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Madagascar > Tourist information > History

History of Madagascar  


1. The origins  


The population of Madagascar results from successive immigrations of various origins.  


According to the oral tradition, the first inhabitants of the island were Vazimba. They were Indonesian sailors who landed on the Malagasy coasts and reached the central highlands of the island.  


They were followed by other influxes of immigrants coming also from Southeast Asia, namely the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.  


From the 8th century, various groups of Arabs established several trading posts on the northern coasts of the island.  


Madagascar became an important place for spice and slave trade. So a growing Africanization of the Malagasy population started.  


In 1500, Diego Dias, a Portuguese navigator, was the first European that discovered the Big Island.  


Since Madagascar was an important port on the Spice Route, European countries, more precisely Portugal (16th c.), the Netherlands (end of the 16th c.), and the United Kingdom (17th c.) attempted to set up durable trading posts on the island and failed to do so due to the hostility of local tribes. 


In the 17th century, France was a bit more successful. The French East India Company established some trading posts on the eastern coast of the Big Island, including in Fort-Dauphin.  


Etienne de Flacourt, who was the French governor of Madagascar in the middle of the 17th century, sent pioneers to the nearby Bourbon island (now La Reunion). So began the French colonization of this small island.  


Having returned to France in 1655, Etienne de Flacourt wrote a book “Histoire de la Grande Isle Madagascar intended to get the support of the French authorities to his project of strengthening the French settlement in Madagascar.  


The European presence in Madagascar involved a massive introduction of firearms and the development of the slave trade, but also conflicts with the natives, which led Europeans to support and arm the friend tribes.  


At that time, the island was divided into many independent kingdoms. Those of them that were in touch with the slave traders could acquire weapons in exchange of slaves and got the upper hand over the nearby kingdoms.  


Thus, in western Madagascar, the Sakalava territory considerably expanded. In the east of the island, King Ratsimilaho, a son of an English pirate and a Malagasy princess, formed the Betsimisaraka federation. The south was the territory of four Betsileo kingdoms while the central Highlands was the stronghold of the Merina Kingdom.


At the end of the 17th century, the small French garrisons were unable to resist the attacks of hostile tribes. France finally gave up the project to colonize the Big Island, while keeping some limited trading posts on the coasts.

See also: 

2. The Merina Dynasty 

3. The colonial period and the return to independence



key events of the madagascar history

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Madagascar History, Madagascar historic events, Madagascar historical chronology, Madagascar travel directory and travel guide