The world is vast, and the diversity of cultures gives each set of people its identity. In Africa, a country’s history, and culture shape how the country develops and how the rest of the world perceives them. While Madagascar is obscure and not overly popular, they have a unique language and culture.
Madagascar is located on the eastern coast of Africa, the second-largest island country in the world (after Indonesia). The nation consists of Madagascar (the fourth-largest island in the world) and numerous smaller peripheral islands in the Indian Ocean.
Population of Madagascar
Madagascar has a small population of 26.26 million people based on the 2018 Census record. The country ranked 31st as the highest GDP generated amongst Africans, but this can generally be attributed to the small population of the country in comparison to top countries like Nigeria and South Africa.
The capital city of Madagascar is Antananarivo, which is approximately 250 miles off the coast of East Africa and is 592,800 square kilometers (228,900 sq mi) wide.
The country’s citizens are predominantly Christians, with Christianity taking up 85.3% of the population, people practicing no religion 6.9%, traditional faiths 4.5%, and Islam having just 3.0% of the total population. In comparison, unaccounted beliefs amount to 0.3%.
National and Local Languages of Madagascar
Language is often the most critical part of the culture. In this part of the world, culture is preserved and transferred from generation to generation through language and cultural etiquette transfer.
In Madagascar, the two most spoken languages by the people are the Malagasy Language (the language of the people of Madagascar) and French. And while Madagascar is a Francophone country, French is spoken mainly as a second language used among the educated population and for trade and international communication.
Malagasy, one of the Barito languages, is the most western Malayo-Polynesian language. It is most closely connected to the Ma’anyan language, which is still used in Southeast Borneo, Indonesia. There are two primary linguistic groups in Madagascar: Eastern and Western.
Most northern Madagascar and the island’s central plateau are where the eastern dialect, which has five subgroups, is spoken. The Merina dialect serves as the foundation for Standard Malagasy.
The Eastern Dialects subgroups are
- The Betsimisaraka people on the island’s northeastern coast speak Northern Betsimisaraka Malagasy, which has 1,270,000 speakers.
- The Betsimisaraka in the district of Vatovavy Fito Vinany speaks a Southern Betsimisaraka Malagasy language (2,000,000 speakers).
- Plateau Malagasy (10,893,000 speakers): Spoken in the island’s middle, this dialect includes languages from the southeast like Antemoro and Antefasy. The Merina dialect is a sub-group and is the foundation of standard Malagasy.
- The Antanosy people of the southern part of the island speak Tanosy Malagasy, which has 639,000 native speakers.
- The Antaisaka people in the island’s southeast speak Tesaka Malagasy, which has 1,130,000 native speakers.
There are six subgroups of the western dialects, and the southern half of the island is where they are most often spoken. They include
- Antahkarana (156,000 speakers), spoken by the Antahkarana on the northern tip of the island.
- Bara (724,000 speakers), spoken by the Bara people in the south.
- Masikoro (550,000 speakers), spoken by the Masikoro in the southwest.
- Sakalava (1,210,000 speakers), spoken by the Sakalava on the island’s western coast.
- Tandroy-Mahafaly (1,300,000 speakers), spoken by the Antandroy and the Mahafaly people on the southern tip of the island.
- Tsimihety Malagasy (1,615,000 speakers) – spoken by the Tsimihety people.
While there are different dialects based on the tribe and location, every Malagasy language is slightly influenced by Bantu, Swahili, Arabic, English, and French.
A special note should be taken concerning language, only Malagasy is recognized as the National Language, while French serves as an Official Language. English was also an official language in the country until it was voted out in the November 2010 referendum, but there is still a minority who speak English.
Madagascar Culture and Values
In a country such as Madagascar, culture plays a vital role in how one is perceived and the type of reception you get when visiting; from adding their local language as an official language, it is clear for all to see the importance of the culture and the inherent values.
To serve as a constant reminder of their culture and the values the country is meant to uphold, the Madagascar flag is a culmination of those different values, history, and philosophy, and they can be explained as:
The white and red flag represents the Merina Kingdom of Madagascar flag that lined the district before France’s settlement in the region. It is used to describe the country’s ethnic origin and history.
The Hova people of the nation, the main class of common farmhands, are represented by the green color used in the flag.
The Republic of Madagascar is a secular country where everyone is allowed to practice any religion of their choice. Still, the majority of the population of the country are Christians, and it has always been so since the introduction of the faith in 1818.
In what might be shocking to most, education is compulsory from 6 to 14 years. Still, because of the low rate of development of the country, most drop out to join in agricultural activities, majorly because the lower class is far more significant than the upper class.
Madagascar places a high value on respecting elders and other authoritative authorities; hence, when addressing elders, Use “tompoko (toom-pook)” in the same manner you would “Sir” or “Ma’am” in English.
Family Structures in Madagascar
Like most African countries, every family in Madagascar is beyond just the nuclear family; it also encompasses everyone on the sides and all acquaintances and family friends. Traditionally, families settle in the same place and almost always engage in the same craft, mostly silk weaving (for which the country is renowned.)
Another surprising fact is that cousins are always called brothers and sisters. In contrast, all aunts and uncles are called mothers and fathers to solidify the community of the people further.
Food in Madagascar
Like Egan in Ghanaian meals, rice of all shapes, sizes, and tastes is present in the Malagasy diet and is added in various innovative ways that surprise most people. Below, you will find a few of the significant Malagasy meals:
- Rice: officially one of the largest consumers of rice in the world, the inclusion of rice is not a surprise, and it can be eaten daily by most Malagasy people thrice, sometimes with reddish or vegetable dishes.
- Vary Amin’anana: this is a rice and green vegetable dish, typically served for breakfast and dinner. It is frequently served with chicken, pork, eggs, chevaquines, and small shrimp.
- Ranon’ampango: the island’s most widely consumed beverage. This beverage is created after the rice has been cooked. At the bottom of the saucepan, a thin layer of scorched rice is left and boiled with water.
- Romazava: previously, the meal was restricted to the ruler of Madagascar only; now, all eat the dish, but it is still known as one of the country’s seven (7) royal dishes.
- Henakisoa Sy Amalona: another one of the seven royal dishes, and even at this, it is not accepted by all because it contains pork, which is taboo in some ethnic groups, but it is one of the easiest to prepare and available for distinguished guests.
Fashion in Madagascar
Traditional Malagasy attire frequently features brilliantly colored textiles with elaborate designs and components such as intricate beading and embroidery. People in rural areas are commonly seen wearing traditional wraparound skirts known as lambas, constructed of various materials such as cotton, silk, or wool. These outfits are frequently paired with multiple accessories, including jewelry from local resources such as shells and beads.
Worldwide trends frequently impact fashion in Madagascar’s cities. Traditional patterns and techniques, however, remain strong, with several designers incorporating parts of classic Malagasy fashion into their creations.
Madagascar’s fashion is a colorful and varied representation of the country’s rich cultural past.
Malagasy Art and Architecture
For a country that multiple countries have colonized before eventually having its unique people, the arts and architecture of Madagascar have constantly been evolving. The Mahafaly have an excellent wood-carving business, and their graves of colored stones and intricately carved statues called Aloalo, which are also used as Antandroy funeral poles, are among the most stunning on the island.
Historically, locally accessible plant materials were the first materials utilized for their architecture and continue to be the most popular among traditional societies. Hybrid varieties that employ cob and sticks have evolved in the transition zones between the central highlands and damp coastal areas.
Art, culture, and architecture have always been essential to the Malagasy people’s culture and overall image, regardless of the ethnic group. Even today, a vibrant oral tradition makes it possible for iconic poems like Ibonia, historical accounts, mythical tales, and folklore to be transferred down through generations by word of mouth.
Common Malagasy Expressions and Translation
In a unique culture like that of the Malagasy people, expressing oneself is an essential skill to have, especially in the local language, and even while there is an extensive vocabulary, here are a few of the most common terms used:
- Hello – Salama
- Good night – Tafandria Mandry
- Goodbye – Veloma
- My name is… – Ny anarako dia…
- What’s your name? – Iza ny anaranao?
- Pleased to meet you – Faly mahafantatra anao
- Please – Azafady
- Thank you – Misaotra
- You’re welcome – Tsisy fisaorana
- I’m sorry – Miala tsiny
- Excuse me – Azafady
- Welcome – Tonga soa
- How are you? – Manao ahoana?
- I’m fine, thank you – Tsara fa misaotra
Doing Business in Madagascar
When conducting business in Madagascar, it is essential to be aware of the norms and practices.
One thing to remember is that Madagascar’s business relationships are often built on trust and personal connections. It is essential to take the time to build rapport and establish a relationship with potential partners or clients before discussing business.
It is also essential to be aware that business meetings in Madagascar may follow a more relaxed schedule than in some other countries. It is common for meetings to start later than planned or to be interrupted by other commitments. It is essential to be patient and flexible in these situations.
Regarding business negotiations, it is essential to be respectful and to take a collaborative approach. It is also helpful to be aware of local customs and to try to understand the perspective of the person with whom you are negotiating.
Holidays and Celebrations with Significance in Madagascar
There is a multitude of events and holidays that are celebrated every year, and some occur occasionally, but below, are the most important ones: Alahamadi Be: Madagascar’s traditional New Year’s Day, held in March and lasting two days, is always characterized by many traditional festivals.
- Martyrs’ Day: It is celebrated on the 29th of March and represents the 1947 rebellion against French colonial rule, which eventually led to Madagascar’s independence after losing thousands of lives.
- Santabary Festival: This festival has a very ancient origin and takes place in late April/early May to give thanks for the year’s first rice harvest.
- Feria Oramena: it is held in June and focuses on Madagascar’s favorite seafood, lobster.
- Famadihana: known as the turning of the bones, and is a tradition which is also a three-month family-oriented ritual that begins in June in Madagascar
- Hiragasy: an ancient type of entertainment in Madagascar, dating back to the 18th century. Amid much joy, competing participants put on a five-themed show of oratory, dance, music, drinking, and eating contests.
Translating For the Madagascan Market
In a small but diverse country in Africa, understanding how to navigate Madagascar’s language and culture is essential for transferring information and adequately conveying brand identity or organizational message.
The two main languages spoken in Madagascar are Malagasy and French, with the former being the name of an Indigenous ethnic group that makes up about 90% of the total Madagascar population.
Malagasy is the unofficial language of the majority, while French is the de jure language recognized by the constitution for official use.
Every country has a unique culture, and they also have a unique set of values and language that is used to communicate. Knowing how to converse and express oneself in languages one can understand and relate to is essential.
To localize your content for the Madagascar market, consider optimizing your product to French and Malagasy to communicate your products and services.
It is also important to remember that professional translators should complete quality translations. A qualified language service provider (LSP) such as GPI has processes to qualify translators and provide high-level translation support.