What Is The Origin Of The Name Madagascar?

The Haute Matsiatra region of Madagascar.
The Haute Matsiatra region of Madagascar.

The Republic of Madagascar is an island country, 250 miles off the East African coast. It is the fourth-largest island in the world after Greenland, New Guinea, and Borneo. Madagascar broke away from the Indian subcontinent soon after the later separated from Africa 88 million years ago. The Austronesian peoples inhabited the island between 350 BC and 550 AD. In the 9th century, Bantu communities crossed over to the island from Mozambique and were soon followed by several other ethnic groups, all of which contribute to the present-day Malagasy cultural life. Before the 19th century, the island was divided into several kingdoms and ruled by Chiefs. At the start of the 19th century, the island was united as the Kingdom of Madagascar under the leadership of Merina nobles, but the monarchy was ended by French colonization in 1887. It remained a French colony until it gained independence in 1960. Madagascar is a member of the UN, AU, SADC and Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie.

Origin of the Name “Madagascar”

The local Malagasy people refer to the island as “Madagasikara”. The name “Madagascar” was not developed in the country but rather popularized by Europeans in the Middle Ages. There are several varying accounts of the possible origin of the name, but none has been proven to be true. The title “Madageiscar” was first used by Marco Polo in his narrative Devisement du Monde while traversing the Silk Road in the mid-13th century. It is certain that the name did not originate from the local language because Marco Polo had not been to Madagascar and the alphabet “C” not exists in the Malagasy language.

Historical Maps

French explorer Alfred Grandidier visited Madagascar in 1885 and began studying the history of the Island. Grandidier discovered that Madagascar was the same Island that explorer Richard de Haldingham had referred to as “Malichu” while drawing the world map in the 13th century. It was the same island the Greeks had referred to as “Malai Gesira.” The name slowly transformed to malaigésira, madégescar, madégascar, and finally Madagascar.

Languages of Madagascar

French and Malagasy are the official languages of Madagascar. The Malagasy language is spoken throughout the island in several but intelligible dialects. The language is generally classified into two; the Eastern and Western Malagasy. The constitution adopted in 2007 identify Malagasy as the national language while Malagasy, English, and French were recognized as official languages. A subsequent constitutional referendum in 2010 removed English as an official and instead listed it as a foreign language.


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