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Home > Island People: Culture and Life in Madagascar

Almost half of the population is under 20 years of age. Pictured is Rahary, who lives on the eastern part of the island.
Madagascar's language, music and spiritual beliefs spring from an island culture thousands of years in the making -- an ethnic stew of African, European and Asian influences.

Humans first planted their feet on the island's shores just over 2,000 years ago. It's still not known from where these settlers originated, but there are intriguing similarities between Malagasy and languages spoken in Indonesia.

The descendants of the first inhabitants have long since intermarried with Africans, resulting in a distinct ethnicity. And the island's baroque churches are a testament to other cultural forces at work: the successive waves of European colonialists, the last of which -- the French -- ruled the country until 1960.

Of course Madagascar continues to be influenced by the outside world. For example, the rhythmic tempo of the country's traditional music now pulses with strains of reggae, hip hop and other contemporary beats.

In this section, as part of an introduction to the people of the island, you will hear that music. Dan Grossman will introduce you to Malagasy musicians who thump away at or pluck a variety of instruments -- some that are familiar to Western eyes and ears, others that are not. Also, you will hear the a capella voices of a village chorus singing conservation and health tributes.

You'll see photographs of daily life in one of the poorest countries in the world, a place where oxcarts and human-powered taxis called "pousee pousees" still ply unpaved roads on their way to market much as they did over 100 years ago.

Madagascar is a nation of young people. Grossman will introduce you to a few of them, including Rahary, who lives in a one-room house. And during your visit Rahary will give you a few rudimentary lessons in the Malagasy language.

Finally, you will learn about millennial-old spiritual beliefs that are still observed even by many of the island's Christian believers. Ramilisonina, a Malagasy archaeologist, will discuss his people's deep reverence for specific stones, trees, and other natural objects. And three Malagasy "speechmakers" tell about customs that correspond to different stages of life.

Begin your exploration of Madagascar's culture and people by clicking on the links below.

Related Topics

Snapshots of Daily LifeYouth NationBeliefs: Rites of Passage

Beliefs: The Sacred in Nature Music: Tunes from the Trees

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