Madagascar Ethnology 1

Madagascar Ethnology Part I

We mentioned above, speaking of the hypotheses on the origin of the Malagasy population, the problem of the origin of the Negroid type: if this problem could be clarified, the whole ethnological problem would be. Keeping in mind the alternative of an African and Malay origin or a purely Indo-Melanesian one, the different faces of the problem will be considered.

Madagascar was inhabited even before the current population was formed, at the same time as a fauna that has now disappeared from the island. Small hippos, crocodiles and giant tortoises, large birds such as the Aepyornis, which measured more than three meters in height, lemurs comparable in size to the anthropoid monkeys. In fact they were found mixed with the bones of these animals: fragments of pottery thicker than the present one; pointed sticks to the fire; fragments of Aepyornis bonesand hippopotamus with clear and regular indentations, made with very sharp tools; tortoiseshell plates with traces of blows similar to those produced by the iron tip of a current indigenous harpoon, ai-ai teeth, species of lemur, pierced to make necklaces. The skeletal remains of the men who left these artifacts have not been found, but it seems ascertained that the destruction of the Malagasy fauna is due to them, indirect destruction through that of the forest, which took place in a not very distant time. They must have already known iron, they made a pottery superior to that of the present natives, and it is believed that they disappeared when the Indo-Melanesians arrived. The latter would have been responsible for the tumuli of the southern regions of the island.

a) Ethnic and social groups. – It was once admitted that a foreign Malay population had acquired dominion over the Negroid tribes of the island, but the Grandidier proved that in each tribe power was in the hands of a caste and that except in a small number of tribes, this caste it was always made up of mestizos, products of the mixture of the Negroid population with immigrants. Of these there were four kinds: Hindus, Arabs, Javanese and Europeans (English or French pirates). The ruling caste and the dominated population together form what may be called a “nation”.

From this point of view there are five kinds of nations in Madagascar: 1. Nations with indigenous ruling caste, that is, Indomelanesian, in reality or in appearance (far north and mountain range up to the center of the island): Antankarana, Tsimihety (probably) , Sihanaka, Bezanozano. 2. Nations with ruling caste mixed with Hindus (west and south of the island): Antaifasina, Antaisaka, Antandroy (here the caste is perhaps also mixed with Japanese), Bara, Mahafaly and Sakalava. 3. Nations with ruling caste mixed with Arabs (southwest of the island) : Antanosy, Antaimorona, Antambakoaka, Tanala, Betsileo. 4. Nation with ruling caste mixed with Europeans (northwest coast): Betsimisaraka. 5. Nation with ruling caste mixed with Javanese (center of the island): Merina. Each nation or each tribe that forms the bottom of the nation is divided into several sub-tribes. It must be admitted that before the formation of the present nations, the whole population was divided into small clans, formed by the union of related families independent of each other, which could be grouped into tribes and sub-tribes only on the basis of dialect and culture. The mestizos thus created feudal states (nations) while the ancient indigenous leaders, who became vassals, provided the link between the ruling caste and the people, mostly servants or slaves.

According to PLUS-SIZE-TIPS, the term of andriana properly indicates the nobles, and that of hova, the free men in the Merina nation, with which the European governments entered into relations; these two terms are not used correctly as racial terms applying to men of Malay, or more exactly Javanese, race; the nation of the center of the island is made up of the Merina.

The presence of the Javanese in the central part of the island is easily explained. The Javanese, whose last arrival is to be placed in the century. XIV, they approached the east coast, but as this proved to be inhospitable to them, they went up to the plateau. The ascendancy that the Merina nation has taken is partly explained by the fact that the Javanese mestizos form a higher percentage among the Merinas than that of the mestizos of other nations. As can be seen in the attached map, the Merina nation spread out into the free and sparsely inhabited area that separated it from the Sakalava nation.

But in addition to this national expansion of the Merina, these, becoming aware of their power, imposed their political domination on other nations. At the time of the conquest of the island by the French in 1895, the Merina domination included almost half of the island and precisely the whole center and north-west.

b) The current culture. – In considering the cultural elements, the difficulty is not so much to recognize what could be African from what is Indo-Melanesian, but to distinguish in the manifestly Indo-Melanesian elements, what is recent, Javanese, from what may be Indo -Ancient Melanesian, that is attributable to a culture that today finds its strongest analogy in the culture of New Guinea or Melanesia. For the material culture we must limit ourselves to considering a few elements because an overall study on the ergology of Madagascar is missing until today.

Madagascar Ethnology 1

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