Open main menu
This page needs to be proofread.

small species of boa; crocodiles abound in the rivers and lakes; and numerous species of lizard, chameleon and tree-frog inhabit the woods. Madagascar may be considered as one of the headquarters of the Chamaeleonidae, for of the fifty known species no fewer than twenty-five have already been described from the island. Many of these are of curious form, with remarkable developments of the plates of the head and projecting horns and spines. There are several peculiar tortoises, but the gigantic species are now found alive only on the little island of Aldabra, to the north. The insect life comprises many brilliantly-coloured beetles, butterflies (about eight hundred species of which are known), moths, locusts, spiders and flies, and also noxious spiders, with scorpions and centipedes. The river fishes belong chiefly to the family Chromididae; many of them are of brilliant and bizarre appearance, with strongly contrasted colours in bands and spots. Those found in the coast waters do not differ materially from the widely spread Indian Ocean species. As a whole, the Madagascar fauna is marked by a strong individuality, which would appear to be the result of long isolation from the other zoological “ regions.” The Asiatic and Malayan affinities of many of its animals, as well as the physical conditions of the bed of the Indian Ocean, make it highly probable that Madagascar, while once forming part of Africa, is the chief relic of a considerable archipelago formerly connecting that continent with Asia, its other portions being shown by groups of small islands, and by coral atolls and shoals, which are gradually disappearing beneath the waves. These questions have been fully treated by Dr A. R. Wallace in his Geographical Distribution of Animals (vol. i. ch. ix., 1876) and Island Life, ch. xix. (1880).

Fl01a.-The flora of Madagascar is one of great interest. One of its most prominent features is the belt of forest round a large part of the island at no great distance from the sea, and generally following the coast-line. This forest is densest on the east side, and for about 120 m. forms a double line, the lower one being much the broader and averaging 30 m. across, but attaining a breadth of 60 or 70 m. on the north-east, near Antongil Bay. The vegetation on the western side of the island is much less dense, often appearing as scattered clumps of trees on savannah-like plains rather than continuous forest; while in the south-west, where the rainfall is very scanty, the vegetation is largely of fleshy-leaved and spiny plants-aloes and cacti (the latter introduced), with several species of Euphorbia, as well as numerous lianas, one of which (Intisy) yields india-rubber. It is estimated that there are about 30,000 sq. m. of forest-covered country in Madagascar, or about one-eighth of its whole surface. The vegetation of the forests, the abundant epiphytes, the tree mosses, the filmy ferns and the viviparous character of many of the ferns, show clearly how abundant the rainfall is in the eastern forest region. This contains a large variety of hard-wooded and valuable timber trees, including species of Weinmannia (Lalbna '), Elaeocarpus (Voanana), Dalbergia (Vba mbbana), Nuxia (Valanirana), Podocarpns, a pine, the sole species in the island (Hétatra), Tambonrissa (A mbbra), Neobaronia (Haraham), Ocotea (Varbngy) and probably ebony, Diospyros sp., &c. The following trees are characteristic of Madagascar vegetation, some of them being endemic, and others very prominent features in the landscape: the traveller's-tree (Urania speciosa), with its graceful crown of plantain-like leaves growing like an enormous fan at the top of a tall trunk, and affording a supply of pure cool water, every part of the tree being of some service in building; the Raphia (rofia) palm (Sagus rujfia); the tall fir-like Casuarina equisetifolia or beefwood tree, very prominent on the eastern coast, as well as several species of screw-pine (Pandanus); the Madagascar spice (Ravintsara niadagascariensis), a large forest tree, with fragrant fruit, leaves and bark; a beautiful-leaved species of Calophyllum; and the Tangena (Tanghinia veneniflua), formerly employed as a poison ordeal. On the lagoons and lower reaches of the rivers the Viha (Typhonodornm lindleyannm), an arum endemic to Madagascar, grows in great profusion to a height of 12 or 13 ft. and has a white spathe more than a foot in length; and on the western coast dense thickets of mangrove line the creeks and rivers. In the interior rivers is found the curious and beautiful lace-leaf plant (Oiwirandra fenestralis), with an edible tuberous root. On the western side of the island the baobab, the tamarind, the rotra (Eugenia sp.), the rofia palm, and several species of fan-palm (Hyphaene) and of Ficus are prominent; and the mango (introduced) grows to a large tree. In the generally bare interior highlands, large trees, species of Ficus (Ambnlana, Aviavy, Nbnoka, Adabo, &c.), often mark the position of the old towns; and some of these, as Ambohimanga, Vohilena, &c., are surrounded by remnants of the original forest, which formerly covered large portions of the interior. The most prominent tree in the central province is now the Capelilac (Melia azederach) introduced about 1825; and since the French conquest several species of eucalyptus have been planted in vast numbers by the road sides. These have given quite a new aspect to the vegetation, while bright colour is imparted by species of Bougainvillea and Poinsettia, In the eastern forests palms, bamboos, lianas and tree-ferns, as well as species of Dracaena, are found. Although flowers growing on the ground or on shrubs are not conspicuous for number or beauty, there are many fine flowering trees, such as Poinciana regia, presenting a mass of scarlet flowers; 1 The words in parentheses are the native Malagasy names. Colvillia racemosa, with yellow flowers; Astrapaea Wallichii, striking attention from its abundant flowers; and species of Cryptostegia, a purple-flowered creeper, and Strongylodon, another creeper with cream-coloured blossoms. Among attractive plants are species of Hibiscus, Euphorbia, Buddleia, Ixora, Kitchingia, Clematis, &c. On the east coast two orchids, species of Angraecuin, with large white waxy flowers, one with an extraordinarily long spur or nectary, attract the attention of every traveller during June and July by their abundance and beauty. Some 320 species offfern have been collected, and there are large numbers of spiny and prickly plants, as well as numerous grasses, reeds and rushes, many of them of great service in the native manufactures of mats, hats, baskets, &c.

The Rev R. Baron divides the flora into three distinctly marked “ regions, " which run in a longitudinal direction, following approximately the longer axis of the island, and are termed respectively eastern, western and central. The central includes the elevated highland of the interior, while the eastern and western include the forest belts and most of the wooded country and coast plains. Of the 4100 known plants-of which about three-fourths are endemic composing the Madagascar Hora, there are 3492 Dieotyledons, 248 Monocotyledons and 360 Acotyledons. Of these, the orders most largely represented (together with their species) are: Leguminosae, 346; Filices, 318; Compositae, 281; Euphorbiaceae, 228; Orchideae, 170; Cyperaceae, 160; Rubiaceae, 147; Acanthaceae, 131; Gramineae, 130. The number of endemic genera now knownis 148. Of the 3178 species of plants whose localities have been determined 35% are peculiar to the eastern region, 27-5 % to the central, and 22 % to the western. One natural order, Chlaenaceae, is strictly confined to Madagascar. “ A small proportion of the species are Asian, but not African; and the flora of the mountains corresponds closely with that of the great ranges of the tropical zone of Africa.” “ The general plan of the flora follows thoroughly the same lines as that of the tropical regions of the Old World.”

Among the food-giving plants are rice-the staff of life to the majority of the Malagasy—in many varieties, maize, millet, manioc, yams, [sweet-potatoes, arrowroot, which is largely used by the western tribes-as well as numerous vegetables, many of them of foreign introduction. The fruits-the majority of which are introduce dare the banana, peach, loquat, pineapple, mango, melon, grape, quince, plum, apple, mulberry, orange, lemon, citron, guava, Chineseguava, Cape-gooseberry, fig, raspberry, tomato, &c. Several spices are grown, including ginger, capsicum, &c.; sugar-cane, coffee, indigo, vanilla, tobacco, cotton, hemp, gourds, dye-woods, gums, mulberry and other trees and plants for silk-culture, are also among the vegetable productions; gum-copal was formerly, and india-rubber is still, an important article of export.

Provinces and Towns.-The island may be divided into districts or provinces, which in the main indicate tribal divisions. Of these tribal territories the following may be distinguished, taking them in three main divisions, from north to south: (1) Eastern: Antankarana, occupying the northern peninsula; the country of the Bétsimisaraka, who inhabit a long extent of the coast plains, about 500 m. in length; parallel with this for about a. third of it, and between the two lines of forest, is the Bézanozano country. South again are the districts of the Taimbahoaka, the Taimoro, the Taifasy and the Taisaka; and at the south-eastern corner are the Tanosy. (2) Central: the districts of Tsimihéty and the Sihanaka; Imérina, the Hova province; the Bétsiléo; the Tanala or foresters; the Bara; and the emigrant Tanosy. (3) Western: the people from almost the northern to the southern extremities of. the island are known as Sakalava, but consist of a number of distinct tribes-the Tiboina, the Mailaka, the Taménabé, and the Fiherénana, &c. South of these last are the Mahafaly, with the Tandroy at the extreme south. There are no distinctly marked boundaries between any of these tribal territories; and west of Imerina and Bétsiléo there is a considerable extent of country with hardly any population, a kind of “no-man'sland.” There are numerous subdivisions, of most of the tribes.

The capital, Antananarivo (pop. 69, o0o), in the highlands of Imérina, and Tamatave (pop. 4600), on the east coast and the chief seaport, are separately described. Majunga (properly Mojanga, pop. 5300) on the north-west coast, just north of 16° S., and Diégo-Suarez, are important ports for foreign trade, the latter being also a fortified naval and military station. Other ports and towns are Mahanoro, Mananjary (SE. coast, pop. 4500), Tullear (S.W. coast), and Fianarantsoa (pop. 6200), the chief town of the Bétsiléo. There are very few places besides these with as many as 2000 people.