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A Small Group of 30 Women from Southeast Asia Founded Madagascar

The colonization of Madagascar is one of the strangest and least understood periods in prehistoric human history. Madagascar was one of the last continents to be colonized. Although just off the east coast of Africa, genetic, linguistic, and cultural data indicate that Africans and, more shockingly, Indonesians jointly populated the island. But did you know 30 women were the first settlers of Madagascar?

A small group of people, consisting of fewer than 30 women, settled in Madagascar. These 30 women served as the foremothers of all modern-day native Malagasy.

The History of Madagascar

The early isolation of Madagascar from the prehistoric supercontinent that included Africa and India, as well as the island’s later colonization by people from the Sunda Islands and East Africa, are key features of the island’s history. 

These two factors helped thousands of endemic plant and animal species to evolve and survive, some of which are now extinct or in danger of extinction as a result of the government’s failure to provide resources to support the expanding population, which led many people to turn to harmful environmental practices as a means of survival. Large ships from Java and Sumatra, known as Djong, dominated trade in the Indian Ocean during the first colonization of Madagascar.

The Malagasy people, who speak the Austronesian language of Malagasy, which has Bantu, Malay, Arabic, French, and English influences, were produced via centuries of intermarrying. 

However, most of the average Malagasy’s genetic makeup reveals an approximately equal mix of Bantu and Austronesian ancestry. 

According to one study, Madagascar was first inhabited by a relatively small group of people around 1,200 years ago, consisting of about 30 women, 28 of whom were of maritime Southeast Asian descent and two of whom were of African descent. But the more comprehensive data gathered do not support this outcome. The first group to settle and later immigrants mixed to form the Malagasy population.

By the Middle Ages, the island had developed more than a dozen unique ethnic identities, each characterized by a chieftain’s reign. Some tribes, including the Sakalava, Merina, and Betsimisaraka, were brought together by leaders who founded actual kingdoms. These kingdoms amassed riches and power through trade with Europeans, Arabs, and other mariners, like pirates. (Source: Royal Society Publishing

When Did The French Colonize Madagascar?

The island of Nosy Boraha was given to the Kingdom of France in 1750 by Bety of Betsimisaraka, the monarch of the Kingdom of Betsimisaraka. However, when the local populace revolted in 1752, the French Colonists were slaughtered. France left the settlement unoccupied for about 50 years before returning in 1818.

Tsiomeko, the monarch of the island of Nosy Be, consented to French protection in 1840. In 1841, the French acquired control of the island, and an unsuccessful attempt was attempted to drive them out in 1849.

After the first Franco-Hova Wara treaty of alliance between France and Madagascar on December 17, 1885, by Queen Ranavalona III, the British agreed to France’s claims to exert its influence on Madagascar. This gave France a protectorate over Diego-Suarez bay, surrounding territory, and the islands of Nosy-Be and Île Sainte-Marie.

Disagreements over how this pact should be implemented were used to justify the French invasion of 1895, which initially encountered little resistance. The population had grown to dislike Prime Minister Rainilaiarivony’s authority, which had been in place since 1864. (Source: Royal Society Publishing

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