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.
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. 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.