Madagascar: an “African” island

Regarding the earliest human settlement of Madagascar, we read in Wikipedia:

Evidence from faunal extinctions supports this tradition that Madagascar was inhabited prior to the Austronesian immigration. There remain a group of hunter-gatherers on Madagascar, the Mikea, which in their way of life and in their music are completely unlike their Malagasy neighbors. They retained non-Malagasy vocabulary until the 1920s, perhaps a remnant of a Vazimba language.[1]

However, archaeologists generally place the arrival of humans on Madagascar in the centuries between 300 BCE and 500CE, when seafarers from southeast Asia (Borneo or the southern Celebes) are believed to have arrived in their outrigger canoes.[2] These were the original Malagasy, who came to the island as part of the great Austronesian expansion, the movement of people that came to dominate in Indonesia and the Pacific Ocean. Anthropologist Jared Diamond has written about the Austronesian expansion to Madagascar, noting many similarities between Malagasy and Indonesians (both cultures cultivating rice in a similar manner and using outrigger canoes, for instance) and differences between Malagasy and Africans (Malagasy architectural traditions favoring rectangular structures as opposed to African round huts, and wearing cloth (lambas) woven of vegetable fibers as opposed to African animal skins and bark cloth, for instance). Jared Diamond writes of the Austronesians:

“These Austronesians, with their Austronesian language and modified Austronesian culture, were already established on Madagascar by the time it was first visited by Europeans, in 1500. This strikes me as the single most astonishing fact of human geography for the entire world. It’s as if Columbus, on reaching Cuba, had found it occupied by blue-eyed, blond-haired Scandinavians speaking a language close to Swedish, even though the nearby North American continent was inhabited by Native Americans speaking Amerindian languages.

In summery nobody knows, for certain, who first settled Madagascar.  As for the Mikea “remnants”, it is possible that they arrived, or were brought over, later.  We don’t know.  But the consensus is that the Indonesians arrived first.


As we can see from the map, Borneo is about 4,500 miles away from Madagascar, while Africa is only 250 miles away.  The obvious question is:  How is it that populations from so far away were able to settle the island before Africans – or, in any event, to culturally dominate the Africans?  Mongabay.com writes…

The striking mix suggests that there was substantial migration of people from southeast Asia about 2000-1500 years ago – a mirror image of the migrations from that region into the Pacific, to Micronesia and Polynesia, that had occurred about 1000 years earlier. However, unlike the privations suffered by those eastward travellers, the data suggests the early Malagasy population survived the voyage well, because more genetic variation is found in them than is found in the islands of Polynesia. ‘Bottlenecks’ in evolutionary history, where the population is dramatically reduced in number, are a common cause of reduced genetic variation.

Even though the Africa coast is only one-twentieth of the distance to Indonesia, it appears that migrations from Africa may have been more limited, as less of the diversity seen in the source population has survived in Madagascar.

But why, if the population is a 50:50 mix, is the language almost exclusively derived from Indonesia?

“It is a very interesting question, for which we have as yet no certain answer, as to how the African contribution to Malagasy culture, evident in biology and in aspects of economic and material culture, was so largely erased in the realm of language,” commented Professor Robert Dewar, of The McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge. “This research highlights the differing, and complementary, contributions of biology and linguistics to the understanding of prehistory.”

To answer to Mongabay’s question, it might be useful to look at the average I.Q. in Indonesia versus the average I.Q. in East Africa.  According to “I.Q. and the wealth of nations“, by Richard Lynn, Indonesia has an average I.Q. of 89, while East African nations hover at just over 70.  This is a larger difference than we find between American whites and American blacks.  So it is no wonder the Indonesians would dominate the Africans culturally or, at least, linguistically.

As I’ve already mentioned, I’ll be travelling there shortly.  I’ll also be travelling to other places and, all told, I’ll be gone a month.  Needless to say, I won’t be doing much blogging during that time.  I’ll be leaving April 10th and, between work and preparations, my posts may be a bit sparse during this time as well.

About jewamongyou

I am a paleolibertarian Jew who is also a race-realist. My opinions are often out of the mainstream and often considered "odd" but are they incorrect? Feel free to set me right if you believe so!
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28 Responses to Madagascar: an “African” island

  1. lowly says:

    Bon voyage

  2. Bantu Education says:

    If it is populated by SE Asians then why is Malagasy such an obvious basket case? When did the Bantu arrive on the west coast, and why did the Indonesians not resist them? I suppose the island being so huge maybe there weren’t many if any Indonesians on that side of the island, so the Bantu just crept in and rapidly bred.

  3. croc-tears says:

    I hope your trip is safe and successful.

  4. sestamibi says:

    “There remain a group of hunter-gatherers on Madagascar, the Mikea, which in their way of life and in their music are completely unlike their Malagasy neighbors.”

    And then they set up shop in Sweden, selling trendy self-assembled furniture to SWPLs all over the world!

  5. Ryan says:

    Good luck on your trip Jewamongyou!

  6. Davey says:

    IQ is not fixed in history. I’m sure the British Isles IQ was significantly lower than Italian IQ during the Roman period. So figures like 89 and 70 are not indicative of past history. For instance, the African Iron Age was probably before the European one.

    Looking at the maps, it’s obvious that Austronesians would have a strong sea-faring culture, just as the Greeks would have. A people settled on many islands needs to get about. Just because the Austronesians got to Taiwan, it doesn’t mean the Chinese were drooling savages. The map shows that they were the most skilful sea-faring people in history:

    • jewamongyou says:

      Of course you are right that I.Q. is not fixed through history. However, right now there is a big difference between the two areas in question – and we are trying to tackle a mystery of the past. So we can theorize based on what we know. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

  7. Harpo Marx says:

    One of the characteristics of advanced civilizations is their ability to navigate seas and oceans.

    It’s no surprise that East Africans with low IQs were incapable of utilizing canoes, let alone devising craft that could take them to Madagascar.

    Consider the thoughts of Earnest Sevier Cox (1937) ▼

    http://www.archive.org/download/WhiteAmerica/White_America.pdf

    • Davey says:

      That’s ridiculous. The Chinese were not advanced sea-farers. Or the Jews. Indeed many cultures who were good at sea-faring could be described as second-rate, and relatively uncultured compared to land-lovers. The Sea Peoples, the Vikings, the Polynesians. If you are busy making boats all the time, you may not have too much time to create advanced civilisations.

  8. Harpo Marx says:

    This is off topic, but I wonder why there are so few ethnic restaurants featuring African cousine?

    There are many Mexican, Chinese, Italian, Greek, etc restaurants. But very few African restaurants.

    • jewamongyou says:

      There are plenty of Ethiopian restaurants but they’re not entirely sub-Saharan being of mixed stock and Semites to boot. It’s a good question though.

    • Ryan says:

      Here in Vancouver there are a few, except funny enough they are owned and run by East-Indians who were former residents of East Africa before they were kicked out by Idi Amin, and the surrounding countries that followed suit.

      Heck I worked for a guy whose ancestors were brought over from what is now Pakistan to work in Kenya. He had a lot to say about it but didn’t seem too bitter. Though he said his family did well in some import export business there.

    • Harpo Marx says:

      I suspect it’s because entrepreneurs are rare in the black community and because their African culture maintained a very basic, lack-luster diet.

  9. Bantu Education says:

    There are 2 or 3 so-called “African” restaurants here in Cape Town, but they are mainly to fool naive tourists into believing that Africans have a “cuisine”. All of them were started by whites who created the menus too.

  10. Eze says:

    The Bantu are fairly recent arrivals in East Africa, just like the Austronesians they are immigrants (but from West-Central Africa).

    IMO, They did not have enough time to develop seafaring skills yet as they were busy exploring the southern portion of Africa, which was previously inhabited by foraging groups like the Khoisan (who are racially quite different from Bantu agriculturalists). It is better to ask why the Khoisan never managed to get to Madagascar as they had way more time to adapt to their local environment than the Bantu.

    The Bantu also faced many difficulties on their southern-bound migration. Their crops were adapted to tropical conditions of Nigeria and as they moved south they had to select for new variants which were suited to the new environments, which took a considerable amount of time.

    Perhaps if they were given a few more generations (they only arrived in Mozambique by the year 0 AD), they could have easily colonized Madagascar themselves. They just struck out of luck that the Austronesians arrived there first otherwise it would most likely have been a another of the many Bantu countries they conquered.

    • jewamongyou says:

      Actually I was aware of this – and I should have mentioned it in my original post. I cited the current average I.Q. for East Africa. In fact, the average I.Q. of the original Khoisan/Pygmy inhabitants would have been even lower and thus, my point stronger. The establishment cannot even consider the possibility of racial differences between the Khoisan/Pygmy and other races because once one race is shown to be different, it opens up the whole can of worms for them.

      • Eze says:

        The Khoisan remained hunter-gatherers for so long because there weren’t many easily domesticable plants and animals in the southern portion of Africa. Just go ahead and try to tame a Zebra, it has been tried countless times and nobody ever succeeded, just one example out of many.

        The Bantu originated in what now is Nigeria, their forebears were lucky enough that the African Sahel zone had plenty of easily domesticable plants and animals. Unlike Southern Africa they were also less isolated and received useful Eurasian animals such as the cow and sheep. This gave them the head start to conquer southern Africa over the Khoisan.

        I highly doubt that the Khoisan are biologically ‘’less intelligent’’ than the Bantu or even Europeans. They are even said to be genetically the most diverse people on Earth( http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v463/n7283/full/nature08795.html ), any mutation favoring higher cognitive development is likely among these people. It is better to look at the circumstances and environment these people had to live in than just blame it on western designed I.Q. tests.

  11. Ortu Kan says:

    Two African statesmen: Ravalomanana of Madagascar (like Rajoelina, a Merina), and Motlanthe of South Africa.

    • jewamongyou says:

      I’m in Madagascar now (just left Tana) and my impression is that most Merina have more African in them than Ravalomanana. Many of them are quite good-looking people though – and some hideous looking as well.

  12. Pandji Soeardi says:

    I am Indonesian, I have read news that about 1200 years ago, people from South Sumatra (from Sriwijaya Kingdom) travelled to Madagascar. There were small group of women from South Sumatra sailing 6400km in the purpose of Trading. Sriwijaya was the biggest and powerful Kingdom spreading their influence very far away starting to cover Indo China. So there are some similarities from DNA (although very few), and the culture. There are many indications showing that they are inhabitants originating from Siriwijaya Kingdom, in language, culture, and biological. This is as researched by Eijkman Institute for Molecular Biology in Jakarta (quoted on 16th April 2012).

  13. 23wwaa says:

    This is an old post, but I think the whole “why didn’t blacks reach madagascar first?” is really an odd point about black intelligence. What’s often overlooked is that modern africans where very recent arrivals in the area, going by the bantu and nilotic migrations. And this also ties into the fact that until very recently in historical times, much of SS africa was sparsely populated. Until just the past few thousand years, the lower half of Africa was very sparsely populated and consisted mainly of small, scattered groups like the pygmies, khoisan and other unknown populations. The descendants of typical black africans were largely confined to west africa and the sahara (the former of which they were also largely recent arrivals to.) I’ve also heard it argued that arabs brought africans to Madagascar, but the point still remains that they were very recent arrivals to east africa, so it could be that arabs arrived around the same time africans themselves did.

    Note that the final phase of the bantu expansion is from 0-1,000 AD, the same exact range when SE asians made it to Madagascar: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bantu_expansion

    But it also begs asking- why did it take until just the past couple thousand years for humans to make it to Madagascar? Now that, I don’t know, but as things currently stand, modern SS africans did not really live in the region until the same time SE asians and arabs arrived, so it’s not entirely accurate to act like they were just sitting around in that area for millenia without ever considering to sail.

  14. 23wwaa says:

    Haha, I just realized someone else pointed out the same exact thing a few years ago. Sorry. I didn’t expect someone even would though, since it’s honestly very much overlooked when this is brought up. You are correct it should be asked why no other human populations ever made it to Madagascar, though. But then, why did southeast asians, from all the way across the indian ocean, make it before more developed civilizations who were near or along the indian ocean, like the indians or arabs or ethiopians, who had civilizations stretching back before them?

    • jewamongyou says:

      Yes, but those populations were not right next door to the island as Africans (negro or not) were. These other civilizations might have reached Madagascar, but didn’t find it necessary to populate it; they had other, more attractive, lands closer to home.

  15. 23wwaa says:

    Well, I guess it’s more of a question of why the civilizations bordering the indian ocean never really explored down the region until quite recently, not just Madagascar. All of them were beaten to it by nomadic southeast asians. They certainly had the technology and resources to explore down the coast of eastern africa, but that never really occurred until the early middle ages following the rise of islam, which gave rise to the Swahili states up and down the coast, which certainly weren’t close to home. Aside from the lost group of jews that gave rise to the lemba, that portion of SS africa was virtually untouched by outsiders.

  16. Lynette S says:

    My family on my mother’s side is descended from those early austronesian settlers of Madagascar. We have the migratory, mitochondrial DNA marker (Q1’2) to prove it and found this out courtesy of National Geographic. My great-great-great-grandmother was a Malagasy plantation worker in the Seychelles on my French great-great-great-grandfather’s spice plantation (which we sort of knew, minus the Malagasy part; we thought they were both French). Given that 80% of the people with the Q1’2 marker live in Papua New Guinea and the surrounding islands, including the aboriginal people of the Torres Strait Islands, I’m going to go ahead and say, yes, the “Indonesian Eve” theory of the earliest population of Madagascar has solid merit. :-) I should also point out that subsequent european marriages mean that I am a light-skinned, blue-eyed woman (with very dark hair, mind you) living in the united states with a malagasy/austronesian genetic marker. Human migration is a very cool thing.

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