People of Madagascar and their language are Malagasy.

Malagasy people are mostly of mixed Asian and African origins. Some researchers believe that the island was uninhabited until about 2000 years ago, when Indonesian sailors settled there. More Asian people came over the centuries. The Malagasy people come from a number of other different origins, including African, Arab, French, Indian, Creole and Comoran. All the different groups contributed elements of their customs and beliefs, and today these all come together to form the Malagasy culture.

About a third of the people live in cities or towns. Most live in rural areas. Antananarivo, the capital, is the largest city, with a population about one and a half million people. Other main cities or towns are Toamasina, Mahajanga, Fianarantsoa and Toliara.

Village houses in the highlands

The Malagasy language is generally spoken throughout the island. French is also a language spoken on the island because for a time it was a French colony. 'Colony' means a place that is governed by a different country.

Most people follow traditional religions. They believe that the dead join their ancestors, and that ancestors remain concerned about their living descendants. Less than half of the Malagasy are Christian. Many people follow both Christian religion and traditional beliefs.

Education is compulsory for five years in Madagascar. Each area is in charge of its own schools. In 2001, Madagascar had one of the highest literacy rates in Africa. Most children go to primary school, and a growing number attend secondary school. There is a university at Antananarivo.


A village school







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Madagascar (2004). [Online], Available:

Updated January 2004

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