What Ancient Civilization Lived in Madagascar?

Madagascar is a beautiful island nation located off the southeast coast of Africa. Known for its unique flora and fauna, Madagascar has a rich history that spans back thousands of years. One of the most fascinating aspects of Madagascar’s history is its ancient civilizations.

The First Inhabitants

The first humans to arrive in Madagascar are believed to have come from Borneo and Indonesia around 2,000 years ago. These early settlers were skilled navigators who traveled across the Indian Ocean in outrigger canoes. They brought with them their culture, language, and traditions, which would shape the early civilization of Madagascar.

The Kingdom of Imerina

One of the most powerful ancient civilizations in Madagascar was the Kingdom of Imerina. This kingdom was founded in the 16th century by a Malagasy king named Andrianjaka.

The capital city of Imerina was Antananarivo, which means “City of a Thousand Warriors.” The kingdom was known for its strong military and centralized government.

The Merina People

The Merina people were the dominant ethnic group in the Kingdom of Imerina. They were skilled farmers who cultivated rice and other crops on terraced hillsides. The Merina people also had a rich oral tradition, with stories passed down through generations.

Slavery in Madagascar

Slavery was an integral part of life in ancient Madagascar. The Merina people practiced slavery as a means to acquire labor for farming and other tasks. Slaves were often captured during raids on rival kingdoms or purchased from Arab traders.

  • Slaves were considered property and had no rights.
  • They could be bought and sold at will.
  • Many slaves were forced to work in harsh conditions with little food or shelter.

The Arrival of Europeans

In the late 19th century, European powers began to colonize Madagascar. The French established a protectorate over the island in 1896, which lasted until Madagascar gained its independence in 1960. During this period of colonization, the Merina people were forced to adapt to European ways of life.


Madagascar’s ancient civilizations have left a lasting impact on the island’s culture and traditions. From the skilled navigators who first settled on the island to the powerful Kingdom of Imerina, Madagascar’s history is rich and diverse. Today, visitors can explore the ruins of ancient cities and learn about this fascinating period in Madagascar’s past.