You might know the country, but our quick facts about Madagascar will have you thinking otherwise. Read on to learn what we find most interesting about this country.
If you’re anything like most people, chances are you may have only come across Madagascar the animated film that featured a kooky lemur named King Julien, a group of spy penguins as well as a host of other wild animals and their hijinks.
But the thing is Madagascar — the island country — is one of the most interesting places on Earth.
Apart from having an extremely diverse list of flora and fauna that can be found nowhere else in the world, it also features a number of stunning national parks, beaches, forest reserves, historical landmarks and landscapes that make it a cool place to visit if you’re looking for an unforgettable adventure.
Read on to discover more awesome facts about Madagascar and find out why it’s fast becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations these days.
1. Madagascar is the 4th-largest island on Earth
Measured from end to end, Madagascar has a total land area of 587,712 square kilometers and is bounded by a coastline that stretches for more than 5,000 kilometers from Antsiranana to Tôlanaro.
Size-wise, it is considerably much bigger compared to the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden. As for overall land mass, Madagascar just comes behind Borneo, New Guinea, Indonesia and Greenland.
This island country is so big that it is sometimes referred to by geographical experts as a mini-continent.
2. It is one of the “megadiverse” countries in the world
Madagascar is considered as a megadiverse country for its numerous endemic plants and animals that cannot be found anywhere else on Earth.
According to experts, as much as 90% of the island country’s flora and fauna are extremely unique, particularly its exceptional catalog of lemurs, chameleons and birds as well as plants whose origins can be traced way back to the Jurassic period.
Moreover, there are 17 countries that are classified as megadiverse, namely Venezuela, Papua New Guinea, Malaysia, India, Philippines, Ecuador, China, Brazil and Australia, among others, due to their very large index of natural biodiversity.
3. Madagascar is the world’s biggest producer of high-quality sapphires
While this island country’s economy is mostly driven by agriculture, it is deemed by gemologists as a rich source of various types of high-quality sapphires that are highly in-demand among connoisseurs in the gem trade.
Madagascar’s major sapphire deposits are located in Ilakaka, a small town in the southwestern region of Ihorombe. Apart from having abundant deposits of pure blue sapphire, the country is also teeming with the padparadscha, white, green, yellow and pink sapphire varieties.
Interestingly, these sapphire deposits were accidentally discovered in 1998 and are attributed to the island country’s distinct soil composition as well as its profusion of metamorphic and basaltic rocks.
4. Its native banana is helping save other banana varieties from extinction
The wild Madagascar banana (Ensete perrieri) is a hardy plant that can live even in the harshest environments and weather conditions.
When the Panama Disease — also known as the “fusarium wilt” after the soil-borne fungus that causes it — spread in the 1950’s to the 1960’s, it decimated all of the world’s Gros Michel banana populations, which was the main banana variety grown for commercial purposes during that time.
Fearing that there would be another wave of fusarium wilt in the following decades, plant scientists began breeding different banana varieties together to create a cultivar that can withstand the disease’s destructive effects.
And when they cross-pollinated the wild Madagascar banana with the Cavendish, they discovered that the new strain is very resilient to the Panama Disease and its later mutation called TP4 (Tropical Race 4).
While the number of wild Madagascar bananas has become smaller over the years due to deforestation, conservation efforts are ongoing in the Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve to ensure that the world’s banana population is safe for years to come.
5. Madagascar is a melting pot of delicious food
Flaunting a mix of Arab, Colonial, Asian, Indian and Creole influences, this island country is a spectacular melting pot of culinary delights. If you’re looking to get your appetite going, Madagascar has a long list of sumptuous delicacies that will make your mouth water in no time.
Some of the dishes that are a must-try when visiting Madagascar include the breakfast favorite, Mofo gasy or Malagasy bread, which is known for its subtle yet distinctive mouthfeel, as well as the Foza sy hena-kisoa, Madagascar’s version of the surf and turf, that will excite your taste buds with its sweet and spicy notes.
You can also satisfy your sweet tooth by grabbing a bite of Koba akondro, the traditional dessert of Madagascar, which is a blend of honey, corn flour, peanuts, vanilla and bananas. The combination of crunch from the peanuts and the creaminess of the bananas gives this delicacy a very interesting texture.
6. The lamba is the most popular clothing in the island country
The traditional garment of both men and women in Madagascar is called the lamba, which is basically a rectangular wrap of cloth made from a variety of materials depending on the occasion it is worn. It is the Malagasy version of the sarong.
Besides being made from silk and cotton, there are also lambas that use bast and raffia fibers, as well as cow hide and pig skin, as primary materials. The weaving styles and color schemes also vary among villages and regions in the country.
While the Sakalavas go for solid prints mixed with stripes and simple geometric patterns, their Merina counterparts prefer their lambas multi-colored and embellished with intricate weave work.
Apart from its main function as a garment, the lamba is also used as a cushion when carrying a heavy object on top of the head, a makeshift bag, a child carrier, a blanket as well as an emergency outdoor mat.
7. Gorilla-sized lemurs used to live in Madagascar
While the Babakoto (Indri indri) is nowadays considered as the heaviest lemur in Madagascar with an average weight of 8.6 kilograms and the Diademed Sifaka (Propithecus diadema) as the tallest with an average height of 1 meter, there used to be a population of lemurs the size of gorillas living in the island country 560 years ago.
Classified by paleontologists as Archaeoindris, these massive creatures feasted on fruits, nuts and seeds and spent most of their time nesting and feeding in the trees. Just to give you an insight on how big these animals were, their average weight was 160 kilograms based on fossil evidence.
Scientists believe that their numbers were decimated when the human population of Madagascar grew over time. Apart from being docile, studies also show that the Archaeoindris did not move really fast, making them easy pickings for hunters.
8. The Malagasy fondly revere their dead loved ones
Although Madagascar is an amalgamation of different cultures and belief systems, with 18 ethic groups living side by side in the island country, what brings them together is the Malagasy tradition of honoring their dead, especially those of their ancestors.
Every five to seven years, the Malagasy people participate in a ritual called the Famidihana, or “the turning of the bones,” which involves removing deceased relatives from their respective family crypts and replacing their burial shrouds — usually a lamba — with fresh ones just before dawn.
It is similar to a ritual practiced by the Toraja people of Indonesia. After the deceased are given a makeover, lavish parties filled with dancing, drinking and eating are thrown in their honor and usually went on until the late afternoon.
And just before sunset, the remains of the deceased are returned to the family crypts, usually in a different position than they were in before, to “make them feel more comfortable” until the next Famidihana ritual.
9. Madagascar is a top producer of fine vanilla and chocolate
Introduced to Madagascar in 1890 by Mexican traders, vanilla has become one of the island country’s top export products over the years thanks to its unique microclimate and mineral-rich soil composition.
The northeast town of Antlaha serves as the central hub for vanilla cultivation and production in the country where the plants are organically grown using traditional methods.
It is not uncommon to see vanilla propagators in Madagascar laboriously going around from one plant to another, pressing the flower’s pistil and stamen together to encourage fertilization.
Besides maximizing the possibility of fruiting, this practice also takes away the need of using chemical-based products that can affect the overall smell and taste of the vanilla after being processed.
As for chocolate, Madagascar is one of the world’s top growers of Forastero, Trinitario and Criollo cocoa bean varieties, which are considered as the cream of the crop in the chocolate industry.
The combination of the island country’s abundance of soil nutrients and its generally pleasant weather is the reason why chocolate from Madagascar is often described by aficionados as having heightened fruity tones and exceptional aromas.
10. It is the home of Moraingy
Moraingy — also known as “Morengy” and “Moringue” in some regions — is a traditional hand-to-hand martial art practiced by the Malagasy people. It is also referred to as Malagasy boxing.
Characterized by quick strikes and fluid movements, this martial art style is believed to have originated during the Maroseranana dynasty (1675–1896) and polished by the members of the Sakalava tribe who lived in the western coast of Madagascar.
The practitioners of Moraingy are called fagnorolahy. Moraingy matches usually only have a single round and the winner is judged by the number of well-placed strikes they’ve managed to land or a knockout blow.
This martial art style has become so popular over the years that there are already Moraingy practitioners in the nearby islands of the Indian Ocean such as Mauritius, Seychelles, Comoros, Mayotte and Réunion.
11. Madagascar is a rising star in the tourism industry
According to statistics, Madagascar has a consistently growing tourism industry and has generated an income of more than $950 million in 2019. From 83,000 visitors in 1996, the island country has also reached a record high of 486,000 vacationers in the same year.
Given its diverse list of stunning holiday destinations that caters to all types of tourists, it isn’t that tricky to figure out why Madagascar is an emerging powerhouse in the tourism scene.
From its pristine beaches to breathtaking forests and reserves, not mentioning its flora and fauna you won’t find anywhere else on the planet, this island country is definitely a vacationer’s dream. Why not visit Madagascar for yourself and get in on the action?