The Republic of Madagascar encompasses the island of the same name. Madagascar is some 400km off the east coast of Africa. It separated from the mainland about 160 million years ago. Madagascar is the world’s fourth largest island. This island offer a unique and inspiring wildlife experience. Madagascar is home to some pretty incredible beaches ringed by coral reefs, swaying palms and silky white sands. This Island also offers so much more than a seaside holiday. The island is famous for its diversity of fauna and flora. Madagascar has over 200,000 species that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Among these are over 100 species of lemur, countless chameleons, insect-eating pitcher plants. There are also octopus trees and bottle-shaped baobabs!
The Island of Madagascar is inhabited by the Malagasy people. They come from Polynesia originally. That is the reason why they bear greater resemblance in their culture and customs to Asia than Africa. There are many taboos and sacred rituals such as ‘turning over the dead. This is where people’s remains are removed from their tombs. They are rewrapped and returned there after festivities in their honor to celebrate communion between the living and dead. Madagascar might be considered a part of continent of Africa but there is nothing African about Madagascar. This island country is unlike any other country of Africa, or should we say unlike any in the world. It is here that nature started its experiments with life. Hard to believe but evolution here is said to have started some 160 million years before any place else on earth. Madagascar is situated hundreds of kilometers away off the eastern coast of mainland Africa. Madagascar covers an area of nearly 587,040 km2. The country is divided into six provinces. They are Antananarivo, Antsiranana, Fianarantsoa, Mahajanga, Toamasina, and Toliara. You will see the most odd shaped plants and dizzying number of animal species in Madagascar. Believe it or not, there are more than 70 varieties of lemur that can be seen here. Madagascar is home to the largest and also the smallest varieties of chameleon. It is the last place on earth where the gigantic elephant’s birds lived. This is the very reason why Madagascar is of the highest priority in conservation area in the world. The landscape too is laced with some wonderful waterfalls, caves and vast national parks. For tourists who are looking for more than just nature’s magic, the culture that still strains a lot on the supernatural and unseen, is a refreshing change.
Unique Wildlife of Madagascar
Madagascar is undoubtedly one of the world’s most fascinating destinations. This Indian Ocean Island floats off the coast of Mozambique, in the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. It is home to some of the weirdest, most wonderful wildlife in existence. A cliché it may be, but there really is nowhere quite like it. Up to 90% of the flora and fauna found in Madagascar is unique to the island. The Island was cut adrift from the African mainland millions of years ago and has evolved in sweet isolation since. Mother Nature had a chance to experiment in Madagascar, and experiment she did. Nowadays the island is home to around a quarter of our planet’s primates. They exist in glorious variety: big and small, social and solitary, adorably cute and downright freaky. The primates’ story is played out across the animal groups: there are several hundred types of frog, dozens of bats, over a hundred snakes (mostly small, all harmless) and almost half of the world’s chameleons. It’s a similar story where flora is concerned, too.
But Madagascar is not just a nirvana for naturalists. The island offers splendid beaches, scuba diving and surfing. There is gnarly rock climbing and caving; lazy river trips; spectacular scenery. The island is divided along its middle by a high plateau. Lush rainforest runs in a band down the eastern side, while drier deciduous forests lie to the west. In the far south is the unique arid spiny forest, home to the island’s wackiest plant life. Giant baobab trees populate the western regions.
History of Madagascar
Madagascar was ruled by royalty until the French invaded in 1895. It remained a French colony until achieving full independence in 1960. This was after a bloody uprising thirteen years previously. For most of the next forty years, a former military man named Didier Ratsiraka held tight to the reins of power. He imposed his own brand of Christian-Marxism but his socialist policies led to a spectacular collapse of the economy. In the early 2000s, a businessman and former mayor of Antananarivo – Marc Ravalomanana – took over the presidency. This was after achieving a narrow electoral victory, which Ratsiraka initially refused to accept.
There followed seven years of impressive economic growth for Madagascar under Ravalomanana’s leadership. Thisn was accompanied by extensive development such as road building. The international community was impressed by the president’s resolve to triple the protected areas of the country to around 10%. Sadly, during his second term in office, he began to abuse his position for personal gain and public opinion turned against him. A young former DJ named Andry Rajoelina seized this opportunity to topple Ravalomanana in a coup d’état. Rajoelina successfully forced Ravalomanana into exile and appointed himself leader.
Between 2009 and 2014, Madagascar had no internationally recognized government. Most international aid was stopped, living standards across the country dropped, the economy backpedalled and the security situation worsened. Rajoelina’s stated aim was to organize democratic elections, but it soon became clear that he had no intention of giving up power. During those five years he dragged his feet and deliberately derailed plans each time election dates were set, whilst hurrying through constitutional changes that would favor him as a presidential candidate.
Eventually he realised that the international community would never accept him as rightful president, even if he were to win free and fair democratic elections. He decided to change tack and put forward a proxy candidate called Hery Rajaonarimampianina. Elections went ahead in late 2013 and Rajaonarimampianina won, having spent eye-watering sums on campaigning. He assumed the presidency in January 2014, with Rajoelina presumed to have his eye on making a Putin-esque move to the prime ministerial position in due course.
Around 52% of people in Madagascar follow animist beliefs whilst about 41% are Christian. The remainder are Muslim. Malagasy people are extremely hospitable and welcoming with a refreshingly open communicative style that can sometimes border on direct. A handshake is the usual form of greeting between strangers meeting for the first time. If meeting a friend then three kisses on the cheek is fine. Arrangements and meetings can suffer as a result of a relaxed attitude to clock-watching. Dress is casual, except for posh hotels and restaurants where lightweight suits are advised. Note that military-style clothing should always be avoided, as wearing it can lead to arrest. Restaurants and bars are used for entertaining, with invitations to a family home requiring a good degree of personal acquaintance. An invitation to attend a special celebration is a great honor. Acts of kindness should be rewarded with a gift, but never money. Respect should be afforded to the many local taboos (fady) of the Malagasy. There are various behaviors that you shouldn’t do.These can change from tribe to tribe and person to person. Try to be informed about what they will be before travelling to a new area on the island. Some fady are imposed nationwide. Examples include not pointing at tombs, and not killing a propithecus lemur. Military, airport or police establishments should not be photographed.
Language in Madagascar
English is not widely spoken in Madagascar. Malagasy which is related to Indonesian and French are the official languages. Local dialects are also common. The people too are quite friendly and polite. They are warm, welcoming people with interesting beliefs and cultural practices. Be a part of their traditional ceremonies which will give you an insight into what their perception of the life is. For a hassle free vacation in Madagascar, a tourist better gets acquainted to remembering long and complicated names. Madagascar has a mix of influences provides telltale evidence of the Polynesian settlers. There is Arabic presence, Bantu tribes-folk and European arrivals of the past. All of this has culminated in a fascinating cultural melting pot. Madagascar is hard to beat when it comes to diversity both in nature and culture.