Soon after arriving in Antananarivo, in the highlands of Madagascar, we get the feeling of not being in Africa, but somewhere in South-East Asia. We see fair-skinned people who would blend in perfectly in Indonesia or Malaysia. Traveling around the Red Island, you quickly realize that this country is made up of 18 different ethnic groups. The Merina are the dominant tribe, with roots in Indonesia; they are mostly found in the highlands of Madagascar. In pre-colonial times, the Merina succeeded in controlling the entire island, subduing the other ethnicities; the royals were therefore Merina. The dominance of people originating in Borneo also shows in the language, which is related to a language spoken in Borneo. To complicate things further, we communicate in French.
During the centuries, a unique mixture of people has come out of this rich melting pot, resulting in remarkably beautiful people. Apart from physical appearance, the Malagasy also stand out in humble friendliness. We had so many encounters with welcoming, open-minded, sweet people with a good sense of humour that made our stay so much more surprising and pleasant. Often, people turned out shy, kids ran away when we pulled out a camera, laughing nervously. The brave ones would instead come up and pose for a picture, and have great fun at it. The "vaza" call was often there: denoting foreigners, originally used for the European pirates who marauded the island centuries ago. Responding "gasy" often brought the Malagasy to laughter. The Tsiroanomandidy kids followed us, running, hiding, laughing, striking a serious pose, radiating an innocent energy that was contagious. In Andavadoaka, we drew a crowd of kids, who followed us through the sandy streets of the riverine town, and who loved playing with us.
Further down the Manambolo river, we had a memorable encounter with Bebe, a grand-grandmother in her nineties. Bright and open-minded, she told us that she had never been down the river, never been to Tana, but she did have 50 grandchildren. We realized she had never seen a car, never seen the sea, never breathed the polluted air of a city, yet she appeared a wise person. She accepted a chunk of ginger I had taken from home with gratitude: it would protect her and those living in her settlement against a cold. Then, there were the kids playing on the beaches on the west coast, hunting the grounds at low tide for a prize, posing with a model of a pirogue in the early morning. The Sakalava, of East African descent, live mostly on the west coast. Their women apply masonjoany (or tabaky) to protect their faces against the sun, giving them a yellow-white mask. There are the Bara, famous for their qualities as zebu herders. Then the Betsileo, a proud people of the southern highlands, once fighting a war agains the Merina, who are again living in the spectacular mountain region in the mid-south. Even after traveling around this vast country, we were still surprised at the ethnic richness which adds to the appeal of this unique island.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Malagasy people (). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Malagasy people.
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