The first people arrived from the outskirts of the Indonesian archipelago. Little by little, these original populations mixed with migrants who came from east Africa to make up the Malagasy people as they exist today. This population mix is very specific (and very successful!) and Malagasy people have physical characteristics in common with both continents.
The Red Island is two and a half times bigger than the United Kingdom but has only a third of the population. There are about 22 million people on a land that is about 600 km wide and 1,600 km long, or approximately 590,000 km² - it's OK, you don't have to remember all these figures! With such a low population density there are vast natural areas where there are few or no people.
That said, I was always amazed by the number of people walking on the roads, day and night, in all parts of the country. The Malagasy have no fear of walking great distances if it's necessary: to go to the nearest market, visit the family or go to school.
Madagascar is a countrythat is mostly rural. Even if the countryside is suffering from an exodus to the towns, agriculture is still the main employer and the towns are not very big. About a third of the population lives in the towns and only 9% in towns that have more than one million inhabitants. Antananarivo is the island's capital and has about 2 million inhabitants. The country's main towns are Fianarantsoa, Toamasina, Mahajanga, Antsiranana (Diego-Suarez), Antsirabe, Morondava and Toliara.
There are officially 18 different ethnic groups on Madagascar. The largest group are the Merina, who represent about 26% of the population. This ethnic group, which originates from the north of the Central Highlands, holds most of the important political posts.
The Betsileo people come from the south of the Central Highlands and make up about 12% of the population. The second largest ethnic group are the Betsimiraka, who come from the east of the country in the Tamatave region. There are also the Sakalava, who occupy an enormous part of the west, from Tolliara to the north of the island. In the south of Madgascar you will find the Antandroy who are famous for raising zebus, the Mahafaly, baobab diggers, and the Vezo, nomad fishermen from around Toliara. In the north there are the Antakarana who take their name from their native land, the Ankarana massif.
There are others in the regions, and each group has its own characteristics. If you don't remember them all after reading this, don't worry, your guides will be very pleased to explain to you all the different details of the different ethnic groups during your trip to the Red Island...