Rice is the staple diet of most Madagascans, usually accompanied
by fish, chicken, meat, or vegetable sauce.
In hotels and restaurants the food has as strong French influence
with local ingredients fish, chicken Zebu (Madagascar beef)
All the usual soft drinks are available (coke, fanta
etc) as well as fruit juices.
Madagascar beer is quite good a light refreshing lager style
Wines are often imported from France (very expensive) and
South Africa (quite expensive) local wine is cheap but very
poor tasting !
Most spirits are available qlthough not always under a recognisable
How a Tradtional Dinner is Served in Madagascar
The true Malagache serves his meal, as is done in most parts
of Africa, on a mat on the floor. Everything is put down at
the same time--but in the cities individual plates are used
and the utensil is a large spoon (no knives or forks are used).
Dinner is a simple affair. There are no preliminaries such
as snacks, hors d'oeuvres, cocktails, or drinks. Guests are
brought to the dining area and served directly. Today, you
will find the Western influence appearing more strongly, and
dining areas are being increasingly adopted.
Malagaches like their food simply prepared, flavorful, but
as we have said, not highly spiced. Fruits and vegetables
are utilized at their freshest, and it is not uncommon to
start a meal with vegetable soup and then to serve two or
three vegetables with the entree. The beverage that goes with
the meal is Ranonapango, a drink made by burning rice--yes,
actually burning the rice and adding water to it. (The recipe
is given on page 93.)
The entree might very well be a chicken or fish curry, and
it is usually one of the three rice meals each day. In Malagasy
curries are prepared a little differently than in other countries.
The dessert is usually fruit, flavored with vanilla. Some
call Madagascar the Vanilla Island as they call Zanzibar the
Spice Island. The fruit is not only prepared with vanilla,
but more vanilla is added to it when it is served.
Malagasy tea, their own special brand , completes a most
Facts & Figures
National name: Repoblikan'i Madagasikara
Languages: Malagasy and French (both official)
Ethnicity/race: Malayo-Indonesian (Merina and related Betsileo),
Côtiers (mixed African, Malayo-Indonesian, and Arab
ancestry: Betsimisaraka, Tsimihety, Antaisaka, Sakalava),
French, Indian, Creole, Comoran
Religions: indigenous beliefs 52%, Christian 41%, Islam 7%
National Holiday: Independence Day, June 26
Literacy rate: 69% (2003 est.)
Dangers & annoyances
Travelling throughout Madagascar is not inherently dangerous.
Petty theft is the main risk – do not keep your valuables
in a pack or external money belt, and watch your pockets when
in crowded areas. To avoid getting into trouble with the police,
carry your passport with you at all times (a photocopy will
not be sufficient).
Some areas along the coast are subject to danger from strong
currents. Make sure to seek local advice before heading into
the water. Mosquitoes are ubiquitous and malaria occurs here
– wear insect repellent, especially at dawn and dusk.
A combination of packed, unroadworthy vehicles and reckless
drivers makes taxi-brousse (bush taxi) travel potentially
hazardous. To minimise the risks, try to avoid night travel
Madagascar is a reasonably hard place to travel with young
children, so junior travellers are a fairly rare sight. Disposable
nappies are available in Antananarivo’s supermarkets,
but are hard to find elsewhere. Many hotels provide chambres
familiales (family rooms) or double rooms with an extra single
bed for parents with children.
Most women do not feel threatened or insecure in any way when
travelling in Madagascar. The most you can expect is some
mild curiosity about your situation, especially if you are
single and/or don’t have children. Physical harassment
and violent crime are very rare, and in fact male travellers
face far more pestering from the hordes of prostitutes who
Quick Madagascar History
Archaeological evidence suggests that Madagascar was uninhabited
until about 1500 or 2000 years ago, when the first Indo-Malayan
settlers arrived in coast-hugging craft that skirted the Indian
Ocean. They brought traditions such as planting rice in terraced
paddies, Southeast Asian food crops and linguistic roots buried
in the subcontinent. The migration accelerated in the 9th
century, when the powerful Hindu-Sumatran empire of Srivijaya
controlled much of the maritime trade in the Indian Ocean.
European arrival & colonisation
Portuguese sailors named the island Ilha de Sao Lourenco,
but like subsequent British, Dutch and French fleets they
failed to establish a base here. European and North American
buccaneers had notably more success, making Madagascar (and
especially Île Sainte Marie) their base in the Indian
Ocean during the 17th century.
Powerful Malagasy kingdoms began to develop with the growth
of trade with European merchants. Most powerful of all were
the Merina of the central highlands, whose chief, Ramboasalama,
acquired the weaponry to subdue neighbouring tribes. His son
Radama became king in 1810 and, sniffing the winds of fortune,
entered diplomatic relations with the British in 1817 and
allowed hundreds of Christian missionaries to enter the Merina
court. However, his widow and successor, Ranavalona I, nicknamed
‘The Bloodthirsty’, passionately disliked all
things vahaza (white); she persecuted the missionaries and
ordered the execution of tens of thousands of her Malagasy
subjects using barbarous and ingenious methods.
In 1890 the British handed Madagascar over to the French
in exchange for Zanzibar. The French captured Antananarivo
in 1895 and turned the island into an official colony in 1897.
The French suppressed the Malagasy language, however they
constructed roads, expanded the education network and abolished
slavery. Resentment of the French colonial presence grew in
all levels of society, and Nationalist movements had developed
by the 1920s. Strikes and demonstrations culminated in a revolt
in 1947, which the French suppressed after killing an estimated
80, 000 people and sending the rebel leaders into exile.
Nationalism & independence
By 1958 the Malagasies had voted in a referendum to become
an autonomous republic within the French community of overseas
nations. Philibert Tsiranana, leader of the Parti Social Democrate
(PSD), became Madagascar’s first president, and allowed
the French to keep control of most of Madagascar’s trade
and industry. Tsiranana was forced to resign in 1972 and was
succeeded by army general Gabriel Ramantsoa.
The socialist Ramantsoa made friends with China and the USSR,
closed down the French military bases and collectivised the
farming system, which led to an exodus of French farmers.
The economy took a nosedive and Ramantsoa was forced to resign.
His successor, Richard Ratsimandrava, lasted just one week
before being assassinated by rebel army officers. They were
almost immediately routed by Ramantsoa loyalists, and a new
government headed by Admiral Didier Ratsiraka came to power.
The Ratsiraka years were characterised by more socialist
reforms, but a debt crisis in 1981 and 1982 forced him to
abandon the reforms and obey the IMF. In 1989 Ratsiraka was
dubiously ‘elected’ to his third seven-year term,
sparking riots that left six people dead. People were still
demanding his resignation by 1991, and the ensuing demonstrations
brought the economy to a standstill. In 1992 Malagasies voted
in a referendum to limit the presidential powers. General
elections were held that year, and Professor Albert Zafy thrashed
Ratsiraka, ending his 17 years in power.
Years of communist-style dictatorship and economic mismanagement
made it hard for Zafy to ignite the economy and gain the trust
of the people. He was eventually impeached for abuse of constitutional
powers (eg sacking his prime minister). Elections were called
in 1996 and Ratsiraka surprised everyone by scraping a victory.
In 2001 Madagascans went to the polls for the general elections.
During the first round Marc Ravalomanana, a former yogurt
seller and businessman, claimed victory, but Ratsiraka refused
to accept the vote. Ravalomanana and his supporters mounted
mass protests and a general strike at the beginning of 2002.
A month later Ravalomanana went ahead and declared himself
president anyway, sparking off clashes between rival supporters
that nearly brought Madagascar to civil war. Bridges were
destroyed, and Ratsiraka’s supporters blockaded Antananarivo,
cutting off its fuel and food supply for weeks.
The Supreme Court held a recount of the votes and declared
Ravalomanana the winner. When the US recognised Ravalomanana
as the rightful president, Ratsiraka fled in exile to Paris.
Ravalomanana’s ‘I Love Madagascar’ party
sealed its popularity at parliamentary elections in December
2002. The new president set about reforming the country’s
ruined economy, and announced salary increases for politicians
in an effort to stamp out corruption. He generally made the
right noises to the World Bank, which, along with France and
the US, pledged a total of US$2.3 billion in aid. They, like
millions of Malagasies, are hoping that Ravalomanana, a self-made
millionaire, can help to finally fulfil Madagascar’s
huge economic potential.
Ravalomanana has declared his intention of breaking French
cultural influence on the country, and restoring Malagasy
language and traditions. His actions to date have included
the repair and maintenance of many main roads, a feat that
won’t be lost on visitors, and keeping armies of Malagasies
employed for months.
In Dec. 2006, Ravalomanana won reelection with 54.8% of the
vote. In January 2007, he appointed Charles Rabemananjara
as prime minister.
In January 2007, Ravalomanana appointed Charles Rabemananjara
as prime minister.
Still the struggle for power goes on
After a bitter, three-month-long power struggle with opposition
leader Andry Rajoelina, the former mayor of the capital, Antananariv,
Ravalomanana resigned as president in March 2009. He handed
power over to the military, which in turn transferred control
to Rajoelina. The turmoil began when Rajoelina was elected
mayor of the capital in December 2007, defeating the president's
candidate. Tension peaked between the two in Dec. 2008 when
Ravalomanana, becoming increasingly autocratic, shuttered
the mayor’s television channel and radio station. Rajoelina
then staged weekly protests that grew increasingly violent.
In Feb. 2009, Ravalomanana fired Rajoelina as mayor. Thousands
of the mayor's supporters took to the streets of the capital.
The country spun further into chaos when some army officers
mutinied and threw their support behind Rajoelina; others
remained loyal to the president. On March 17, the president
submitted to the apparent coup.
After weeks of talks hosted by the SADC - Southern African
Developing Countries in Maputo (Mozambique) with all political
parties of Madagascar it was finally agreed that new elections
would be held in Madagascar in March or 2010.