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Julian: Welcome to Madagascar.
Marty: Mada-who-ah?

Julian: No. Not who-ah. As-car.

A big island east of Mozambique, Madagascar is a unique country. Once upon a time, a long ago, the Indian subcontinent was firmly attached to Africa. They of course split, and most of the subcontinent drifted off to bang into Asia...but some bits and pieces of the old united continent remained, and Madagascar is the largest. Since this happened at about the same time as the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event (you know, the one that killed off the dinosaurs and something like 75% of all species then living), this meant that when life got back on its feet, the island developed its own biodiversity, completely different of the rest of the world.

The country is also unique culturally in Africa. Unlike the rest of the continent, Madagascar was settled by the Malagasy people, speakers of an Austronesian language, specifically part of the Malayo-Polynesian group who had come across the Indian Ocean in ships, much as their Polynesian relatives crossed the Pacific. The closest relatives to the Malagasy language are on Borneo (of all places). In any case, the Malagasy brought with them crops and livestock (e.g. bananas, taro, and pigs) from Southeast Asia, which is climatically quite similar to Madagascar and East Africa; it is hypothesized that contact with the Malagasy and their crops helped the Bantu colonize eastern and southern Africa.

The island has had all kinds of governments: a bunch of tribes, a kingdom, part of The French Colonial Empire and it was also administrated by the Vichy regime. Then it was taken by the Allies in the Battle of Madagascar.

After independence in 1960 it was governed by Philibert Tsiranana who, despite trying to disguise an authoritarian government as some sort of “benevolent schoolmaster” type of president, brought development to the country. However, his unpopular government was toppled and the country became an isolationist Soviet satellite until 1991.

A popular uprising in 2009 eventually devolved into the military taking command of the country and putting Andry Rajoelina, mayor of Antananarivo, in charge (the youngest head of state in Africa, not even having 40). The government is not recognized internationally, being regarded as an illegitimate coup d’état. The country was even suspended from the African Union, which is weird, considering the fact that a LOT of other presidents in Africa (including the actual president of the Union) are dictators too. Maybe they just like to keep the status quo.

Economically, Madagascar has gone from bad to worse, and most of the country barely lives with less than US$2 per day. Most of the money is made of the tourism industry; considering the island is like a completely different world, it's understandable.

Even though the country was a French colony, it seems the people forced themselves to forget all about it, because only a few people speaks French nowadays, except for some of the government. Most of the population speaks Malagasy, the local language. Theorically you can still manage with it, though.

World War II scholars might know the island for the Madagascar Plan. During the first years of the war, the Nazi government suggested that all the Jews in Europe could be deported to Madagascar, where they could presumably form their own Zionist society isolated from the rest of the world (with supervision of Germany, of course). Eventually it was all dropped, maybe because it sounded too cruel.

And no, there are no penguins on Madagascar. Brazilian tourists are also recommended not to cough or-SHUT. DOWN. EVERYTHING.

The Malagasy flag

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