Sunday, 18 December 2011

CASE 372 - The history of Madagascar

In a cataclysmic earthquake, Madagascar broke free from Africa about 165 million years ago. She spent the next 45 million years drifting approximately 250 miles to the northeast – her present position.

The animals of Madagascar found plentiful foodstuffs, and an almost total lack of predators. Because evolutionary pressures on Madagascar's early inhabitants were almost nonexistent, the island literally teems with life forms that have changed little in hundreds of thousands, even millions of years. In many ways, Madagascar is literally a land that time forgot. The first humans arrived on Madagascar around 2,000 years ago, most likely using outrigger canoes hailing from India, Africa, and Arabia. The newcomers were greeted by dense rainforests and an abundance of wildlife – strange monkey-like creatures known as lemurs, dwarf hippos, giant tortoises, ten-foot tall elephant birds (their enormous, thousand-year old eggs are still being found to this day), and over 100 other exotic species of animal found nowhere else on earth.

Unfortunately for many of these creatures, the arrival of man represented their first encounter with a predator. It took almost 1,000 years, but skilled human hunters managed to drive almost two dozen of those unique and irreplaceable animal species to extinction. Although they lived in tribes, the African, Indian, and Arabic races managed to avoid segregation. Over many hundreds of years, an incredible synthesis of tradition, religion, language, and genetics took place, creating a society remarkable in its uniformity of language and beliefs, and striking in its physical beauty.

In 1500, Portugese explorers landed on the island of Madagascar, did a little exploration, and returned to Europe. Word of the Portugese "discovery" spread to France and England, and both countries rushed to establish settlements on the island. The local tribes formed loose coalitions to succesfully defend themselves against the invading Europeans again and again. In 1794, King Andrianampoinimerina managed to unite the various tribes of Madagascar, forming a single kingdom. Each of his subjects was given enough land to meet the nutritional needs of his family, and the practice of burning rainforests (to obtain additional land) was banned. By 1817, Andrianampoinimerina's son, King Radama I, formed friendly relationships with the major European powers, and invited British missionaries to his country. Led by David Jones, the missionaries introduced the Roman alphabet and Christianity to Radama's subjects. Immediately after Radama's death in 1828, his widow (Queen Ranavalona) took the throne. Referred to even to this day as the wicked queen, Ranavalona forced the missionaries out of Madagascar, and executed her subjects with a zeal never before seen in this land. Queen Ranavalona died in 1861, turning the reigns of power over to a succession of largely ineffective monarchs. In 1883, the French attacked Madagascar. After almost three years of warfare, Madagascar became a French protectorate, and then, after a massive 1895 invasion by French forces, Madagascar became a full-fledged French colony. The monarchy was abolished, and French became the official language. In 1958, the French elected a new President, Charles De Gaulle. De Gaulle immediately granted Madagascar its independence. The locals renamed their nation the Malagasy Republic, and elected Philibert Tsiranana President. A benign leader, Tsiranana was reviled by radical elements as a puppet of the recently departed French. Tiring of the vociferous protesters, Tsiranana finally stepped down in 1972. He was succeeded by Didier Ratsiraka, a naval officer.

Ratsiraka was re-elected twice, replaced briefly by Dr. Albert Zafy in 1991, and then re-elected a third time to his current title as President of the Malagasy Republic. Madagasca for some 20 years was the poorest country on earth by capita and gdp but has risen up 10 places or so to 178th

More than anything else, the people of Madagascar love oratory. The colorful language, Malagasy, like the people who use it, is a living synthesis of Indonesian, African, and Arabic elements. No conversation is complete without a liberal sprinkling of clever euphemisms and timeworn proverbs.

The British missionaries attempted to codify this lyrical language, using the letters of the English alphabet. The Malagasy alphabet is therefore quite similar to the English alphabet

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