^ yeah, Malagasy is classifed under the Western Branch of the Austronesian language Family which the Philippine languages are also classifed under.
isn't it fascinating that there were so many females ruling the kingdoms of Madagascar? I surmise it is atributed to the native Austronesian custom of matriarch.
Anyways read this about the Culture and 18 Tribes of Madagascar....
Malagasy culture is very diverse. It has been denotated that "Malagasy form one nation with one basic culture and language (though with many dialects)(Brandt 1994:21)". I have to disagree with this statement. It is my personal and professional opinion that the Malagasy culture takes many forms based upon distinct tribal affliations. There is diversity in customs and beliefs. There is also diversity in personal ideologies as well.
There are eighteen different tribes recognized by the government. There are also three additional groups. In addition, there are a total of 39 ethnic groups who inhabit the island. Most of these ethnic groups have immigrated from India, China, and the Middle East. There also has been major internal shifts in tribal groups. Although there has been attempts to map the location of each tribal group, it is quite challenging to discern where each ethnic group resides. Personal Ancedote
One example I have that illustrates this phenomenon of emigration is one of my informants, Rabetsy. Rabetsy is affliated with the Betsileo tribe. Rabetsy has been forced to find work away from his extended family who reside near Fianarantsoa. Within the last three years that he has worked at the Perinet Reserve that is located near Andasibe (200 km from Fianarantsoa), he has only seen his family once for a week. It costs about 100,000 fmg (US$20) roundtrip to travel to his home village. His monthly income is 120,000 fmg (US$24).
Rabetsy has to feed six people including his five children. His wife does help to make money for the family by selling embroidary items at the Perinet Reserve Hotel. If you visit Perinet, tell Rabetsy I say hello and buy a tablecloth made by his wife. Rabetsy is only one story of the endemic economic challenge that face the people of Madagascar especially in the light of population growth and lack of jobs.
Description of Tribal Affliations and Customs
(Compliments of Hilary Brandt's guidebook and my personal experiences)
The following information may or may not still be in practice. The information has been derived from historical and ethnographic documents. Eighteen Recognized Tribal Groups Antaifasy (People of the sands)
Living in the south-east around Farafangana they cultivate rice, and fish in the lakes and rivers. They have extravagent burial practices including the kibory which is a burial house. Antaimoro (People of the coast)
Residing in the south-east around Vohipeno and Manakara. Many Antaimoro are Muslim and guard Islamic and Arabian cultural influences. Antaisaka
Many still live in the south near Farafangana and they are an off-shoot of the Sakalava tribe. They cultivate coffee, bananas and rice (only the women harvest the rice). They also use the kibory or ceremonial burial structures. Antankarana (Those of the rocks)
Living in the north around Diego-Suarez. They are fishers or cattle herders whose rulers came from the Sakalava dynasty. Their houses are usually raised on stilts. Numerous fady exist amongst them governing relations between the sexes in the family; for example, a girl may not wash her brother's clothes. The legs of a fowl are the father's portion, whereas amongst the Merina, for instance, they are given to the children. Antambahoaka (Those of the people)
The smallest tribe, of the same origin as the Antaimoro and living around Mananjary on the south-east coast. They have some Arab traits and amulets are used. They bury their dead in a kibory. Group circumcision ceremonies are carried out every seven years. This is a similar practice of the Merina people. Antrandroy (People of the thorns)
Traditionally nomadic, they live in the arid south around Ambovombe. A dark-skinned people, they wear little clothing and are said to be frank and open, easily roused to either joy or anger. Their women occupy an inferior position. The villages are often surrounded by a hedge of cactus plants. They do not eat much rice but subsist on millet, maize, and cassava. They believe in the kokolampo, a spirit of either good or bad influence. Their tombs are similar to those of the Mahafaly tribe. Sometimes it is fady among them for a child to say his father's name, or to refer by name to parts of his father's body. Thus he may say ny fandiany (the-what-he-moves-with) for his feet, and ny amboniny (the-top-of-him) for his head. If you are in the southern part of the island near the Berenty Reserve, make sure that you stop by the Antandroy Museum located at the Berenty Reserve. The Museum is an awesome place to learn about the local cultures of South Madagascar including the Antandroy, Antanosy, and Mahafaly tribes. Antanosy (People of the island)
The island is a small one in the Fanjahira river. They live in the south-east principally around Taolagnaro (Ft. Dauphin). Their social structure is based on clans with a 'king' holding great authority over each clan. There are strict fady governing relationships in the family. For example, a brother may not sit or step over his sister's mat. As with many other tribes there are numerous fady regarding pregnancy: a pregnant woman should not sit in the doorway of the house; she should not eat brains; she should not converse with men; people who have no children should not stay in her house overnight. Other fady are that relatives should not eat meat at a funeral and the diggers opening the tomb should not wear clothes. When digging holes for the corner posts of a new house it may be fady to stand up so the job must be performed sitting down.
When I was in the village of Manambaro, located about 15 km from Ft. Dauphin, I met many of the villagers including a farmer. The main ecomomic activities of the village include farming and cattle herding. Bara
Originally in the south-west near Toliara, these nomadic cattle herders now live in the south-central area around Ihosy and Betroka. Their name has no special meaning but it is reputed to derive from an African (Bantu) word. They may be polygamous and women occupy an inferior position in their society. They attach importance to the fatidra or 'blood pact'. Cattle stealing is regarded as proof of manhood and courage, without which a man cannot expect to get a wife. In other words, the Bara like many other Malagasy tribes have traditionally been involved in bridewealth practices. The bride's family is given a specific number of omby or cattle from the groom's family.
They are dancers and sculptors, a unique feature of their carved wooden figures being eyelashes of real hair set in the wood. They believe in the helo, a spirit that manifests itself at the foot of trees. In the past a whole village would move after somebody dies owing to the fear of ghosts. They use caves in the mountains for burial. It is the custom to shave the head on the death of a near relative. Betsileo (The many invincibles)
They are centred in the south of the Hauts Plateaux around Fianarantsoa but about 150,000 of them also live in the Betsiboka region. They are energic and expert rice-producers, their irrigated, terrace rice-fields being a feature of the landscape. Famadihana was introduced to their culture by the Merina at the time of Queen Ranavalona I. It is fady for the husband of a pregnant woman to wear a lamba thrown over his shoulder. It may be fady for the family to eat until the father is present or for anyone to pick up his fork until the most honourable person present has started to eat. Betsimisaraka (The many inseparables)
They are the second largest tribe and live on the east coast in the Toamasina-Antalaha region. Their culture has been influenced by the Europeans, particularly pirates. They cultivate rice and work on vanilla plantations. Their clothes are sometimes made from locally woven raffia. Originally their society included numerous local chiefs but they are not now important. The tangalamena is the local official for religous rites and customs. The Betsimisaraka have many superstitious beliefs: angatra (ghosts), zazavavy an-drano (mermaids), kalamoro (little wild men of the woods, about 25 inches high with long flowing hair, who like to slip into housesand steal rice from the cooking pot). In the north coffins are generally placed under a shelter, in the south in tombs. It may be fady for a brother to shake hands with his sister, or for a young man to wear shoes while his father is still living. Bezanozano (Many small plaits)
The name refers to the way in which they do their hair. They were probably one of the first tribes to become established in Madagascar, and live in an area between the Betsimisaraka lowlands and the Merina highlands. Like the Merina, they practice famadihana. As with most of the coastal tribes their funeral celebrations involve the consumption of considerable quantitites of toga gache (rum). Toga gache is homemade distilled sugarcane rum, which is made in the hills outside of villages because it is illegal to manufacture and sell it. Mahafaly (Those who make taboos/Those who make happy)
The etymology of the word is sometimes disputed but the former meaning is generally regarded as being correct. They probably arrived around the 12th century, and live in the south-west desert area around Ampanihy and Ejeda. They are farmers, with maize, sorgho and sweet potatoes as their chief crops; cattle herding occupies a secondary place. They kept their independence under their own local chiefs until the French occupation and still keep the bones of some of their old chiefs-this is the jiny cult. Their villages usually have a sacrificial post, the hazo manga, on the east of the village where sacrifices are made. Some fo the blood is generally put on the foreheads of the people attending.
The tombs of the Mahafaly attract a great deal of interest. They are big rectangular constructions of uncut stone rising some three feet above the ground and decorated with aloalo and the horns of the omby (cattle) slain at the funeral feast. The tomb of the Mahafaly king Tsiampody has the horns of 700 zebu on it. The aloalo are sculpted wooden posts set upright on the tomb, often depicting scenes from the person's life. The burial customs include waiting for the decomposition of the body before it is placed in the tomb. It is the practice for a person to be given a new name after death-generally beginning with 'Andria'.
The divorce rate is very high and it is not all uncommon for a man to divorce and remarry six or seven times. It is very often fady for children to sleep in the same house as their parents. Their rombo (very similar to the tromba of the Sakalava) is the practice of contacting various spirits for healing purposes. Amongst the spirits believed in are the raza who are not real ancestors and in some cases are even supposed to include vazaha (white foreigner) or vahiney (non-white foreigner), and the vorom-be which is the spirit of a big bird. Makoa/Mikea
Originally spread along the north-west region, many have moved south to the area of the Onilahy river and between Morombe and Toliara. They live in the forest, rather than by the sea, and are descended from African slaves. Racially speaking, they resemble Africans and are said to be the most primitive tribe in Madagascar. Economically speaking, the Mikea people are a foraging group who both collect and hunt food. To find out more about the Mikea people, check out David Stiles monograph entitled, Tubers and Tenrecs: The Mikea of Southwestern Madagascar. For a full reference, go to my Reading Materials page. Merina (People of the highlands)
They live in the Hauts Plateaux, the most developed area of the country, the capital city of Antananarivo being 95% Merina. They are of Malayo-Polynesian origin and vary in colour from ivory to very dark, with straight hair. They used to be divided into three castes: the Andriana (nobles), the Hova (free-men) and the Andevo (serfs), but legally these divisions no longer exist. Most Merina houses are built of brick or mud; some are two storey buildings with slender pillars, where the people live mostly upstairs. Most villages of any size have a church-probably two, Catholic and Protestant. There is much irrigated rice cultivation, and the Merina were the first tribe to have any skill in architechure and metallurgy. In addition, the European lexiographers made the Merina dialect the main Malagasy language. The famadihana is essentially a Merina custom. Sakalava (People of the long valleys)
They live in the west between Tuliara and Majunga and are dark skinned with Polynesian features and short curly hair. They were at one time the largest and most powerful tribe, though disunited, and were ruled by their own kings and queens. Certain royal relics remain- sometimes being kept in the north-east corner of a house. The Sakalava are cattle herders, farmers, and handicrafters. There is a record of human sacrifice amongst them up to the year 1850 at some special occassion such as the death of a king. The tromba (trance state) is quite uncommon. It is fady for pregnant women to eat fish or to sit in a doorway. Women hold a more important place amongst them than in most other tribes. For instance, in the village of Djamandjary on the island of Nosy Be, I met a handicrafter named Soatra, who told me that women in his village do hold a lot of power. A majority of the village's residents are Sakalava. There are currently two women on the village council of elders. Sihanaka (People of the swamps)
Their home is the north-east of the old kingdon of Imerina around Lake Alaotra and they have much in common with the Merina. They are fishers, rice growers and poultry herders. Swamps have been drained to make vast rice-fields cultivated with modern machinery and methods. They have a special rotation of fady days. Tanala (People of the forest)
These are traditionally forest-dwellers, living inland from Manakara, and are rice and coffee growers. They have raised houses that are used to store rice after the harvest. They were the most recent tribe to arrive- about 250 years ago. The Tanala are divided into two groups: the Ikongo in the south and the Menabe in the north. The Ikongo are an independent people and never submitted to Merina domination, in contrast to the Menabe. Burial customs include keeping the corpse for up to the month. Coffins are made from large trees to which sacrifices are sometimes made when they are cut down. The Ikongo usually bury their dead in the forest and may mark a tree to show the spot. Tsimihety (Those who do not cut their hair)
The refusal to cut their hair (to show mourning on the death of a Sakalava king) was to demonstrate their independence. They are an energetic and vigerous people in the north-central area and are spreading west. The oldest maternal uncle occupies an important position. Other groups
These fishing people are not generally recognized as a separate tribe but as a clan of the Sakalava. They live on the coast in the region of Morondava in the west to Faux Cap in the south. They use little out-rigger canoes hollowed out from tree trunks and fitted with one outrigger pole and a small rectangular sail. In these frail but stable craft they go far out to sea. The Vezo are also noted for their tombs, which are graves dug into the ground surrounded by wooden palisades, the main posts of which are crowned by wooden carved figures of the most erotic kind. No effort is made to keep them in repair as it is only when the palisades finally fall into decay and ruin that the soul of the dead is fully released. Zafimaniry
A clan of about 15,000 distributed in about 100 villages in the forests between the Betsileo and Tanala area south-east of Ambositra. They are known for their wood carvings and sculpture, and are descended from people from the Hauts Plateaux who established themselves there early in the 19th century. The Zafimaniry are thus interesting to historians (and anthropologists) as they continue the forms of housing and decoration of past centuries. Their houses, which are made from vegtable fibres and wood with bamboo walls and roofs, have no nails and can be taken down and moved from one village to another. St.Marians
The population of the Ile Ste Marie (Nosy Boraha) is mixed. Although Indonesian in origin there has been influence from both Arabs and European pirates of different nationalities. http://www.anthrotech.com/madagascar/culture/