UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Peoples of the Tsaratanana Massif and the Southwest

Madagascar Ethnic MapThe Antakarana, living on the Tsaratanana Massif and the northern tip of the island, make up 0.6 percent of the population. The topography of the region isolates them from the other Malagasy peoples. They are both cattle herders and tropical horticulturalists. The Antankarana (or Antakarana) is an ethnic group of Madagascar that inhabits the northern tip of Madagascar around Antsiranana. Their name means "the people of the tsingy," the limestone rock formations that distinguish their traditional territory. The tsingy of the Antankarana may be visited at the Ankarana Reserve. There were over 50,000 Antakarana in Madagascar as of 2013.

The Antankarana split off from the Sakalava in the early 17th century following a succession dispute. The group settled at the northern end of the island where they established sovereignty over and integrated the existing communities. During periods of conflict with Sakalava in the 17th century and the Kingdom of Imerina in the 19th century, the community periodically sought refuge in the natural stone shelters and caves of the modern Ankarana Reserve, eventually taking their name from the locale and holding it as sacred. In the early 19th century an Antankarana king signed a treaty with French envoys in Reunion that mobilized French troops to expel the Merina from Antankarana territory in exchange for French control over several small islands off Madagascar's west coast. They also aided the French in staging attacks on the Merina monarchy that resulted in the 1896 French colonization of Madagascar. The Antankarana are one of the few communities that continues to honor a single king and reaffirm his sacred ancestral role through traditional ceremonies that date back centuries.

They owned lots of cattle, which flourish well on the sweet grass that grows on the rocky slopes, and they cultivate cocoanuts, sugar-cane (to make into rum), bananas, ground-nuts, and the rufia palm, with which they build their houses and also make mats and a coarse kind of lamba or cloth, with which they clothe themselves. To one European visitor they seemed a very happy, idle people, with no ambition to be more than they are at present.

The major peoples of the arid southwest region are the Mahafaly and the Antandroy, making up 1.6 and 5.4 percent of the population, respectively. The Mahafaly occupy a region between the Onilahy River to the north and the Menarandra River to the south, encompassing an area of some 45,000 square kilometers. The Antandroy territory lies to the east, a desert area full of cacti and thorn bushes. Its terrain makes their name, translated as "people of the thorns," especially apt.

Both peoples depend upon the raising of cattle. Limited cultivation is also practiced. The Antandroy region is especially poor, causing workers to migrate to other parts of the island to make a living. Along with cattle, the prickly pear cactus is vital to the people's livelihood. Its spiny growths have served as a source of water and nourishment and as a means of defense against outside invaders.

The Antandroy / Tandroy people live in the arid extreme-South of Madagascar. The name Androy indicates the area where they live and means "where there are thorns", "roy" referring to a particular mimosa with long thorns (Mimosa delicatula). They have adapted to a very inhospitable environment, covered with thorny bush and plagued with drought. It is a constant struggle to find water and famine is regular. Their immediate neighbors are the Mahafaly (west), Bara (north) and Tanosy (east).

The Tandroy are usually tall and strongly built, known for their fierceness and self-assurance. They are intrinsically a pastoral people, but also cultivate manioc, millet, maize, and sweet potatoes. Their villages are hidden from the main road tracks, characteristically behind living fences of cactus. Their history has not yet been conclusively researched. The first written record referring to them as "Antandroy" is by Robert Drury (1729), recounting his fifteen years of captivity among them. According to oral history, different clans invaded Androy in the eighteenth century from the east, north and northwest and put an end to the ruling dynasty of the Andriamañare. The Tandroy remained divided into numerous small entities, sometimes uniting their forces against common enemies, maintaining their independence vis-a-vis the Merina until 1903 when French troops and administrators arrived.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 12-10-2016 19:48:39 ZULU