the city to the first European settlers, artisan missionaries of the London Missionary Society (LMS) who arrived in 1820 and opened the city's first public schools. [21] James Cameron introduced brickmaking to the island and created Lake Anosy to generate hydraulic power for industrial manufacturing. [22] Radama established a military training ground on a flat plain called Mahamasina at the base of Analamanga near the lake. Radama's subjugation of other Malagasy ethnic groups brought nearly two-thirds of the island under his control. The British diplomats who concluded trade treaties with Radama recognized him as the "ruler of Madagascar", a position he and his successors claimed despite never managing to impose their authority over the larger portion of the island's south. Thereafter, Merina sovereigns declared Antananarivo the capital of the entire island. [23]

Radama's successor Ranavalona I invited a shipwrecked craftsman named Jean Laborde to construct the tomb of Prime Minister Rainiharo, and Manjakamiadana (built 1839–1841), the largest palace at the Rova. Laborde also produced a wide range of industrial products at factories in the highland village Mantasoa and a foundry in the Antananarivo neighborhood Isoraka. [25] Ranavalona oversaw improvements to the city's infrastructure, including the construction of the city's two largest staircases at Antaninarenina and Ambondrona, which connect la ville moyenne ("the middle town") to the central marketplace at Analakely. [24] In 1867, following a series of fires in the capital, Queen Ranavalona II issued a royal decree that permitted the use of stone and brick construction in buildings other than tombs. [22] LMS missionaries' first brick house was built in 1869 it bore a blend of English, Creole and Malagasy design and served as a model for a new style of house that rapidly spread throughout the capital and across the highlands. Termed the trano gasy ("Malagasy house"), it is typically a two-story, brick building with four columns on the front that support a wooden veranda. In the latter third of the 19th century, these houses quickly replaced most of the traditional wooden houses of the city's aristocratic class. [26] The growing number of Christians in Imerina prompted the construction of stone churches throughout the highlands, as well as four memorial churches on key sites of martyrdom among early Malagasy Christians under the reign of Ranavalona I. [27]

Until the mid 19th century, the city remained largely concentrated around the Rova of Antananarivo on the highest peak, an area today referred to as la haute ville or la haute ("upper town"). As the population grew, the city expanded to the west by the late 19th century it extended to the northern hilltop neighborhood of Andohalo, an area of low prestige until British missionaries made it their preferred residential district and built one of the city's memorial churches here from 1863 to 1872. [6] From 1864 to 1894, Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony governed Madagascar alongside three successive queens, Rasoherina, Ranavalona II and Ranavalona III, effecting policies that further transformed the city. In 1881, he reinstated mandatory universal education first introduced in 1820 under Radama I, requiring the construction of numerous schools and colleges, including teacher training colleges staffed by missionaries and the nation's first pharmacy, medical college, and modern hospital. [28] Rainilaiarivony built the Andafiavaratra Palace in 1873 as his residence and office at a site near the royal palace. [29]

French Madagascar Edit

The French military invaded Antananarivo in September 1894, prompting the queen's surrender after a cannon shell blasted a hole through a building at the Rova, causing major casualties. The damage was never repaired. Andohalo square was remodeled to feature a gazebo, walkways, and planted landscaping. Claiming the island as a colony, the French administration retained Antananarivo as its capital and transcribed its name as Tananarive. [30] They chose Antaninarenina as the site for the French Governor General's Residency upon independence it was renamed Ambohitsorohitra Palace and converted into presidential offices. Under the French, tunnels were constructed through two of the city's largest hills, connecting disparate districts and facilitating the town's expansion. Streets were laid with cobblestones and later paved sewer systems and electricity infrastructure were introduced. Water, previously obtained from springs at the foot of the hill, was brought from the Ikopa River. [31]

This period saw a major expansion of la ville moyenne, which spread along the lower hilltops and slopes of the city centered around the French residency. Modern urban planning was applied in la ville basse ("lower town"), which expanded from the base of the city's central hills into the surrounding rice fields. Major boulevards like Avenue de l'Indépendance, planned commercial areas like the arcades lining either side of the avenue, large parks, city squares, and other landmark features were built. [31] A railway system connecting Soarano station at one end of the Avenue de l'Indépendance in Antananarive with Toamasina and Fianarantsoa was established in 1897. [32] Beyond these planned spaces, neighborhoods densely populated by working class Malagasy expanded without state oversight or control. [31]

The city expanded rapidly after World War II [31] by 1950 its population had grown to 175,000. Roads connecting Antananarivo to surrounding towns were expanded and paved. The first international airport was constructed at Arivonimamo, 45 km (28 mi) outside the city this was replaced in 1967 with Ivato International Airport approximately 15 km (9 mi) from the city center. The University of Antananarivo was constructed in the Ankatso neighborhood and the Museum of Ethnology and Paleontology was also built. A city plan written in 1956 created suburban zones where large houses and gardens were established for the wealthy. In 1959, severe floods in la ville basse prompted the building of large scale embankments along the edges of the Betsimitatatra rice fields and the establishment of new ministerial complexes on newly drained land in the Anosy neighborhood. [31]

Post-independence Edit

After independence in 1960, the pace of growth increased further. The city's population reached 1.4 million by the end of the 20th century in 2013, it was estimated at nearly 2.1 million. [33] Uncontrolled urban sprawl has challenged the city's infrastructure, producing shortages of clean water and electricity, sanitation and public health problems, and heavy traffic congestion. [31] There are more than 5,000 church buildings in the city and its suburbs, including an Anglican and a Roman Catholic cathedral. Antananarivo is the see city of Madagascar's Roman Catholic Archdiocese. The city has repeatedly been the site of large demonstrations and violent political clashes, including the 1972 rotaka that brought down President Philibert Tsiranana and the 2009 Malagasy political crisis, which resulted in Andry Rajoelina replacing Marc Ravalomanana as head of state. [34]

Antananarivo is situated approximately 1,280 m (4,199 ft) above sea level in the Central Highlands region of Madagascar, at 18.55' South and 47.32' East. [36] The city is located centrally along the north–south axis of the country, and east of center along the east–west axis. It is 160 km (99 mi) from the east coast and 330 km (210 mi) from the west coast. The city occupies a commanding position on the summit and slopes of a long, narrow, rocky ridge extending north and south for about 4 km (2 mi) and rising to about 200 m (660 ft) above the extensive rice fields to the west. [6]

The official boundaries of the city of Antananarivo encompass an urban area of approximately 86.4 km 2 (33.4 sq mi). [36] It was founded 1,480 m (4,860 ft) above sea level at the apex of three hill ranges that converge in a Y form, 200 m (660 ft) above the surrounding Betsimitatatra paddy fields and the grassy plains beyond. The city gradually spread out from this central point to cover the hillsides by the late 19th century it had expanding to the flat terrain at the base of the hills. These plains are susceptible to flooding during the rainy season they are drained by the Ikopa River, which skirts the capital to the south and west. The western slopes and plains, being best protected from cyclone winds originating over the Indian Ocean, were settled before those to the east. [6]

Greater Antananarivo is a continuous, urbanized area spreading beyond the city's official boundaries for 9 km (5.6 mi) north to south between Ambohimanarina and Ankadimbahoaka, and 6 km (3.7 mi) west to east between the Ikopa River dike and Tsiadana. [37] The population of the greater Antananarivo area was estimated at 3 million people in 2012 it is expected to rise to 6 million by 2030. [38]

Climate Edit

Under the Köppen-Geiger climate classification system, Antananarivo has a subtropical highland climate with dry season defined (Cwb) [39] characterized by mild, dry winters and warm, rainy summers. [36] The city receives nearly all of its average annual rainfall between November and April. Frosts are rare in the city they are more common at higher elevations. Daily mean temperatures range from 20.8 °C (69.4 °F) in December to 14.3 °C (57.7 °F) in July.

Climate data for Antananarivo (1981–2010)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 33.0
Average high °C (°F) 26.6
Daily mean °C (°F) 20.8
Average low °C (°F) 17.3
Record low °C (°F) 10.9
Average precipitation mm (inches) 340
Average rainy days 19 17 14 7 5 5 7 6 4 8 11 15 118
Average relative humidity (%) 79 80 79 77 77 77 76 74 70 69 71 77 76
Mean monthly sunshine hours 210.5 178.0 199.1 220.5 228.8 206.1 213.9 235.0 249.5 251.0 232.7 201.1 2,626.2
Source 1: NOAA [40]
Source 2: Pogoda [41]

Antananarivo encompasses three ridges that intersect at their highest point. The Manjakamiadana royal palace is located at the summit of these hills and is visible from every part of the city and the surrounding hills. The Manjakamiadina was the largest structure within the rova of Antananarivo its stone casing is the only remnant of the royal residences that survived a 1995 fire at the site. For 25 years, the roofless shell dominated the skyline its west wall collapsed in 2004. [42] In 2009, the stone casing had been fully restored and the building was re-roofed. It is illuminated at night. Conservation and reconstruction work at the site is ongoing. [43] The city skyline is a jumble of colorful, historic houses and churches. More recent residential and commercial buildings and family rice fields occupy lower terrain throughout the capital. The Betsimitatatra and other rice fields surround the city. [44]

The city's neighborhoods emerge from historic ethnic, religious and caste divisions. The assignment of certain neighborhoods to particular noble sub-castes under the Kingdom of Imerina established divisions the highest ranking nobles were typically assigned to neighborhoods closest to the royal palace and were required to live in higher elevation portions of the city. [45] During and after French colonization, expansion of the city continued to reflect these divisions. Today, the haute ville is mainly residential and viewed as a prestigious area in which to live many of the city's wealthiest and most influential Malagasy families live there. [45] The part of la haute closest to the Rova contains much of the city's pre-colonial heritage and is considered its historic part. [46] It includes the royal palace, Andafiavaratra Palace—the former residence of Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony, Andohalo—the principal town square until 1897, a cathedral near Andohalo built to commemorate early Malagasy Christian martyrs, the city's most intact historic entrance gate and the 19th-century houses of Merina nobles. [44]

Under the Kingdom of Madagascar, the commoner class (hova) settled at the periphery of the noble districts, [45] gradually spreading along the slopes of the lower hills during the late 19th century. This ville moyenne became increasingly populous under French colonial authority, which targeted them for redesign and development. Today, the neighborhoods in the ville moyenne are densely populated and lively, containing residences, historic sites, and businesses. The neighborhood of Antaninarenina contains the historic Hôtel Colbert, numerous jewelers' shops and other luxury goods stores, and administrative offices. In addition to Antaninarenina, the principal neighborhoods of la ville moyenne are Ankadifotsy on the eastern hills and Ambatonakanga and Isoraka to the west, all of which are largely residential. [46] Isoraka has developed lively nightlife, with houses converted to upscale restaurants and inns. Isoraka also houses the tomb of Prime Minister Rainiharo (1833–1852), whose sons and later Prime Ministers Rainivoninahitriniony and Rainilaiarivony are buried with him. [47] Bordering these neighborhoods are the commercial areas of Besarety and Andravoahangy. [46]

The commercial center of town, Analakely, is located on the valley floor between these two ville moyenne hill ranges. [46] King Andrianampoinimerina established the city's first marketplace [19] on the grounds today occupied by the market's tile-roofed pavilions, constructed in the 1930s. [42] Andrianampoinimerina decreed Friday (Zoma) as market day, [19] when merchants would erect stalls shaded with white parasols, which extended throughout the valley forming what has been called the largest open air marketplace in the world. [48] The market caused traffic congestion and safety hazards prompting government officials to divide and relocate the Friday merchants to several other districts in 1997. [49] The city's other main commercial and administrative neighborhoods, which spread out from Analakely and extend into the adjacent plain, were established by the French, who drained and filled in the extant rice fields and swampland to create much of the area's design and infrastructure. The Avenue de l'Indépendance runs from the gardens of Ambohijatovo south of the market pavilions, through Analakely to the city's railroad station at Soarano. To the west of Soarano lies the dense commercial district of Tsaralalana it is the only district to be built on a grid [46] and is the center of the city's South Asian community. [50] Behoririka, to the east of Soarano, is built around a lake of the same name and abuts the sprawling Andravoahangy district at the eastern edge of the city. Antanimena borders Soarano and Behoririka to the north. A tunnel built by the French in the early 20th century cuts through the hillside it connects Ambohijatovo with Ambanidia and other residential areas in the south of the city. [46]

Since pre-colonial times the lower classes, including those descended from the slave class (andevo) and rural migrants, have occupied the flood-prone lower districts bordering the Betsimitatatra rice fields to the west of the city. [45] This area is connected to Analakely by a tunnel constructed by the French in the early 20th century. The tunnel opens toward Lake Anosy and the national Supreme Court buildings, and provides access to the residential neighborhood of Mahamasina and its stadium. The bordering neighborhood of Anosy was developed in the 1950s to house most of the national ministries and the Senate. [46] Anosy, the planned residential district of Soixante-Sept Hectares (often abbreviated to "67") and the neighborhood of Isotry are among the city's most densely populated, crime ridden and impoverished neighborhoods. [51] Approximately 40 percent of inhabitants with electricity in their homes in the ville basse obtain it illegally by splicing into city power lines. In these areas, houses are more vulnerable to fires, flooding and landslides, which are often triggered by the annual cyclone season. [52]

Architecture Edit

Before the mid-19th century, all houses and marketplaces in Antananarivo, and throughout Madagascar, were constructed of woods, grasses, reeds, and other plant-based materials viewed as appropriate for structures used by the living. Only family tombs were built from stone, an inert material viewed as appropriate to use for the dead. British missionaries introduced brick-making to the island in the 1820s, and French industrialist Jean Laborde used stone and brick to build his factories over the next few decades. It was not until the royal edict on construction materials was lifted in the 1860s that stone was used to encase the royal palace. Many aristocrats, inspired by the royal palace and the two-story, brick houses with wrapped verandas and divided interior spaces built by British missionaries, copied the British model for their own large homes in the haute ville. The model, known as trano gasy ("Malagasy house"), rapidly spread throughout the Central Highlands of Madagascar, where it remains the predominant house construction style. [53]

Since 1993, the Commune urbaine d'Antananarivo (CUA) has increasingly sought to protect and restore the city's architectural and cultural heritage. In 2005, CUA authorities partnered with the city planners of the Île-de-France to develop the Plan Vert – Plan Bleu strategy for creating a classification system for Zones de Protection du Patrimoine Architectural, Urbain et Paysager, areas of the city benefiting from legal protection and financial support for their historic and cultural heritage. The plan, which is being implemented by the Institut des Métiers de la Ville, prevents the destruction of historic buildings and other structures, and establishes construction codes that ensure new structures follow historic aesthetics. It also provides for awareness raising campaigns in favor of historic preservation and undertakes projects to restore dilapidated historic buildings and sites. Under this plan, 19th-century sites, like the Ambatondrafandrana tribunal and the second residence of Rainilaiarivony, have been renovated. [38]

Antananarivo has been the largest city on the island since at least the late 18th century, when its population was estimated at 15,000. [30] By 1810, the population had grown to 80,000 before declining dramatically between 1829 and 1842 during the reigns of Radama I and especially Ranavalona I. Because of a combination of war, forced labor, disease and harsh measures of justice, the population of Imerina fell from 750,000 to 130,000 during this period. [20] In the final years of the Kingdom of Imerina, the population had recovered to between 50,000 and 75,000 most of the population were slaves who were largely captured in provincial military campaigns. [30] In 1950, Antananarivo's population was around 175,000. [31] By the late 1990s the population of the metropolitan area had reached 1.4 million, and – while the city itself now has a population of 1,275,207 (at the 2018 Census) [2] – with suburbs lying outside the city limits it had grown to almost 2.3 million in 2018. [33] The metropolitan area is thus home to approaching 10 percent of the island's 25.68 million residents. Rural migration to the capital propels this growth the city's population exceeds that of the other five provincial capitals combined. [30]

As the historic capital of Imerina, Antananarivo is centrally located in the homeland of the Merina people, who comprise about 24 percent of the population and are the largest Malagasy ethnic group. The city's history as the island's major center for politics, culture and trade has ensured a cosmopolitan mix of ethnic groups from across the island and overseas. [30] Most Antananarivo residents have strong ties to their tanindrazana (ancestral village), where the extended family and typically a family tomb or burial place is located many older residents leave the city upon retirement to return to their rural area of origin. [54]

Crime Edit

Despite ongoing efforts by the Ministry of Domestic Security, crime has worsened in Antananarivo since 2009. Between 1994 and 1998, the city had an average of eight to twelve police officers for every 10,000 inhabitants large cities typically have closer to fifteen. [52] Under the mayorship of Marc Ravalomanana (1998–2001), street lights were installed or repaired throughout the city to improve night-time safety. He increased the number of police officers on the streets, leading to a drop in crime. [55] As of 2012 [update] , the city lacks a comprehensive strategy for reducing crime. The recent increase in crime and the inadequate response from the CUA has prompted the growth of private security firms in the city. [52]

The Antanimora Prison is located in the Antanimora district of the city. The facility has a maximum capacity of 800 inmates and has been reported to be severely overcrowded, at times housing more than 4000 detainees simultaneously. [56]

Agriculture is the mainstay of the Malagasy economy. Land is used for the cultivation of rice and other crops, raising of zebu and other livestock, the fabrication of bricks, and other traditional livelihoods. Access to land is guaranteed and protected by law for every resident of the city. The CUA manages requests to lease or purchase land, but demand dramatically outstrips supply, and much of the unallocated land fails to meet the requisite criteria for parceling, such as land where floodwater runoff is diverted. Much of this marginal land has been illegally occupied and developed by land-seeking residents, creating shantytown slums in pockets throughout the lower portions of the city. This uncontrolled development poses sanitation and safety risks to residents in these areas. [36]

Industry accounts for around 13 percent of Madagascar's gross domestic product (GDP) and is largely concentrated in Antananarivo. Key industries include soap production, food and tobacco processing, brewing, textiles, and leather manufacturing, providing employment to around 5.5 percent of the workforce. [45] The city's extensive infrastructure and its role as the economic center of the country make it a favorable location for large businesses. Business owners are drivers of growth for the city in 2010, 60 percent of all new buildings in the country were located in Antananarivo, most of which were built for commercial purposes. Unemployment and poverty are also growing, fueled in part by an inadequately skilled and unprofessional workforce and the lack of a comprehensive national strategy for economic development since 2009. [52] Formal sector job growth has not kept pace with population growth, and many residents earn their livelihood in the informal sector as street vendors and laborers. [57] Under Ravalomanana, construction in the capital increased sharply twelve new supermarkets were constructed in two years. [55]

The residents of urban areas—in particular Antananarivo—have been hardest hit by economic downturns and economic policy shifts. The national economic crisis in the mid-1970s and early 1980s, and the World Bank's imposition of a structural adjustment program lowered living standards for the average resident of the city. The end of state subsidies, rapid inflation, higher taxes, widespread impoverishment and the decline of the middle class were especially evident in Antananarivo, as was the growing wealth of a tiny political and economic elite in the city. [45] In 2007, two-thirds of Antananarivo residents had access to electricity, [58] while ten percent of households owned a scooter, car or other motor vehicle. [59] Running water was installed in fewer than 25 percent of homes, small restaurants, and businesses in 2007, necessitating the collection of water from household wells or neighborhood pumps [58] and the use of outdoor pit toilets detached from the main building. In 2007, 60 percent of households were using shared public latrines. [60] Most homes use charcoal for daily cooking stocks of charcoal and rice are kept in the kitchen. [61] The average city household spends just under half of its budget on food. [62] Owing to its increasingly high cost, consumption of meat by city residents has sharply declined since the 1970s the urban poor eat meat on holidays only once or twice a year. [63]

In Antananarivo and throughout the highlands, Merina and Betsileo families practice the famadihana, an ancestor reburial ceremony. This ceremony typically occurs five to seven years after the death of a relative and is celebrated by removing the relative's lamba-wrapped remains from the family tomb, rewrapping it with fresh silk shrouds and returning it to the tomb. Relatives, friends and neighbors are invited to take part in the music, dancing and feasting that accompanies the event. The famadihana is costly many families sacrifice higher living standards to set aside money for the ceremony. [64]

Historic sites and museums Edit

The city has numerous monuments, historic buildings, sites of significance, and traditions related to the customs and history of the Central Highlands people. [52] The city skyline is dominated by the Rova of Antananarivo. The nearby Andafiavaratra Palace was the home of 19th century Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony and contains a museum featuring historic artifacts of the Kingdom of Imerina, including items saved from the fire at the Rova. Downhill from the palaces is Andohalo square, where Merina kings and queens delivered speeches to the public. Tsimbazaza Zoo displays many of the island's unique animal species and a complete skeleton of the extinct elephant bird. Other historic buildings include the Ambatondrafandrana tribunal where Ranavalona I dispensed judgement, the second residence of Rainilaiarivony with its indigenous medicinal plant garden, [38] the recently renovated Soarano railroad station, four late 19th century memorial churches built to commemorate early Malagasy Christian martyrs, the tomb of Prime Minister Rainiharo, and the early 20th century pavilions of the Analakely market. Open air markets include Le Pochard and the artisan market at Andravoahangy. The Museum of Art and Archaeology in the Isoraka neighborhood features exhibits on the history and cultures of Madagascar's diverse ethnic groups. [68]

Arts Edit

The arts scene in Antananarivo is the largest and most vibrant in the country. Madagascar's diverse music is reflected in the many concerts, cabarets, dance clubs and other musical venues throughout Antananarivo. In the dry season, outdoor concerts are regularly held in venues including the Antsahamanitra amphitheater and Mahamasina Stadium. [69] Concerts and night clubs are attended mainly by young people of the middle to upper classes who can afford the entrance fees. [69] More affordable are performances of traditional vakindrazana or Malagasy operettas at Isotry Theater and hira gasy at the city's outdoor cheminots theater or Alliance française these performances are more popular with older and rural audiences than among urban youth. [70] Nightlife is the most animated in the ville moyenne neighborhoods of Antaninarenina, Tsaralalana, Behoririka, Mahamasina and Andohalo. [71]

The Palais des Sports in the Mahamasina neighborhood is the country's only indoor performance space built to international standards. It was built in 1995 by the Government of China it regularly hosts concerts, dance and other arts performances, expositions and novelty events like monster truck rallies. The city lacks a dedicated classical music performance space, and concerts by international artists are infrequent. Performances of classical, jazz and other foreign musical genres, modern and contemporary dance, theater and other arts occur at cultural arts centers funded by foreign governments or private entities. Among the best-known of these are the Centre Culturel Albert Camus and Alliance française d'Antananarivo, both funded by the French government. [69] the Cercle Germano-Malgache, a branch of the Goethe-Institut funded by the German government [72] The American Center is funded by the United States government. [73] Antananarivo has two dedicated cinemas, the Rex and the Ritz, both of which were built in the colonial era. These venues do not show international releases but occasionally screen Malagasy films or are used for private events and religious services. [69]

Sports Edit

Rugby Union is considered the national sport of Madagascar. [74] The national rugby team is nicknamed the Makis after the local word for the indigenous ring-tailed lemur. The team trains and plays domestic matches at Maki Stadium in Antananarivo. Constructed in 2012, the stadium has a capacity of 15,000 and houses a gym and administrative offices for the team.

Several soccer teams are based in Antananarivo AS Adema Analamanga and Ajesaia are associated with the Analamanga region USCA Foot is associated with the CUA and the AS Saint Michel has been affiliated since 1948 with the historic secondary school of the same name. All four teams train and play local games in Mahamasina Municipal Stadium, the largest sporting venue in the country. The men's basketball teams Challenger and SOE (Équipe du Stade olympique de l'Emyrne) are based in Antananarivo and play in the Palais des Sports at Mahamasina. [75]

The sports facilities of the University of Antananarivo were used to host the official 2011 African Basketball Championship.

Antananarivo is the capital of Madagascar, and the federal governance structures, including the Senate, National Assembly, the Supreme Court and the presidential office are housed there. The main presidential offices are located 15 km (9.3 mi) south of the city. The city hosts the diplomatic missions of 21 countries. [77]

The CUA is divided into six numbered arrondissements (administrative sub-districts) it has historically been administered by an elected mayor and associated staff. [36] Since the 2009 political crisis, in which the Mayor of Antananarivo, Andry Rajoelina, unconstitutionally seized power as head of state, the CUA has been administered by a délégation spéciale (special delegation) composed of a president and de facto mayor with the support of two vice presidents, all of whom are appointed by the president. [78] The position of President of the Special Delegation has been held by Ny Hasina Andriamanjato since March 2014. [79]

The mayoral administration of the CUA is empowered to govern the city with de jure autonomy a wide range of mechanisms have been established to facilitate governance, although they are of limited effectiveness. An urban master plan guides major policies for city management but personnel within the mayoral office commonly lack the urban planning and management ability to effectively implement the plan in response to long-term and immediate needs. This challenge is compounded by the high turnover rate of mayors and staff that frequently disrupts initiatives begun by previous CUA administrations. [36] A mayor under former President Didier Ratsiraka created "red zones" areas where public gathering and protests were prohibited. On 28 June 2001, Ravalomanana abolished these areas, liberalizing freedom of assembly. [80]

Antananarivo has suffered from debt and mismanagement. The CUA estimated in 2012 that the cost of running the city to international standards would reach US$100 million annually, while annual revenues average around $12 million. In good years, the CUA is able to reserve $1–2 million to spend on city improvement projects. [38] By 2008, the city's treasury had accumulated 8.2 billion Malagasy ariary—approximately US$4.6 million —in debts under previous mayors. [81] In 2008, water was cut off at public pumps, and there were regular brownouts of city street lights because of 3.3 million ariary of unpaid debts to the Jirama public utilities company by the City of Antananarivo. In response, Mayor Rajoelina undertook an audit that identified and sought to address long-standing procedural irregularities and corruption in the city's administration. [82] The CUA continues to be challenged by a shortage of revenues relative to its expenses caused by the high cost of retaining the large number of CUA personnel, weak structures for managing revenues from public rents and inadequate collection of tax revenues from city residents and businesses. [36]

Twin towns and sister cities Edit

Antananarivo has established sister city agreements with four cities. The city was twinned with Yerevan, Armenia in 1981. [83] The city is also twinned with Vorkuta, Russia [84] Suzhou, China [85] and Montreal, Quebec, Canada. [86] A sister city relationship between Antananarivo and Nice, France, established in 1962, is not active. [87] In 2019, the Mayor of the Commune Urbaine Antananarivo was inviting the City of Kota Kinabalu in Malaysia to enter into a sister relationship with the City of Antananarivo. [88]

Most of Madagascar's public and private universities are located in Antananarivo. [89] This includes the country's oldest higher education institute, the College of Medicine established under the Merina monarchy and the University of Antananarivo, established under the French colonial administration. The Centre National de Télé-Enseignement de Madagascar (CNETMAD) is located in Antananarivo. [90] The city hosts many private pre-primary, primary and secondary schools and the national network of public schools. [91] The city houses multiple French international schools, including Lycée Français de Tananarive, Lycée La Clairefontaine, Lycée Peter Pan, [92] and École de l'Alliance française d'Antsahabe. [93] It also houses an American school, American School of Antananarivo, and a Russian school, the Russian Embassy School in Antananarivo (Russian: основная общеобразовательная школа при Посольстве России на Мадагаскаре ). [94]

The nation's most prestigious dance school, K'art Antanimena, is located in Antananarivo. Other major dance schools based in the city include Le Club de Danse de l'Université Catholique de Madagascar, Club de danse Kera arts'space à Antanimena and Le Club Mills. [75]

In general, availability and quality of health care is better in Antananarivo than elsewhere in Madagascar, although it remains inadequate across the country relative to that in more developed countries. One of Madagascar's two medical schools is located in Antananarivo most medical technicians and specialists are trained there. [95] Neonatal [96] and antenatal care is significantly better in Antananarivo than elsewhere on the island. [97] Despite the presence of facilities and trained personnel, the high cost of health care places it beyond the reach of most residents of Antananarivo. Pharmaceuticals are imported, making them particularly unaffordable traditional herbal medicines remain popular and are readily available in local markets frequented by most of the population. [98]

The large population in Antananarivo and the high density of its residential zones pose challenges to public health, sanitation, and access to clean drinking water. Processing and disposal of industrial and residential waste is inadequate. Waste water is often discharged directly into the city's waterways. Air pollution from vehicle exhaust, residential coal-burning stoves, and other sources is worsening. [52] While the city has set up clean water pumps, they remain inadequate and are not distributed according to population density, with poor access in the poorest and most populous parts of the city. [52] Antananarivo is one of the two urban areas in Madagascar where bubonic plague is endemic. [99]

In 2017, Antananarivo was ranked as the 7th worst city for particulate-matter air pollution in the world. [100] [101]

These problems were diminished but not eliminated under the mayoral administration of Marc Ravalomanana, who prioritized sanitation, security and public administration. He obtained funds from international donors to establish garbage collection and disposal systems, restore dilapidated infrastructure such as roads and marketplaces, and replanted public gardens. [102] To improve sanitation in the city, he constructed public latrines in densely populated and highly frequented areas. [103]

The majority of the city's residents move about Antananarivo on foot. The CUA sets and enforces rules that govern a system of 2,400 franchised private minibuses running on 82 numbered routes throughout the city. An additional 2,000 minibuses managed by the Ministry of Transportation run along 8 lines into the neighboring suburbs. These interlinked bus systems served around 700,000 passengers each day. [38] These minibuses often fail to meet safety standards or air quality requirements and are typically overcrowded with passengers and their cargo. Police and gendarmes assist in regulating traffic at peak periods in the morning and evening, or around special events and holidays. Private licensed and unlicensed taxis are common most vehicles are older Renaults or Citroens. Newer vehicles congregate near hotels and other locales frequented by foreigners willing or able to pay higher prices for better services. [38]

The city is encircled by a ring road and connected by direct routes nationales (national highways) to Mahajanga, Toliara, Antsirabe, Fianarantsoa and Toamasina. Branches and feeder roads from these major highways connect the city to the national road network. Antananarivo was connected by train to Toamasina to the east and Manakara to the southeast via Antsirabe and Fianarantsoa, but as for 2019 passenger trains were not anymore operated. The city's principal railway station is centrally located at Soarano at one end of the Avenue de l'Indépendance. Ivato International Airport is located approximately 15 kilometres (9 miles) from the center of the city, connecting Antananarivoto to all national airports. Ivato is the hub of the national airline Air Madagascar, [31] and is the only airport on the island hosting long-haul carriers. Direct flights connect Antananarivo to cities in South Africa and Europe. [104]

Government television and radio broadcasting centers, and the headquarters of numerous private stations are located in Antananarivo. Eighty percent of households in Antananarivo own a radio the medium is popular across social classes. Stations like Fenon'ny Merina appeal to Merina listeners of all ages by playing traditional and contemporary music of the highlands region. Youth-oriented stations play a blend of Western artists and Malagasy performers of Western genres, as well as fusion and coastal musical styles. Evangelical broadcasts and daily international and local news are available in Malagasy, French, and English. [105] Forty percent of Antananarivo residents own a television receiver. [106] All major Malagasy newspapers are printed in the city and are widely available. Communications services in Antananarivo are the best in the country. Internet and mobile telephone networks are readily available and affordable, although disruptions in service occur periodically. The national postal service is headquartered in Antananarivo, and private international shipping companies like FedEx, DHL Express and United Parcel Service provide services to the city. [107]

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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Antananarivo .
Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Antananarivo.
Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Antanànarìvo .

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Geography-History Madagascar

In the south of Ecuador, in the Indian Ocean, the fifth island of the world (592 000 km ²) after Australia, Greenland, New Guinea and Borneo, is separated from the African continent through Mozambique. The distance between the western frontage of Madagascar and the coasts of Mozambique does not exceed 700 km. The Big island, sometimes called “the red Island” in reference to the laterite which colours its plates, stretches itself on 1580 km from north to south and 500 km in the East-West direction.

It has as neighbors the Comoros (300 km in the North-West), Réunion (800 km in the east), then Maurice (in the east) and Seychelles (in the North-East). A mountainous chain dotted with solid masses cuts the Big Island in the North-South direction at an average altitude of 1200 to 1500 meters (the Highlands account for 70% of the surface of the country).

The western half, the broadest and the slackest, is occupied by alluvial plains of weak declivity, since the highlands of the center to the channel of Mozambique, while in the east a narrow cliff band is levelled abruptly in a thin coastal plain bordered by the Indian Ocean. The area northern, volcanic, is isolated by the highest massif from the island (where culminates Tsaratanana to 2876 m). The « semi-arid is divided between sediment plates (south-western), dry plain (southern point) and anosyans chains (south-eastern).
Alaotra (182 km ²) is the vastest of the five big lakes of Madagascar. The originality of Madagascar, which has as an emblem the tree of the traveller (ravinala), lies in its extreme diversity: the variety of the relief and the climate supported the biodiversity of a flora and a fauna characterized by an important rate of endemism.

Le peuplement de Madagascar par des Indonésiens et par des Africains est très ancien (avant JC). Dès le XIIème siècle, des comptoirs commerciaux arabes sont fondés, comme la ville de Majunga.

A partir du XVIème siècle, l’île devient un territoire auquel s’intéressent les Européens, après sa découverte par un portugais, Diego Diaz, en 1500. En 1643, les Français fondent Fort Dauphin, et au XIXème siècle l’île passe peu à peu sous influence française. Tamatave est occupée par la France en 1883, et Madagascar devient un protectorat français en 1885, pour finalement devenir une colonie française en 1896.

Cependant, la colonisation est mal acceptée et les réactions de rejet de la part de la population malgache sont nombreuses. En 1947 et 1948, une insurrection indépendantiste et sa répression auraient provoqué plusieurs milliers de morts.

The settlement of Madagascar by the Indonesians and Africans is very old (before JC). Since the 12th century, Arab commercial counters are founded, like the town of Majunga.
From the 16th century, the island becomes a territory in which Europeans are interested, after its discovery by Portuguese, Diego Diaz, in 1500. In 1643, the French found Fort Dauphin, and inthe 19th century the island passes little by little under French influence. Tamatave is occupied by France in 1883, and Madagascar becomes a French protectorate in 1885, for finally becoming a French colony in 1896.

However, colonization is badly accepted and the reactions of rejection on behalf of the Malagasy population are numerous. In 1947 and 1948, an independence insurrection and its repression would have caused several thousands of deaths.

On October 14th, 1958, the Malagasy Republic is proclaimed. On April 29th, 1959, the constitution of the 1st Republic is adopted and Philibert Tsiranana is elected President. On June 26th, 1960, the independence of Madagascar is proclaimed at the Mahamasina stadium. Previously, the agreements franco-malagasy had been signed in Paris, on April 2nd, 1960. After the independence and under Philibert Tsiranana presidency, the relations franco-malagasy remain harmonious.
Didier Ratsiraka, reaches the power in 1975, after 3 years of political instability, marked by strikes, the dispute of the political regime and the rejection of the French presence. The socialist republic of Ratsiraka and its Marxist orientations had, between 1975 and 1980, negative effects on the relations between France and Madagascar: nationalisation of the French companies, confiscation of the grounds and collectivization of the plantations of the old colonists, left the free zone and French-speaking mobility, “malgachisation” of teaching, with in particular the suppression of the teaching of French in the primary and the secondary education.

In 1991, the regime of President Ratsiraka is qestionned. The demonstrations involve the end of the regime and the installation of a transitional period between 1991 and 1992, during which the past President and the strongman resulting from the contestation, Albert Zafy, “cohabit”. On August 19th, 1992, the fundamental law of the Republic of Madagascar is adopted by referendum. It marks the beginning of the third Republic and allows the election as President in February 1993 of Albert Zafy. However, in January 1997, thanks to the dismissal of Zafy by the High Constitutional court, Ratsiraka is re-elected at the presidency of the Republic for five years (1997-2002).

Facts about Madagascar | People

22. The first people settling in the region came from the Malay archipelago about 2,500 years ago.

There are 18 main ethnic groups in Madagascar among them the Merina, Betsileo, Betsimisaraka, Tshimihety and the Sakalava. The largest group are the Merinas who mainly live in the centre of the country around the capital city. About a quarter of the population belong to the Merina ethnic group.

People of Madagascar

23. Madagascar is home to about 27 million people and the majority of the population (60%) are young people under 25 years of age! Actually, almost 40% of the Malagasy are children under 14 years. This means there are large families and lots of poverty. 70% of the Malagasy live below the poverty line and have less than US$ 1.90 per day. Only 75% of the population can read or write.

24. Malagasy is the official and most commonly spoken language in Madagascar. French is also an official language and an important language in business. French is taught in some schools, while English and Italian are also spoken in tourist areas. 

25. The masonjoany is a face mask or face painting prepared from sandalwood powder and is used to protect the skin from the sun. Girls and women of the Sakalava people also often show beautifully painted faces and traditional clothes to proclaim their belonging to this ethnic group.

26. Among the most common and delicious traditional Malagasy dishes are Romazava, a stew which can be prepared with zebu, fish or chicken, Ravitoto, which is pork meat cooked in chopped cassava leaves and Mofogasy, a rice flour pancake.

Traditional Malagasy meal: Mofogasy rice cakes and ravitoto

Key Facts & Information


  • It is accepted knowledge that Madagascar was once a part of the ancient supercontinent that contained Africa and India.
  • The island was colonized between 200 BCE and 500 CE.
  • Due to its isolation and late colonization, many endemic plant and animal species have been able to survive and thrive on the island for tens of millions of years only recently have many of these species become extinct or threatened with extinction.
  • By the Middle Ages, over a dozen ethnic identities existed on the island, and attempted to form kingdoms to unite the communities and increase their wealth and power by trading with European and Arab traders.
  • Between the 16th and 18th centuries, pirates were common on the shores of Madagascar.
  • It was also during this time that Europeans made many unsuccessful attempts to claim and colonize the island.
  • During the 19th century, attempts were made to modernize the island through close communication between the ruling Merina Kingdom and Britain and France.
  • The Franco-Hova Wars were launched by France to overthrow the Medina Kingdom and make Madagascar a French colony.
  • Under French rule, the Malagasy people were forced to work unpaid and unfree labor on plantations, and they were also conscripted to fight in both World Wars for France.
  • In 1960, during the era of decolonization, Madagascar gained their full independence from France.
  • Madagascar’s First Republic was established between 1960 and 1972 and was modeled on the democratic system of France.
  • In 2010, a new constitution was adopted by a referendum in Madagascar which established the Fourth Republic and started the process of repairing years of standoffs, political crisis, and corruption in the country.


  • Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot tens of millions of years of isolation led to the island’s development of a unique geography.
  • The island has been described as an “alternate world” because of how unique it is, and how rare the plants and animals are.
  • Although Madagascar does not have typical African species such as elephants, giraffes, and lions, it does have “older” species such as lemurs, fossa, dugong, the Malagasy giant rat, narrow-striped mongoose, and several species of bat.
  • There are more than 12,000 species of plants, with about 83% of vascular plants found only on Madagascar.
  • Tapia forests, dry forest, succulent woodland, and mangroves are all present.
  • Five entire plant families are endemic on the island, and as many as 96% of Madagascar trees and shrubs are estimated to be endemic as well.
  • The island is much wetter in the east due to its proximity to the Indian Ocean and its discharge of moisture as well as the threat of tropical cyclones and monsoons.
  • Western Madagascar is much drier and cooler.


  • Madagascar’s economy was once heavily influenced by its relationship to France key products such as rice, coffee, cattle, silk, and palm oil were produced and exported as a result of government initiatives to boost production.
  • Under the Marxist Second Republic, the economy quickly deteriorated and production fell drastically.
  • With help from the IMF and the Millennium Challenge Account, Madagascar’s economy revved back up again, although the island is still a relatively poor country, even in 2018.
  • Madagascar holds several natural resources such as vanilla, cloves, ylang-ylang, coffee, lychees, and shrimp.
  • Madagascar currently supplies half of the world’s supply of sapphires a result of their rigorous mining sector.
  • Deforestation, slash-and-burn clearing techniques, and the use of firewood as fuel are all concerns for the economy.
  • Madagascar has a youthful population, with only 3% of people aged 65 and older.
  • The official languages of the island are French and Malagasy, and some people also speak English.
  • Ancestral caste affiliation continues to affect social status, economic opportunity, and one’s role within the community many cultural elements date back to the idea of hasina, a life force rooted in traditional beliefs, practices, and ways of life.

Madagascar Worksheets

This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the Madagascar across 21 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Madagascar worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the Madagascar which is an island country belonging to the continent of Africa, located in the Indian Ocean. It is comprised of the island of Madagascar (the fourth-largest island in the world) and several smaller islands. It is known for being a biodiversity hotspot.

Complete List Of Included Worksheets

  • Madagascar Facts
  • Fighting on the Island
  • The Rotaka
  • Madagascar Wordsearch
  • Extinct Species
  • The Malagasy People
  • Environmental Issues
  • Traditional Culture of Madagascar
  • Map of Madagascar
  • Madagascar Crossword
  • Opinion Piece

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Political Life

Government. Since independence from France in 1960, Madagascar has been a democratic republic. Since independence, while the country has struggled with economic and political insecurity, Madagascar has moved from post-colonial democracy, to a transitional military government, to a socialist regime, to a parliamentary democracy. The current constitutional framework was approved on 19 August 1992. Currently the president is elected by universal suffrage to a five-year term with a two-term limit. The bicameral parliament is comprised of a senate and national assembly. The prime minister is nominate by the parliament and approved by the president. The system is one of proportional representation which has resulted in many independent

An unwritten law regarding government relates back to the côtier -high plateau split. It is understood that when a president is elected from one group, then the prime minister will be appointed from the opposing group.

The country is divided into six provinces ( faritany ) which serve as administrative subdivisions. The provinces are further divided into counties ( fivondronana ), which in turn are divided into villages ( fokontany ). The village is the smallest administrative unit, with a state-appointed president (usually already a state functionary such as a schoolteacher or nurse). The village president serves with locally appointed village elders ( rayamandreny antanana ) on a local security committee. This system of government is called the fokonolona and handles all matter of civil concerns allowing for a limited degree of self rule. Tension continues between those wanting to maintain a centralized government and those wishing to give greater power to provincial administrators in an effort to decentralize.

Contemporary political connections can be traced back to pre-colonial monarchies ruled by Merina and Sakalava kings and queens. The only kings and queens who ruled over all of Madagascar, as compared to regional kingdoms, were Merina. This "old" power was confronted with the "new" post-colonial authority of Madagascar's three presidents since independence, all of whom are côtiers born of one of the minority ethnic groups found along the coast. This resulted from a political maneuver originally influenced by the French and Merina politicians who believed that a Merina president would never survive long in office given the historical ethnic tensions between Merina and most other ethnic groups which when combined outnumber the Merina population.

Leadership and Political Officials. There are two established parties that have adequate infrastructure and financial support to gain island-wide influence. The Vanguard of the Malagasy Revolution (AREMA) was initially represented as a coalition of pro-government parties. The Committee of Living Forces (CFV) is an opposition group composed of approximately sixteen parties.

Social Problems and Control. The Malagasy Penal Code is based on the French system and has been influenced by Malagasy customary law. The most severe punishments are death and forced labor for life.

There are three levels of courts. The lower courts oversee civil and criminal cases with limited fines and sentences. The supreme court is the highest court. The court of appeals is responsible for criminal cases with sentences of five or greater years. The constitutional high court reviews laws and monitors elections. A military court oversees cases involving national security.

Conditions in the national prison system are harsh. Cells that were built for one house as many as eight prisoners. The families of prisoners must augment insufficient food rations. Street crime in larger cities, including muggings and purse snatching, is on the rise. Penalties for drug trafficking are strict and involve jail sentences and fines. Local security counsels are the focal point of smaller village level crimes where self-policing is important.

Military Activity. In 1994 the military budget was an estimated $37.6 million (U.S.) which represented approximately 1 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). The military consists of about twenty thousand army, five hundred navy, one hundred marine, and five hundred air force personnel. Military service begins at 20 years of age.

Madagascar Use of Natural Resources


Madagascar's geography creates many climatic subdivisions. The coastal climate is hot and tropical, with the east coast receiving the most rainfall (more than 160 inches of rain in Maroantsetra.). This is due to the effect of moisture-laden trade winds off the Indian Ocean as they encounter the steep escarpment of the Madagascar coastline. The east coast is also most affected by the cyclones which periodically hit the island, often causing extensive damage. East coast temperatures reach an average high of 85° in the summer and 72° in the winter.

On the west coast, precipitation levels drop off from north to south. There are desert areas of the deep south which receive only 2 inches of rain per year. West coast temperatures are generally several degrees warmer than the east coast temperatures.

The central highlands, where the capital Antananarivo is located, have a more temperate climate. There are two primary seasons the rainy summer season, which lasts from approximately November through mid-March and the dry season, from mid-March through October. In (southern) summer, there are periods of rain almost every day, often in the late afternoon. Cyclones, which can affect the coastal areas, do not reach the highlands, but their influence can cause extended periods of rain. The average daily high temperature in summer is in the mid 80's, with a hot mid-day sun alternating with the periods of rain. Nighttime lows average in the low 60's.

The shoulder months of April, May and September, October are very pleasant, with little rain, blue skies, and daytime highs in the 70's. In the (southern) winter months of June-August, the skies are often sunny and daytime highs can reach the mid-to-high 60s. However, there are also chilly days which are overcast and windy with daytime highs in the 50's. Nighttime lows in winter can drop into the 40's in Antananarivo.


Natural Resources:

Natural Hazards:

Irrigated Land:

Environmental Issues:

Environment - International Agreements:

party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Life Conservation, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands

Madagascar — History and Culture

The history of Madagascar is rooted in the diverse people who journeyed here throughout the centuries, making the huge island their home and integrating into an independent democratic state over a thousand years. The archipelago’s rich culture represents its 18 ethnicities with their different religious beliefs, heritage,and the strong influence of the relatively short French colonial era.


The reason behind Madagascar’s fantastic biodiversity is the island’s long isolation from neighboring India and Africa, beginning when the land split from the ancient supercontinents almost 90 million years ago. Initial settlement by humans began in 500 AD, with the original Sunda Island tribes joined by Bantu migrants around 1,000 years ago.

Many other ethnicities followed over the years, making up the 18 ethnic groups presently on the island. Until the early 19th century, Madagascar's political history encompassed a succession of rulers cementing various socio-political agreements with other tribal kings. By the Middle Ages, a number of individual European ethnic groups had emerged, all ruled by a local chieftain. The leaders of the Betsimisaraka, Sakalava and Merina communities saw an opportunity to unite the tribes and establish a bigger kingdom under their rule.

Trading with Arab, European and other seafaring nations increased the kingdoms’ wealth, but pirate activity resulted in setting up the infamous free pirate colony of Libertatia on St Mary’s Island. The Merina and Sakalava kingdoms traded Malagasy slaves for European firearms and cash. By the early 19th century, the Merino nobility had taken the throne, united the majority of the island and designated a ruler over the Kingdom of Madagascar who was succeeded by a series of related nobles.

Close diplomatic ties to Britain resulted in the introduction of European-style infrastructure and schools. In 1887, the French took over to the annoyance of Britain, the precarious monarchy collapsed and the country was absorbed into the French Colonial Empire. Independence wasn’t achieved until 1960, and resulted in four successive periods known as republics.

The islands finally became a constitutional democracy in 1992, governed from Antananorivo by an elected president, until a populist uprising in 2009 unseated the latest incumbent, Marc Ravalomanana, and resulted in presidential power being transferred to Andy Rajoelina. The move was regarded by the international community as a coup, and was not seen as a helpful development although it was widely known that Ravalomanana had not spread the results of economic growth fairly amongst the people.


The culture of Madagascar is rooted in diverse tribal heritages and customs, with ancestor respect and traditional festivals at its heart. Although Islam and Christianity are the dominant religions, most villages defer to a soothsayer and healer to predict the future and cure illness. Traditional music and dance originating from Indonesia and Africa are a vital part of all ceremonies and festivals, and reinforce the links to the archipelago’s long history.

Family is all-important, and male circumcision is still performed, although nowadays it’s done at the local hospital whilst family and friends celebrate at home. Recent laws have improved the status of women's rights in Malagasy society as well as in the workplace, although rural women still engage in petty commerce to supplement the husband’s earnings. The fady, taboos are still respected in many regions and govern daily lives, while visitors planning to tour the country should ask a local about traditions to avoid being accidentally offensive.

Antananarivo, Madagascar (1600s- )

Antananarivo (formerly known as “Analamanga” and “Tananarive”) is the capital of the Republic of Madagascar and its largest city. It is located on a high plateau overlooking the Ikopa and Besiboka Rivers. In the southern part of the city lay Lake Anosy, an artificially designed lake. In 2012 Antananarivo had a population of 1.4 million and the Merina are the majority ethnic group in the region. In addition to being a political center, Antananarivo is Madagascar’s economic and cultural center.

In the Malagasy language Antananarivo means “town of a thousand.” It received its name from King Adrianjaka (1610-1630), whom many consider the first major political leader of the Merina people. In the early 1600s he established a fort and town comprised of 1,000 soldiers and their families at the location. Before the Merina army settled there the land was known as the “Analamanga” or “Blue Forest” region, which accounts for the earliest name of the town. As the Merina kingdom grew Antananarivo became an important military and agricultural center. The city’s high plateau allowed the Merina to establish a heavily militarized defense in central Madagascar. The city’s surrounding wetlands produced rice.

By the early 1700s the Merina kingdom had fractured into competing groups. To consolidate power and reunify the warring tribes, Chief Andrianampoinimerina, the king of one of the groups, attacked Antananarivo in 1794, successfully ending the rule of his uncle, the city’s leader. Andrianampoinimerina’s son, Radama I, completed the uniting of the various groups after taking control in 1810. Under his leadership the city’s population grew to 15,000 and he amassed an army of 13,000 soldiers.

By the early 1800s the Merina were aware of both European encroachment and political threats from other Madagascar kingdoms. To protect Antananarivo they briefly banned foreigners and prevented the building of roads to the city. In 1895, when the French army arrived and conquered the area following the Partition of Africa, over 50,000 people lived in the city. Also by that point enslaved Africans constituted half of the city’s population.

During colonialism the French changed the city’s name to “Tananarive” and made it the political and economic center of the entire island of Madagascar, which they now controlled. The French restructured the city’s urban layout but preserved the historic royal palaces belonging to earlier Merina rulers. In 1910 the French finished their construction of railroad lines linking the city to coastal ports.

Madagascar received its independence from France in 1960, and Tananarive became the capital of the new nation. Twelve years later in 1972 the government renamed the city “Antananarivo.” Today Antananarivo is the economic hub of Madagascar. It produces cement, tobacco, beer, soap and textiles for international and domestic consumption. It is also home to numerous cultural institutions such as the University of Antananarivo, the Rova Palace, the Andafiavaratra Museum as well as the site of the Tsimbazaza Zoo and the Ivato International airport. Like many urban centers, Antananarivo suffers from urban blight and poor sanitation. The city’s problems have been exacerbated by Madagascar’s poverty and a 2002 civil war, which imposed additional hardships on the local population.

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