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The Malagasy ( ) ethnic group forms about a half of the population of Madagascarmarker. They are divided into two subgroups: the "Highlander" Merina, Sihanaka and Betsileo of the central plateaux around Antananarivomarker, Alaotramarker (Ambatondrazaka) and Fianarantsoamarker, and the côtiers ("coastal dwellers") elsewhere in the country. This division has its roots in historical patterns of settlement: the original Austronesian settlers arrived between the third and tenth centuries and established a network of principalities in the central highlands region conducive to growing the rice they had carried with them on their outrigger canoes. Sometime later, a large number of settlers arrived from East Africa and established kingdoms along the relatively unpopulated coastlines.

The difference in ethnic origins remains somewhat evident between the highland and coastal regions. In addition to the ethnic distinction between highland and coastal Malagasy, one may speak of a political distinction as well. Merina princes in the late 18th and early 19th century united the Merina principalities and brought the neighboring Betsileo people under their administration first. They later extended Merina control over the majority of the coastal areas as well. The military resistance and eventual defeat of most of the côtier communities assured their subordinate position vis-a-vis the Merina-Betsileo alliance. The French colonial administration capitalized on and further exacerbated these political inequities by appropriating existing Merina governmental infrastructure to run their colony. This legacy of political inequity dogged the people of Madagascar after gaining independence in 1960; candidates' ethnic and regional identities have often served to help or hinder their success in democratic elections.

Within these two broad ethnic and political groupings, the Malagasy were historically further subdivided into specifically named ethnic groups, who were primarily distinguished from one another on the basis of cultural practices. These were namely agricultural, hunting, or fishing practices; music; hair and clothing styles; and local customs or taboos (known in the Malagasy language as 'fady'). The number of such groups in Madagascar has been debated, and in reality the practices that distinguished many of these groups are less prevalent than they were in the past. Nonetheless, many Malagasy are proud to proclaim their association with one or several of these groups as part of their own cultural identity.

People of Malagasy descent

There is a population of Afro-Peruvians in northern Perumarker that are of Malagasy descent and call themselves Mangaches or Malgaches and there is a section of Piuramarker called la Mangachería.

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