The island of Madagascar has always been referred to as the “eighth continent” because of its isolation from the other continents for several centuries. Madagascar is host of a vast and unusual mixture of exotic flora and fauna. Experts estimate that Madagascar is home to more than 10,000 species of plants and 90% are not found anywhere else in the world, with most of these listed as endangered. Human settlement on the island began more than 2,350 years ago, and this has led to the loss of more than 90% of the Madagascan rainforest. Madagascar is a 226,658 square mile island nation in Africa located within the Indian Ocean. The nation's central island is the island of Madagascar which ranks as the world's fourth largest island. In 2016, Madagascar was home to an estimated 24,894,551 people which was the 52nd highest population in the world at the time. The name Madagascar has its roots in the Malagasy language from the word Madagasikara which was how they used to refer to the island. During his travels, Marco Polo confused the port of Mogadishu for the island of Madagascar. Diogo Dias set foot in Madagascar in 1500 and christened it São Lourenço. Madagascar is one of the world's most popular nations mainly due to the biodiversity within its borders. Conservation international declared Madagascar a biodiversity hotspot. The United Nations considers Madagascar as one of the world's most underdeveloped nations.
History of Madagascar
Scientists are researching to determine precisely when the initial settlement on Madagascar occurred with some believing that the first waves of migration into the island happened from 350 BCE to 550 CE. Agriculture was the essential economic activity of the communities that first settled on the island. To properly utilize the Madagascan land for agriculture, the communities had to clear rainforests which contributed to several animal species going extinct. Madagascar's history was significantly shaped by transoceanic trade which attracted the Arabs and Europeans, some of whom set up trading posts on the island. Within the 17th century, the kingdom of Imerina was established which would later dominate the entire island under the rule of King Radama I. The ambitions of Prime Minister Rainivoninahitriniony led to the courtiers of King Radama II overthrowing him. The prime minister was later deposed, and his brother then took his place. Madagascar fell to the French but regained its independence in 1960.
Culture of Madagascar
The culture of the Madagascan people draws significantly from the Malagasy culture with significant inspirations from various nations such as France, China, and India. The traditional Malagasy religion still has a vast number of adherents within the island nation. The religion places great significance on the relationship between the living and the ancestors. Apart from the traditional religion, Christianity has a significant presence in Madagascar. Another aspect of the Malagasy culture is the language Malagasy which is closely related to languages spoken in the Polynesian area. Malagasy has numerous dialects which are broadly classified into two subcategories: the Eastern and Western Malagasy. Madagascar has a rich artistic history with the artists making use of locally available materials such as wood in developing their creations. The Malagasy also place a lot of emphasis on performing arts particularly theatre and dance as they developed the hiragasy, an event that lasts an entire day long with either a single troupe performing or having a contest with another troupe. Sports also play an integral role in the Madagascan culture particularly the traditional martial arts, Moraingy, which has large numbers of enthusiasts in the coastal regions.
Food of Madagascar
The cuisine prepared in Madagascar draws from the nation's history and from the various communities that interacted with and influenced the Malagasy. Over the nation's history, an individual's social standing was the primary factor that determined the variety of food they could consume. Wealthier Malagasy such as the monarchs had a wide array of dishes prepared for them while the poorer members of the society had to rely on simpler meals. Rice is an essential component of various Malagasy meals and is usually accompanied by a wide variety of dishes such as vegetable stews or meat stews.
Animals of Madagascar
The animals native to Madagascar are some of the unique in the world with several being endemic to the island. Madagascar is home to a distinctive primate known as the lemur which is famous not only due to its colors but also because of its behavior. The Malagasy population of lemurs faces the threat of extinction as some species are considered critically endangered while others are vulnerable. One of the most prolific predators within Madagascar's borders is the fossa, and although it resembles various species of wild cats, it is more loosely related to the mongoose. Madagascar also provides habitat to one of the world's most beautiful moths in the world, the comet moth. A wide range of reptiles are also found in Madagascar with the most notable examples being the satanic leaf-tailed gecko and the panther chameleon. Both reptiles have developed several means to camouflage to avoid predators. Amphibian life also thrives on the island with some remarkable species such as the Painted Mantella and the tomato frog, both of which live solely on the island. Iconic bird species found on the island include the Madagascar long-eared owl and the Madagascar fody. Insect life also has a significant presence in Madagascar with the Madagascar hissing cockroach living purely on the island.
Plants of Madagascar
Malagasy plant life is some of the world's most diverse as well as unique. On the island, both non-vascular and vascular plants bloom with nearly 83% of the vascular plants existing only on the island. Orchids dominate the island with more than 900 species with slightly over 85% being unique to the island. The palm tree is one of Madagascar's most well-known trees, and the island boasts of having 200 individual species of palms. The number of palm species found in Madagascar is more than triple the number located on the African mainland. The traveler's tree is one of the trees that are most often planted. Rainforests in Madagascar only occupy about 8% of the nation's territory, but they once covered a much greater area. Fungi are also found in Madagascar although most scientists suspect that they are yet to classify every fungus found on the island.
Threats Facing Madagascar
The nation of Madagascar faces significant challenges in various spheres. The country was the victim of political upheaval in 2009 when the president at the time, Marc Ravalomanana, was forced to resign. The political turmoil significantly affected the nation's economy. Madagascan wildlife is under the consistent threat of extinction due to the loss of habitat to pave the way for settlement and agriculture. Malagasy culture also faces the risk of erosion due to the influx of western influences into the island nation.
About the Author
Benjamin Elisha Sawe holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Statistics and an MBA in Strategic Management. He is a frequent World Atlas contributor.
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