A Look at History: The Surprising Origins of the Malagasy of Madagascar

by | Nov 8, 2022 | History, Magical Madagascar, Travel | 0 comments

Photo by Davidson Free Media

In Nicki Geigert’s Family Trip to Magical Madagascar and Beyond, traveling doesn’t stop at seeing the island’s wonders but also learning about its fascinating people and history.

The lush island of Madagascar off the coast of southern Africa is a place full of wild and beautiful vistas, exotic animals, and rich, vibrant cultures. At almost 300,00 sq. miles, Madagascar is home to 30 million people and a vast array of peculiar species of animals not found anywhere else around the world, like the smallest reptile on Earth, the nano-chameleon, the lemurs, the fossa, and several birds.

A photographer and travel writer, Nicki Geigert has been worldwide. This extensive experience taught her that the beauty of nature everywhere is not adequately protected, nor are animals given their due respect. Madagascar is one of those places she has visited with these problems, and she believes that humans should begin to understand their place as stewards of the Earth and everything that dwells within it.

In her book Family Trip to Magical Madagascar and Beyond, traveling is only the framing to learn more about Madagascar and the people that live in it.

Where Do the Malagasy Come From?

The Malagasy are the largest ethnic group native to Madagascar. Although they live only a mere 400 kilometers from the coast of Mozambique, a majority Black African country: they look pretty different from the rest of the people on the continent. The Malagasy generally have lighter skin and more Asiatic features because the Malagasy are part of the larger Austronesian people group.

According to the most recent studies, which supported the “Out of Taiwan” model, the Austronesians started from Taiwan before the Han Chinese colonized the islands and marginalized the first settlers between 1500 to 1000 BCE. Their spread across the southern hemisphere is called the Austronesian Expansion.

The Austronesians sailed across the seas, reaching the northernmost parts of the Philippines before 2100 BCE. Austronesians were exceptionally proficient and adept at navigating the waters and the oceans, utilizing sails at around 2000 BCE while also inventing other maritime technologies like the catamarans, outrigger boats, lashed-lug boats, and the crab claw sail. This mastery over the waters allowed the Austronesians to populate the Indian and Pacific islands. Austronesians reached Easter Island off the coast of South America to the east and the island of Madagascar to the west, and even New Zealand to the south.

Before the European Age of Discovery, the Austronesians were the most widespread peoples in the world, encompassing almost half the planet from the eastern side of the Pacific to the western side of the Indian Ocean.

Today, the Austronesians are the native peoples of Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, the Pacific Islands, and Madagascar; they are also present as ethnic minorities in several neighboring countries, such as Thailand, Vietnam, and Myanmar. Beyond a linguistic and genetic association, their connection with one another can be seen from their indigenous technologies and traditions, like an appreciation for tattooing, a preference for stilt houses, an ancient jade carving culture, the use of wetland culture, and similar artistic motifs.

Being excellent sailors, the Austronesians brought with them in their migrations, indirectly spreading across the world in the process, domesticated plants, and animals, including breadfruit, bananas, coconuts, rice, yams, taros, dogs, chickens, and pigs.

Among archaeologists, the earliest settlers of Madagascar came from Borneo on outrigger canoes, perhaps between 250 BCE and 550 CE, meaning that Madagascar was just very recently occupied by humans compared to the rest of the world. After settling on the island, they were followed by Arab traders. Then a wave of Bantu peoples from mainland Africa arrived, of which the local Austronesians had extensive intermarriages and whose unions eventually gave birth to the modern Malagasy.

The Outdated Model of Where the Austronesians Came From

Before the “Out of Taiwan” model gained traction, the most prevalent theory of the origins of the Austronesians was the “Out of Sundaland” hypothesis, positing that the Austronesians came from the Sundaland area, the sites of modern-day Indochina and Indonesia. The “Out of Sundaland” hypothesis was supported by earlier genetic tests that concluded that Southeast Asian populations predated the Austronesian expansion.

Now better genetic studies using whole genome sequencing have concluded that Southeast Asians possess genes from indigenous Taiwanese.

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