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The Betsileo are a highland ethnic group of Madagascarmarker, the third largest in terms of population, numbering around one million. Their name means "The Many Invincible Ones" which they chose for themselves after the failed invasion of Ramitraho King of the Menabe kingdom in the early 19th century.

Territory

The Betsileo occupy the south of the Madagascarmarker plateau. Their traditional territory extends from the north of the Mania River in the north to the foot of the Andringitra in the south; to the west by the Bongolava chain and the east by the Eastern Forest, occupied by the Tanala tribe.

Traditionally their territory and their people are divided into three major parts. The Northern Betsileo (or Fisakana) is defined by the Ivato and Manandona rivers in the north and the Sahanivotry and Mania rivers to the south. The Central Betsileo (or Manandriana) is found between the Ivato and the Matsiatra rivers. The Southern Betsileo is all the Betsileo territory to the south of the Matsiatra river (the Isandra, Lalangina, Iarindrano and Andringitra).

History and Culture

Betsileo tomb in the Anjà Reserve
The different Betsileo kingdoms (Fandriana, Fisakana, Manandriana, Isandra, etc.) existed independently of each other with oral traditions dating back to the 17th century. They were all eventually conquered and reorganized by Radama I who made Fianarantsoamarker the administrative capital of the central and southern Betsileo people. The north was attached to Antsirabemarker. Thus the Betsileo as a group began in the 19th century as an administrative subdivision by the Malagasy government.

The Betsileo are of Malayo-Indonesian origin, whereas Madagascar's population is largely mixed of Bantu African and East Asian descent. Traditionally they claim a common heritage with the Antemoro from the east coast and the Bara from further south. They are primarily agricultural, growing manioc, taro and sweet potato, as well as rice which they grow in irrigated hillside terraces. They also raise cattle.

The Betsileo traditionally lived in huts made of vegetable fiber, reserving wooden huts for the nobles. Both were often adorned with decorative motifs or even bullhorns. Nowadays mud and brick are more common.

The people are excellent woodcarvers and are known for their large wooden sculptures.

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