Blogging from A to Z
Theme: Languages of the World
Malagasy is spoken on the island of Madagascar, off the east coast of Africa. Despite its close proximity to Africa, however, Malagasy is not a member of any African language family. Rather, it is a group of closely related varieties representing the westernmost extension of the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family. Its closest relative outside of Madagascar is Ma’anyan in southeast Borneo. The indigenous people of Madagascar, who make up some 36 tribes and are of mixed Indonesian and African stock, are also known as Malagasy.
Africans and Indonesians reached the island of Madagascar in about the 5th century AD. Indonesians most probably came from southeast Borneo where close relatives of Malagasy, such as Ma’anyan, are still spoken today. The Malagasy immigrants came in contact with settlers from the east coast of Africa who spoke Bantu languages. As a result, Malagasy exhibits Bantu influence in its sound system and vocabulary. Indonesian immigration continuing until the 15th century. By the beginning of the 17th century there were a number of small Malagasy kingdoms. At the end of the 18th century, the Merina people conquered the other kingdoms on the island. In the 19th century, European missionaries codified and recorded the main Merina dialect on which the present standard dialect is based.
Fascinating facts about Malagasy and Madagascar
There are 25.5 million Malagasies, making it a more populous country than Australia, Sri Lanka, The Netherlands, Romania and Greece.
It had a mad queen – Ranavalona. She thwarted European efforts to gain sway over Madagascar during her 33-year rule, but also focused her energies on brutally eradicating Christians, neighbouring kingdoms and political rivals. One way Ranavalona maintained order was the tangena ordeal, by which the accused was poisoned, and then forced to eat three pieces of chicken skin. Death, or the failure to regurgitate all three pieces, indicated guilt.
Half the world’s chameleons live here.
Gerald Durrell was a fan. The naturalist’s last wildlife expedition was to Madagascar, a trip he recollects in his book The Aye-Aye and I.
Considering its vast size, Madagascar has very few railways – just 854 kilometres of track, to be precise. Getting around the country typically involves a shared taxi (or taxi-be in Malagasy).
The island’s secluded coves, and the absence for centuries of European powers, meant Madagascar was once a safe haven for hundreds of pirates. One, Captain James Misson, supposedly founded an anarchist colony (Libertatia) there in the late 17th century, while Ile Sainte-Marie, four miles off Madagascar’s east coast, was simply referred to as “the island of pirates” on maps from the time. Countless brigands, including Captain Kidd, took shelter there when they weren’t looting booty. Some are buried in the island’s cemetery.
Thanks for reading 🙂