Open main menu
This page needs to be proofread.

Inhabitants.-The population is somewhat under two and three-quarter millions,1 including some 10,000 or 11,000 Europeans, and a smaller number of Indian, Arab, and other Asiatics, mostly small traders found in the seaports, the Chinesebeing found in every town of any size. The island, it will be seen, is very sparsely inhabited; the most densely peopled province is that of Imerina with (1905) 388,000 inhabitants. The natives, collectively known as Malagasy, are divided into a considerable number of tribes, each having its distinct customs. Although geographically an African island, the majority of its inhabitants are derived, the lighter portion of them from the Malayo-Polynesian stock, and the darker races from the Melanesian. This is inferred from their similarity to the peoples of the Indian and Pacific archipelago es in their physical appearance, mental habits, customs, and, above all, in their language. Their traditions also point in the same direction. There is, however, an undoubted African mixture in the western and some other tribes. There is also an Arab element both on the north-west and south-east coasts; and it appears that most of the families of the ruling classes in all parts of the island are descended from Arabs, who married native women. It is believed that there are traces of an aboriginal people (the Vazimba), who occupied portions of the interior before the advent of the present inhabitants, and these appear to have been a somewhat dwartish race, and lighter-coloured than the Malagasy generally. The Hova became the dominant tribe from the beginning of the 19th century; they appear to be the latest immigrants, and are the lightest in colour; and they are also the most intelligent and civilized of all the peoples inhabiting the island.

The most striking proof of the virtual unity of the inhabitants of Madagascar is that substantially but one language is spoken over the whole country. The Malay aihnities of Malagasy were noted in the 16th century; indeed, the second and fifth books published upon the country (in 1603 and 1613) were comparative vocabularies of these two languages. Later investigations have confirmed the conclusions thus early arrived at; and Van der Tuuk, Marre de Marin and W. E. Cousins have shown conclusively the close relationships between the language of the Malagasy and those of the Malayo-Polynesian regions; similar connexions exist, especially in grammatical construction, between the Malagasy and Melanesian languages. The Malagasy had never invented for themselves a written character, and had consequently no manuscripts, inscriptions or books, until their language was reduced to writing, and its orthography settled by English missionaries. Their speech nevertheless is very full in many of its verbal and other forms, while it also exhibits some curious deficiencies. It is very soft and musical, full of vowels and liquids, and free from all harsh gutturals. Native oratory abounds in figures, metaphors and parables; and a large number of folk-tales, songs and legends, together with the very numerous proverbs, give ample evidence of the mental ability and imaginative powers of the Malagasy.,

Native society in Imerina among the Hova was formerly divided into three great classes: the Andriana, or nobles; the Hova, freemen or commoners; and the Andévo, or slaves; but these last became free by a proclamation issued in 1896. The Andriana are, strictly speaking, royal clans, being descendants of petty kings who were conquered or otherwise lost their authority through the increasing power of the ancestors of the reigning family. Their descendants retained certain honours in virtue of their royal origin, such as special terms of salutation, the use of the smaller scarlet umbrella (the larger one was the mark of royal rank), the right to build a particular kind of tomb, &c.; they also enjoyed exemption from certain government service, and from some punishments for crime. The Hovaz or commoners form the mass of the population of Irnerina. They are composed of a large number of tribes, who usually intermarry strictly among themselves, as indeed do families, so that property and land may be kept together. The third great division was the slave population, which since 1896 has become merged in the mass of the people. The The census taken in 1905 gives 2,664,000 as the total population, but it is probabl a little over that amount, as some localities are still imperfectly known.

2 This is a special and restricted use of the word, Hova in its widest sense being a tribal name, including all ranks of people in Imerina. Mozambiques or African slaves, who had been brought from the African coast by Arab dhows, were in 1877 formally set free by an agreement with the British government.

Royalty and chieftainship in Madagascar had many peculiar customs. It had a semi-sacred character; the chief was, in heathen tribes, while living, the high priest for his people, and after death, was worshipped as a god; in its modern development among the Hova sovereigns it gathered round it much state and ceremony. There were many curious examples of the taboo with regard to actions connected with royalty, and also in the words used which relate to Malagasy sovereigns and their surroundings. These were particularly seen in everything having to do with the burial of a monarch. While the foregoing description of native society applied chiefly to the people of the central province of lmerina, it is applicable, with local modifications, to most of the Malagasy tribes. But on the island becoming a French colony, in 1896, royalty was formfgllylabolished; and little regard is paid to native rank by French o cia s.

The chief employment of the Malagasy is agriculture. In the cultivation of rice they show very great ingenuity, the kelsa grounds, where the rice is sown before transplanting, being formed either on the margins of the streams or in the hollows of the hills in a series of terraces, to which water is often conducted from a considerable distance. In this agricultural engineering no people surpass the Bétsiléo. No plough is used, all work being done by a long-handled spade; and oxen are only employed to tread out the soft mud preparatory to transplanting. The rice is threshed by being beaten in bundles on stones set upright on the threshing-floor; and when beaten out the grain is stored by the Hova in rice-pits dug in the hard red soil, but by the coast tribes in small timber houses raised on posts. In preparing the rice for use it is pounded in a wooden mortar to remove the husk, this work being almost always done by the women. The manioe root is also largely consumed, together with several other roots and vegetables; but little animal foods (save fish and freshwater Crustacea) is taken by the mass of the people except at festival times. Rice is used less by the western tribes than by those of the central and eastern provinces, and the former people are more nomadic in their habits than are the others. Large herds of fine humped cattle are found almost all over the island. The central and eastern peoples have considerable manual dexterity. The women spin and weave, and with the rudest appliances manufacture a variety of strong and durable cloths of silk, cotton and hemp, and of rofia palm, aloe and banana fibre, of elegant patterns, and often with much taste in colour. They also make from straw and papyrus peel strong and beautiful mats and baskets in great variety, some of much fineness and delicacy, and also hats resembling those of Panama. The people of the south and south-east make large use of soft rush matting for covering, and they also pre are a rough cloth of bark. Their non-employment of skins for clothing is a marked distinction between the Malagasy and the South African races, and their use of vegetable fibres an equally strong link between them and the Polynesian peoples. The men wear a loincloth or sahika, the women a kitamby or apron folded round the body from waist to heel, to which a jacket or dress is usually added; both sexes use over these the ltimba, a large square of cloth folded round the body something like the Roman toga, and which is the characteristic native dress. The Malagasy are skilful in metal-working; with a few rude-looking tools they manufacture silver chains of great Hneness, and lilagree ornaments both of gold and silver. Their iron-work is of excellent quality, and in copper and brass they can produce copies of anything made by Europeans. They display considerable inventive power, and they are exceedingly quick to adopt new ideas from Europeans.

There is a considerable variety in the houses of the different Malagasy tribes. The majority of Hova houses were formerly built of layers of the hard red soil of the country, with high-pitched roofs thatched with grass or rush; while the chiefs and wealthy people had houses of framed timber, with massive upright planking, and lofty roofs covered with shingles or tiles. But the introduction of sun-dried and burnt bricks, and of roofing tiles in the central provinces has led to the general use of these materials in the building of houses, large numbers of which are made in two storeys and in European fashion. The forest and coast tribes make their dwellings chiefly of wood framing filled in with the leaf-stalks of the traveller's tree, with the leaves themselves forming the roof covering. The houses of the Bétsiléo and Sakalava are very small and dirty, but those of the coast peoples are more cleanly and roomy. Among the Hova and Bétsiléo the old villages were always built for security on the summits of lofty hills, around which were dug several deep fosses, one within the other. In other districts the villages and homesteads are enclosed within formidable defences of prickly-pear or thorny mimosa.

Apart from the modern influence of religious teaching, the people are very immoral and untruthful, disregardful of human life and suffering, and cruel in war. Until lately polygamy has been common among all the Malagasy tribes, and divorce effected in an absurdly easy fashion. At the same time the position of woman is much higher in Madagascar than in most heathen countries; and, the fact that for nearly seventy years there were (with a few months