The Madagascans are a friendly and welcoming people. There are 18 different ethnic groups living on the island, and several influences including Asian, African, French, Arab have led to a unique society and belief system. But historically, the predominant ethnic group has been the Merina, who live mainly in the Madagascar highlands.

Although a majority of Malagasy follow the Christian faith, they combine it with their traditional indigenous religion. In their traditional mythology, the Highest Being or Creator Zanahary is both male and female. Some Malagasy revere spirits in nature, including certain old sacred baobabs, rocks, and even crocodiles and lemurs.

One of the key beliefs is the power of their dead ancestors known as razana, and consulting with the razana guides the living in making choices about social, moral and religious aspects of daily life. To ensure the approval of their ancestors, the communities have developed taboos. The Malagasy are very particular about their taboos called fady, which differ from region to region. A classic example of fady for tourists is a ban on accessing local burial sites. In the region around the Tsingy of Bemaraha, it is fady to point at something with a forefinger, one is expected to use their entire hand.

Musicians wearing Lamba. Photo: Lemurbaby - CC by 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Musicians wearing Lamba. Photo: Lemurbaby – CC by 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

In traditional Malagasy wear, the most conspicuous element is the lamba, a wraparound sheet, often printed with interesting designs. The lamba can be worn as a sarong or as a wrap. In the highlands, particularly among the Betsileo people, lambas are worn on the shoulder. Also popular among the Malagasy is the straw hat, made from a variety of plant fibers, weaves, colors. These vary regionally, from broad-rimmed hats to brimless, tight-fitting, cone-shaped hats.

With a French colonial history, it’s not much of a surprise to find French influence in their language, architecture and cuisine. It’s common to see friends and acquaintances greet each other with kisses on the cheek.

Any Madagascan travel experience will be enhanced by connecting with its warm people and their colorful culture.

Click for more information about Madagascar’s climate and fast facts.