Though Madagascar lies only 250 miles off the African coast, linguistic and archeological evidence suggest that its first settlers who arrived in about 400 A.D. came not from Africa but from Indonesia, more than 3,000 miles to the east. All 13 million of Madagascarís present-day people speak Malagasy (a Malayo - Polynesian language), which, though it contains some African Bantu words, is most closely related to the Maanyan language of the Barito River region of Borneo. Africans are not thought to have arrived in Madagascar until much later; exactly when is unknown.

Malayo-Polynesian languages, sometimes also called Austronesian languages, are a family of languages understood by approximately 300 million people in Madagascar; the Malay Peninsula; Indonesia and New Guinea; the Philippines; Taiwan; the Melanesian, Micronesian, and Polynesian islands; and New Zealand. Today four Malayo-Polynesian languages have official status in four important states: Malagasy, in Madagascar; Malay, in Malaysia; Indonesian (also called Bahasa Indonesia, and based on Malay), in Indonesia; and Pilipino (based on Tagalog) in the Philippines. These languages have come to be widely understood in their respective countries, although not always as a first language.


The Malayo-Polynesian family has two subfamilies, Western Malayo-Polynesian and Eastern Malayo-Polynesian. The Western subfamily has the greater significance from both a cultural and a commercial viewpoint. Western Malayo-Polynesian languages are spoken by over 200 million people and include Malagasy, the language of 13 million people on the island of Madagascar; Malay, native to 28 million in Malaysia and the island of Sumatra, in Indonesia; Indonesian or Bahasa Indonesia [Indonesian language], which is based on the Malay language and is spoken natively by about 26 million people in Indonesia; Javanese, the mother tongue of 62 million people on Java; Sudanese, the language of 25 million, also on Java; Madurese, with 10 million speakers on Madura; Balinese, spoken by 2.5 million on Bali; and Pilipino or Tagalog, the native tongue of about 20 million in the Philippines. The Eastern branch consists of the Melanesian, Micronesian, and Polynesian groups of languages.  


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It is thought that the original Malayo-Polynesian speakers came from a part of Asia near the Malay Peninsula and later migrated west as far as Madagascar and east to the Pacific. This migration probably began well over two thousand years ago. Because Malayo-Polynesian speakers lived on thousands of islands that were often widely separated, and because in earlier times communication among them was difficult, if not impossible, many dialects and, in time, languages evolved from the ancestor language, Proto-Malayo-Polynesian. Although it has been suggested that the Malayo-Polynesian and Southeast Asian (or Austroasiatic) languages form a single Austric family, this has not been proved. In fact, the Malayo-Polynesian tongues do not seem to be related to any other linguistic family.

To check the accuracy of this long-established linguistic evidence, scientists turned to the techniques of modern genetic analysis. It was found that some Malagasy have a genetic kinship with Polynesians, of all people-- verifying that Polynesia and Madagascar were settled by the same population of seafarers.

The incidence of a genetic marker known as the Polynesian motif was found among groups of people from Polynesia, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Southeast Asia, Africa, and Madagascar. The Polynesian motif is found within the mitochondrial DNA, which is usually passed unchanged from mother to daughter. (Mitochondria are the cellís energy-producing batteries.)


The motif was common, in Hawaii, Samoa, Easter Island, and coastal Papua New Guinea. But 18 percent of the Malagasy also carried the motif. It was rarer among the people of eastern Indonesia and southern Borneo, less than 5 percent of whom carried it, and absent completely from the Africans sampled.

In travelling the vast distance across the Indian Ocean to Madagascar, the Polynesian seafarers again highlighted that they were part of the greatest seafarers and navigators the world has ever known. The Polynesians' primary voyaging craft was the double canoe made of two hulls connected by lashed crossbeams. The two hulls gave this craft stability and the capacity to carry heavy loads of migrating families and all their supplies and equipment, while a central platform laid over the crossbeams provided the needed working, living, and storage space. Sails made of matting drove this ancient forerunner of the modern catamaran swiftly through the seas, and long steering paddles enabled Polynesian mariners to keep it sailing on course. A medium-size voyaging canoe 50 to 60 feet long could accommodate two dozen or so migrants, their food supplies, livestock, and planting materials. 

Madagascar is separated from Africa by the Mozambique Channel. The island was settled by three different kinds of people: the Wazimba, a Bantu ethnic group from southern Africa: Indonesians who began migrating in the fourth century AD; and Arabs in the eighth century. The majority of the Malagasy population is Malay-Polynesian, and the dominant language, Malagasy, derives from this ethnic mix, and is spoken by a cross-section of groupings and clans. The oldest recorded evidence of the island's peopling are tenth-century Arabic accounts such as Bowork ibn Chamriyar's Book of Indian Marvels, which describes the settling of the East African coast by the Waqwaq, who were probably of mixed proto-Malagasy and negroid origin. Using the waka, a simple, maneuverable six-crewed canoe with outriggers, the Waqwaq set off from southern India. They travelled over 3,500 miles across the Indian Ocean, first landing on the East African coast, from the where they may have been forcibly expelled, and eventually settling on Madagascar. The Indonesians who followed the Waqwaq had larger, faster boats called kunlun bo. In the Middle Ages several other peoples migrated to the island, including Arabs, Anatolians, Iranians and sailors from the Comoros Islands. Apart from the Wazimba, other Africans on the island were imported as slaves by the French.

The earliest European contacts with Madagascar between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries were limited to occasional landings of Portuguese, French, and Dutch sailors along the southern coast. Pedralves Cabral was the first Portuguese sailor to visit the island, which the Portuguese went on to occupy from 1613 to 1619, turning it into a trading post. In the eighteenth century, Arabs, Portuguese, Dutch, and British all took slaves from Madagascar to Ile de France, Cape Colony, the Caribbean, and North America. Sometimes slaves were bought in one part of the island and sold in another, with females often purchased as concubines.

Map of Africa

The people of Madagascar are as varied as its five climatic zones. Merinas of the Hauts Plateaux resemble Indonesians, while the Sakalva cattle farmers on the west coast are negroid in appearance, and the Antaifsay and Amaimoro in the east are Malay-Polynesian, also with Arab influences. Under King Andriandahifotsy, the Sakalava had the most powerful early dynasty, establishing the kingdoms of Menabe and Boina. The Merina dynasty was founded by Andriamanelo's successor, Ralambo (1575-1810). Through diplomacy and conquest he created a large Merina kingdom uniting Ambohimanga, Ambohidratrimo, and Antananarivo. On his death, Radama I ruled until 1828, and was in turn succeeded, in 1862, by the despotic queen Ranavalona I. Armed with British guns, Radama I conquered various small tribes; brought Tamatave, Foulpointe, and Maroantsetra under Merina control; and attacked the Betsimisaraka in 1817 and 1823, the Sakalava in 1822, and the eighteenth century, and French penetration reached its peak in the nineteenth.

Madagascar was colonised by a few dozen Indonesian women 1200 years ago, according to scientists who have probed one of the strangest episodes in the human odyssey.

Anthropologists are fascinated by Madagascar, for the island remained aloof from mankind's conquest of the planet for thousands of years. It then became settled by mainland Africans and Indonesians, whose home was 8000 kilometres away

A recent study published in the British Journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. looked for markers handed down in chromosomes through the maternal line, in DNA samples offered by 266 people from three ethnic Malagasy groups. Twenty-two per cent of the samples had a local variant of the ''Polynesian motif'', a tiny genetic characteristic that is found among Polynesians, but rarely in western Indonesia. In one Malagasy ethnic group, one in two of the samples had this marker.

The study suggested that around 30 Indonesian women founded the Malagasy population. The study focused on mitrochondrial DNA, which is transmitted only through the mother, so it does not exclude the possibility that Indonesian men also arrived with the first women 

Linguistically, Madagascar's inhabitants speak dialects of a language that traces its origins to Indonesia. Most of the lexicon comes from Ma'anyan, a language spoken along the Barito River valley of south-eastern Borneo, a remote, inland region, with a smattering of words from Javanese, Malay or Sanskrit.

Other evidence of early Indonesian settlement comes in the discovery of outrigger boats, iron tools, musical instruments such as the xylophone and a ''tropical food kit'', the cultivation of rice, bananas, yams and taro brought in from across the ocean.


On the eve of European colonization, parallel changes were taking place in Africa. The early nineteenth century witnessed the development of Egypt by Muhammad Ali (1805-1849) into the most powerful North African state, whose prosperity depended partly on the trade in slaves and ivory from Sudan, and partly on foreign investment and finance. Egypt possessed a strong army, mostly staffed by European officers who also administered its princes. In northeastern Africa, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Somalia experienced political and military struggles, caused mainly by Ethiopia's expansionism, but which also involved Egyptian military might were major obstacles to Ethiopia's ambitions. The unifications of Ethiopia, begun by Chief Kassa of Qwara, who declared himself Emperor Tweodros (Theodore), was completed in 1889 by Menelik of Shoa, who acquired weapons from the Europeans in exchange for ivory, and extended the empire to Oromo, Sidama, and Somalia. Menelik defeated the Italians and Adowa in 1896, and Ethiopia remained the only state in Africa to successfully defeat the European colonial invaders. 


In East Africa the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries saw the migration and establishment in the Great Lakes region of Bantu kingdoms, of which Buganda became the most powerful, despite the strong reign of Kabarega in Bunyoro. The political conflicts in northern Africa affected Buganda and Bunyoro as Egypt tried to bring them under the control of its equatorial province. Meanwhile Kenya was invaded by the Galla, forced south by the expanding Ethiopian empire. At the same time, the activities of the slave traders intensified; at around 1840 the last wave of the Nguni invasions took place around Lake Tanganyika.

Arab merchants such as Tippu Tip and Abu Said established trading empires in central Africa dealing in slaves, ivory, and gold; and, together with the Lunda, Yao, and Nyamwezi, they operated a transcontinental network. On the coast, after the earlier Omani Arab and Portuguese conquest, the period 1740-1840 witnessed a struggle for eastern African trade between Arab clans, the Busaidi Sultans of Oman, and the Mazruis. In central Africa, Congo came under the control of King Manicongo, who in later years had to rely on Portuguese cooperation to keep armed raiders away from his empire. At the same time, in southern Africa, the Bantu-speaking communities of Nguni and Sotho also began the process of state formation.

Southern Africa thus experienced the simultaneous arrival and movement inland of the Dutch settlers and the spread of the Nguni. The expansion of the Zulus was initially led by Shaka and, afterward, Dangane, while the Boers fought the Xhosa for control beyond the great Fish River. these local conflicts led to British investment in and colonization of large parts of southern Africa.

Christian fundamentalism and commercial opportunism together drove the Europeans into Africa. Portuguese interest was further inspired by a desire to avenge the earlier Muslim conquests of Iberia. they wanted to take over the trans-Saharan gold trade from the Arab middlemen and to gain access to India, and in the process destroyed several fine Arab coastal cities. Wherever the Portuguese landed they built fortified trading posts, and on the western coast these led to the decline of the trans-Saharan caravan routes. When Brazil was discovered in 1500, the Portuguese established plantations, marking the beginning of the slave trade in which they were later joined by the Dutch, French, British, Spanish, and Germans. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the Portuguese also introduced Christianity to parts of Africa such as Benin, Congo, and southwest Africa. Egypt too played an active role in the trans-Saharan slave trade to the Middle East and to Europe, and by 1825 Egyptian commanders were raiding Sudanic parts of Darfur, Nuer, Dinka, Gondokoro, and their neighbors for slaves and ivory.

African Mask

Increasing European interest in Africa in the early nineteenth century led to its exploration, and from 1884, to its partition. Wealthy travelers, part of the humanitarian movement that stopped the slave trade, aimed to navigate the rivers with steamships that stopped the slave trade, aimed to navigate the rivers with steamships that would open up remote areas to commerce, European civilization, and Christianity. European adventurers braved dangerous, mosquito-infested regions to find the sources of the great rivers - the Niger, the Nile, the Congo, and the Zambezi. The nineteenth century also witnessed a decline of the old empires of the forest region, especially the Yoruba of Oyo. In their place developed four principal Yoruba states - Fgba, Ijaye, Ibadan, and Igo - whose wars of rivalry along the coast and inland, enabled the British to establish themselves in what is now Ghana and Nigeria.

Europeans were not the only visitors to African shores. Around 1415-1417 the Chinese emperor dispatched admiral Zheng He on a voyage of exploration and diplomacy. Zheng He, at the head of a fleet of huge ships, made contact with the trading towns of the East African coast and gifts were exchanged. the Portuguese arrived some sixty years later, and though exotic, proved a little unimpressive to those who had witnessed or had heard of the earlier Chinese visit.

The scramble for Africa that began with the Berlin Conference of 1884, ended in 1914 with the continent's complete partition. Britain, France, Germany and Portugal each wanted to counter the thrust of the others in their areas of influence. British and German agents were very interested in the Lake Victoria region because of its access to the Nile River, and Leopold II of Belgium also sought to extended his Congo Free state to the river. The German and British representatives, Karl Peters and Frederick Jackson, wanted control over trading rights in Buganda, and their claims and counterclaims were only resolved by the Anglo-German treaty of 1890.

Africa - Kuba People of Zaire Shene Malula African Mask

This partition of the continent, and the Europeans' missionary activities, laid the foundations of many contemporary political conflicts. Having successfully thwarted the Egyptian advance and resisted Arab domination, Kabaka (King) Mutesa 1, for example, continued his attempts to maintain Buganda's sovereignty by inviting both the British church Missionary Society and the French white Fathers. The three religions of Islam, Protestanism, and Roman Catholicism vied for converts among the young pages in the palace, and Mwanga, Mutesa's successor, became a victim of their rivalries. In the "Christian Revolution" that followed, the British sided with the Protestant party, and in 1893 they declared Uganda a Protectorate.

In 1880 the Europeans' occupation of Africa was largely confined to its coastal regions, but by 1901 they controlled most of the continent. Partition stripped Africans of independence, freedom, and civil rights, and often subjected them to harsh European rule. European racism, rooted in the "scientific" principles of the period, dictated that white people had a duty to govern and civilize Africans, whom they saw as children, but bloody wars of pacification frequently destroyed whole communities, like the Ashanti of Ghana. Africa would also inherit the European powers' ignorance of traditional African national boundaries; nearly all colonial borders separated friendly ethnic groups and amalgamated hostile ones.

African family -1910

In South Africa, the British, who needed a base and supplies for their ships on the vital route to India, first seized Cape colony from the Dutch in 1795, and finally secured it in 1803. They then fought several wars to establish a firm hold on the territories, where gold and diamonds were discovered. Boer Christians believed in the enslavement of black people, and were prompted to move into the interior by the changes brought about by British rule. The Boers' "Great Trek" northward started around 1836 and ended with their foundation of the Republic of Natal, the Orange free State, and the Transvaal.


In the fifteenth century, after the plague known as the Black Death, Europe began a period of recovery and expansion. The Portuguese possessing advanced shipbuilding skills had already made contact with northern Africa, and in 1415 they captured Ceuta. The Portuguese king, Henry the Navigator, then masterminded the navigation and conquest of Africa. the Portuguese interest in Africa was motivated by religious zeal and by a desire to avenge the Muslim conquest of Spain and Portugal. In western Africa, the anti-Muslim aim was to convert the Africans to Christianity and turn them to fight Islam by Hijacking the lucrative trans-Saharan gold trade from its Arab middlemen. 

The Portuguese took Moderate in 1418, and the Azores in 1439. Four years later Diniz Dias and Nuno Trista conquered Arguin in upper Guinea, turning it into a fortified trading base. Diniz Dias then penetrated the coast of guinea (1444-1445) and captured slaves whom he took back to Portugal as proof of his conquest. In 1469 Fernando Gommes obtained a five-year monopoly of trade along the Guinea coast and of land within a 400-mile radius of his base, and King John II directed Diogo d'Zazmbja to build the castle of Sao Jorge da Mina (Elmina) to protect and control the gold trade. Other forts were built at Axim, Shama, and Accra.

In 1472 Portuguese sailors reached the Bight of Benin in the Gulf of Guinea, and direct trade exchange - in gold, ivory, spices, manufactured goods and copper - ensued between the two countries, peaking in the reign of Oba Esignie (1504-1554), who spoke fluent Portuguese. Bases were built on the islands of Sao Tome and Fernando Po (1453), from where trade with the interior (mainland Congo) was conducted, and sugar plantations were also established on the islands. At this point the Portuguese started to engage in the slave trade, transporting slaves to the islands to work on the plantations, and then  to Brazil and to Portugal itself. After Diago Cao's expedition of 1483 to the Congo estuary and Angola, diplomatic relations were established with the king of Congo. Mani Nzinga, and permanent bases built in Angola at Benguala and St. Paul de Luanda. This colony was almost exclusively controlled and settled by slave traders and lasted for nearly a century.

Africa - Zulu Children

After Vasco da Gama sailed around the Cape, in 1507 the Portuguese established another stronghold in Mozambique Island, from where they traded in gold which the rulers of the Mwanamutapa empire. The Portuguese had learned about Mwanamutapa from the explorer Antonio Fernandes, and later built forts at Sena and Tete on the Zambezi (1572), and at Quelimane on the coast, from which to pursue further inland trade and conquest. They took Swahili towns like Sofala and Inhambane by force, and for their unmolested occupation paid an annual levy to Mwanamutapa. In turn the Portuguese raised taxes from their inhabitants, using slaves to police their property and protect their trade. However, the subsequent rise of the Rozwi destabilized this situation. The Portuguese also established strong links with Kalonga Mzura, the ruler of Malawi, who gave them military support against the Shona. They in turn gave him military support against his neighbours, the Lundu.

On the arrival of the Portuguese in East Africa, the coastal people dismissed them and their boats as puny compared with the Chinese sailing ships that had preceded them. The Sultan of Kilwa sent emissaries and a donation of a giraffe to the Chinese emperor in 1415, and in 1417 the emperor sent a large fleet to Malindi, commanded by Admiral Zeng He. Although no direct trade went on between the two leaders, diplomatic relations were established. In comparison, the Portuguese looted Mombasa and Kilwa in 1505, Brava in 1506, and other cities many times over. The coastal towns agreed to pay the Portuguese tribute, but this pillaging damaged the Indian Ocean trade, bringing decline to a formerly thriving region and shifting trade routes away from the coast. Although the Portuguese established firm control, some cities continued to revolt with support from Turkish warlords. After the revolts of 1585 and 1588, the Portuguese built Fort Jesus at Mombasa in 1592 to protect their East African interests, while farther north they helped Christian Ethiopia in its struggle against Islam.


Early European interest and adventure in Africa was motivated by trade and Christian fundamentalism. In West Africa the Mandinka, who inhabited the lands south of the Gambia, traded with the Portuguese from the second half of the fifteenth century. After the Portuguese captured Ceuta in 1415, they began establishing fortified harbours and forts along the West African coast, the largest being Elmina Castle (1482). They bought gold and cottons for resale in Europe; in 1487 set up a trading post in Benin for cloth, heads, and pepper; and by 1501 had established another at Sofala to control the gold trade from Mwanamutapa. In Mwanamutapa they were allowed to establish further trading posts, and in some cases, even to own land. Their ventures in Angola, however, were motivated solely by the slave trade. Along the East African coast too, the Portuguese built forts, the largest of which was ort Jesus at Mombasa (1592).

The Dutch were the first northern Europeans to set up a trading post along the western coast and set a supply base at the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa in 1652. In time the Dutch starting moving inland, expanding their market garden trade into farming, and becoming known as Boers (farmers), and later Afrikaners. 

African market place

African Kikiyu Dancers


African man

African Zulu Tribal Women



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