Madagascar is a large island Nation, located in the Indian Ocean off the south eastern coast of Africa. It is the fourth largest island in the world. The first people who arrived on the island arrived between 350 BC and 550 AD from Borneo on outrigger canoes. These Austronesian first settlers were joined around 1000 AD by Bantu migrants crossing the Mozambique Channel. Other groups such as Arabs, Indians, and Chinese continued to settle on Madagascar over time and making lasting contributions to Malagasy cultural life. The Malagasy way of thinking includes a mixture of cultures, as well as their appearance and fashion style. It is a melting pot. Madagascar is part of the African Union, but that is now being reconsidered due to the recent 2009 political turmoil regarding the African Union members.
When you take a trip to Madagascar, you discover that its long isolation from the neighbouring continents has resulted in a unique mix of plants and animals, many found nowhere else in the world. This has led some ecologists to refer to Madagascar as the “eighth continent”. Of the 10,000 plants native to Madagascar, 90% are found nowhere else in the world. Madagascar’s varied fauna and flora are endangered by human activity, as a third of its native vegetation has disappeared since the 1970s and since the arrival of humans 2,000 years ago, Madagascar has lost more than 90% of its original forest. Most lemurs are listed as endangered or threatened species.
The eastern, or windward side of the island is home to tropical rainforests, while the western and southern sides, which lie in the rain shadow of the central highlands, are home to tropical dry forests, thorn forests, and deserts and xeric shrub lands. Madagascar’s dry deciduous rain forest has been preserved generally better than the eastern rainforests or the high central plateau, presumably due to historically low population densities.
Madagascar has no parallel: an extraordinary storehouse of natural and cultural riches, it makes experienced travellers question what it means to say a country is unique. Separated from Africa and Asia at the time of the dinosaurs, animal life here has evolved in a startling myriad of forms, creating a profusion of endemic species found nowhere else on earth. Humans were not part of that process: they first colonized this huge island less than 2000 years ago, when it was a primal Eden, inhabited only by its bizarre and marvellous zoological cornucopia. As biologists discover more and more about this remarkable place, calling it the eighth continent barely does it justice: another planet seems more appropriate.
Being a part of Africa, Madagascar’s distinctiveness is apparent from the moment you arrive: in the glinting lakes and rice fields; the brightly painted, double-storeyed, balconied houses; the rickshaws and zebu carts; and above all in the people themselves, with their Austronesian features and jangling, guttural language, spoken throughout the island. Nevertheless, where the natural vegetation remains, Madagascar’s landscapes often present entrancing tableaux. Dripping emerald rainforests, baobab trees like giant windmills towering over the savannah and crazy outcroppings of limestone pinnacles, like a million wonky Gothic church spires competing for your attention as you move north and south and through the island’s climatic zones.
If the national parks can look like some artwork created by Roger Dean for a particularly intense Yes album cover, the human landscapes are equally captivating: in the highlands, a thousand shades of green dazzle from the terraced rice fields, framed by dykes of red earth; water-filled nursery paddies reflect a cerulean blue sky and towering granite mountains, daubed by the pastel images of rows of multicoloured Hauts Plateaux houses. On the east coast, you’ll find golden beaches framed by huge boulders and palm trees, lapped by the warm Indian Ocean – and pummelled by annual tropical storms. Out to the west and south, rolling plains of dry savannah and range lands are interspersed by dense and alien spiny forest and carved by broad meandering rivers.