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July 22, 2003

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Flying from South Africa to Madagascar, we don't know what to expect. By navigating the Indian Ocean, Indonesians, not Africans, first settled Madagascar only 1500 to 2000 years ago (prior to that it was uninhabited by Man). The country shares a common language - Malagasy (pronounced "mal-a-Gash") - and culture, however, ethnic distinctions exist. The first Indonesians lived in isolation for a few hundred years until new arrivals appeared: the Arabs in the 9th or 10th centuries, then European explorers, traders, and pirates from the 1500's onwards, who eventually colonized and introduced African slaves. Today, Madagascar is divided into 18 official 'tribes' whose boundaries are based on old kingdoms rather than ethnic characteristics. Some groups, such as the Merina of the central highlands, predominantly show Asian features of their Indonesian predecessors, while the Vezo of the south west coast clearly exhibit strong influences of the black tribes from East Africa.
A view of Antananarivo, Madagascar's capital city. The French, locally referred to as the "19th Tribe," became the 'official proprietors' of Madagascar after signing a sphere of influence treaty with Britain in 1890. Four years later they took control of the country by an invading army of 11,000 men (most of whom perished by disease). France ceded control of Madagascar peacefully in 1958 and Madagascar became an autonomous republic within the French community of overseas nations.
The district of Analakely, which means Little Forest, has replaced its trees with houses perched along narrow alleyways.
The Zoma market, Antananarivo, named as the world's second largest open marketplace (only Bangkok's market is bigger).