In 2019 Madagascar had an average population density of
45 residents per km2. However, due to
topographical and ecological conditions, the population is
unevenly distributed, and the density varies from just over
130 residents per km2 in the central highlands
area to only 2 residents per km2 along the west
In 2019, 37 percent of the population lived in cities, of
which the capital Antananarivo (1.3 million residents, 2015)
was the largest.
The people of Madagascar, the Malagasy (see Digopaul), have a
common language and, to a large extent, a common culture and
view of life. Officially there is a division into 18 people
groups with different dialects and geographical areas.
Migrations and conquests, as well as external influences,
earlier from Arab seafarers, later from European
missionaries and colonizers, have influenced and, in some
cases, created certain groups. The origin of the Madagascar
is partly unknown. Their language, Malagasy, belongs to the Austronesian languages, and this, as well as the technique
of irrigating and terracing rice crops, indicates an
immigration from Indonesia, possibly via the east coast of
Africa (where the Zebu can be and the emotional relation to
The traditional view of life is dominated by the
reverence for the ancestors. The Christian faith has quite
well been incorporated into the belief in the ancestral
wisdom and ability to bless the living. An astrological
calendar system with days and months of travel in relation
to different weather patterns is an influence from Islam,
spread throughout the island.
The Indonesian heritage is most evident on the high
plateau, where the largest population group of merina (5
million) lives. Divorce has meant that the marina retains a
distinct Southeast Asian appearance. Each lineage group
inherits rice crops and access to the ancestral tomb.
Although you no longer live on the ancestral land, many
families return there for joint ceremonies, especially
during the reburial of the dead, as the family ties are
strengthened and the ancestors blessed.
Betsileo (2.4 million), south of the merina, is also
counted among the peoples of the high plateau, and their
livelihood systems and culture are similar in many merinas.
On the east coast, rice, coffee and vanilla are grown, and
in the rain forest belt there is burning, hunting and
gathering. The west coast is dominated by a wide lowland
belt, with some rice cultivation, large livestock herds and
Betsimisaraka (3 million) on the east coast and
sakalava(1.3 million) on the west coast have both had state
formations with the kingdom and incorporated other smaller
groups into their territories. In southern Madagascar, many
smaller groups of people live, fishermen around the coasts
and along the rivers, semi-nomadic livestock keepers inland.
Antaimoro (873,000) in the southeast is famous for its
sacred writings, written in Malagasy with Arabic characters.
In the tropical forests in the southwestern part of the
country there is a group of hunters and collectors called
mikea (1,500). Part of the year they catch and collect small
mammals (lemurs, stray cats, tanrecs) and other jungles
(bird, fish, honey, starchy tubers, nuts, fruits), at other
times they devote themselves to cultivation.
Within several of the ethnic groups there is a kind of
caste system, where the biggest difference is between
descendants of slaves (andevo), and descendants of
free men (hova) and princesses (andriana)).
Today this is less important, rather the difference between
city and countryside, educated and uneducated is the
clearest. Another division, which is sometimes actualized,
is that between the people on the high plateau (merina and
betsileo) and the coastal population, to which all the rest
are counted. This distinction has its roots in the dominance
of the merina during the 19th century and has been renewed
in the ongoing political democratization process. Since the
end of the 19th century, Indians (25,000) have settled in
Madagascar. In recent years, a rather large Chinese
immigrant group (51,000) has been established on the island.
The completely dominant language is Malagasy. However,
the dialectal variation in this language is large. Malagasy
is the official language along with French. See also
The Catholic Church was established in Madagascar in the
16th century by Christian missionaries who had come with
Portuguese merchants. In 2010, the Catholic Church comprised
about a quarter of the population. During the first part of
the 19th century, European influence and Protestant English
missionaries, invited by King Radama I, established schools.
At his death in 1828, King Radama I was succeeded by his
widow, Ranavalona I, who, unlike his deceased husband, was
strongly negative to the Europeanization of Madagascar. She
expelled European missionaries and merchants, and persecuted
those who had converted to Christianity. When Ranavalona
died in 1861, Madagascar was suspended for European
influence. However, Europeans returned when Ranavaluna's son
Radama IIbecame king. English Protestants and French
Catholics sought supremacy and European businessmen appealed
to large concessions. However, Radama was assassinated in
1863. His wife Rasoherina became queen, but the real power
came to be with Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony who married
the queen. Rainilaiarivony (who also married the following
queens Ranavalona II and Ranavalona III) embarked on a
modernization program which reinstated Protestantism,
suppressed traditional religion and established compulsory
teaching under the leadership of the Christian missions.
Over time, French influence increased and in 1896–1960 the
country was a French colony.
Today (2010), about a third of the population is
Protestant. The largest Protestant community is Madagascar
Lutheran Church, founded in 1866, which is about one-sixth
of the population. Another Protestant organization, with
member churches of various Christian traditions, is the
Church of Madagascar Jesus Christ (Fiangonan'i Jesoa
Kristy eto Madagasikara, FJKM) which started its
activity in the country in 1818. This is seen by some as the
National Church of Madagascar, but it is not a state church
and comprises just over a tenth of the population.
Many Madagascans, about two-fifths, profess indigenous
religions, in which the deceased's spirits and ancestral
cult play a particularly prominent role. Islam, which covers
almost a tenth of the population, is concentrated in the
northern and northwestern parts of the country and most
Muslims are of Indian or Pakistani origin. There are also
small groups of Hindus, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons,
Seventh-day Adventists, and Jews.
In the preamble to the 2010 Constitution, the sovereign
Malagasy people "affirm their belief in God as Creator".
Incidentally, according to the constitution, the country is
a secular democratic republic which guarantees freedom of
religion. Broadly speaking, religious freedom seems to
prevail, but there is some persecution of politically active
Christians. Also, Islamic communities do not have the same
benefits as other religious communities, as they often do
not meet the set requirements of legitimate religious
communities because they require citizenship, which a large
proportion of the Muslim population lacks.
The four largest Christian faith communities are part of
the Madagascar Christian Council (Fiombonan'ny
Fiangonana Kristianina eto Madagasikara, FFKM). These
played a major role in public life until the coup d'état in
March 2009. The Catholic Archbishop acted as mediator
between the government and the opposition, but after the
coup FFKM has withdrawn from politics, mainly because of
internal divisions where the FJKM openly criticizes the
regime while the leaders of the Catholic Church (associated
with the current regime) distance themselves from political