Madagascar Ethnic Groups

Madagascar has over 20 ethnic tribes:

Antaifasy: The Antaifasy people live in the southeastern part of Madagascar. The name directly translates to “sand people” because they live in mostly sandy areas. The biggest source of income is from fishing. The people live near beaches, and in small groups. The areas in which they live are not normally visited by tourists. They follow the traditional culture of Malgasy people. They make up about 1.2% of all Madagascar’s population.

Antaimoro: Meaning “People of the Coast” the Antaimoro people reside on the southeastern coast of Madagascar. They are also predominantly fishermen. They also grow rice in the rich coastal soil. They live densely populated in connecting communities along the coast. There are approximately 350,000 Antaimoro people.

Antaisaka: Named “People of the Valley” these people are decedents of warriors of the Sakalava tribe. They are farmers, growing mainly rice, bananas, and coffee. They make up 5.7% of Madagascar’s population.

Antankarana: This name means “People of the tsingy.” Tsingy is a type of limestone that is native to their territory. They inhabit the most northern tip of the island.

Antamboaka: This is the smallest tribe of Madagascar, making up only .4% of the total population. Their name translates to “Those of the People.” Their of Arabian descent and are nearly all Muslim.

Antrandroy: “People of Thorns” They live in southern Madagascar.

Antanosy: “People of the Island” this tribe lives in southeastern Madagascar. Another small tribe, they make up only 2% of the total population. They consist of farmers, relying on rice harvest, honey, fruit, and reeds.

Bara: The Bara tribe makes up 3.3% of the population. They live in the southern part of the central highlands. They are cattle raisers and farmers. In the Bara tribe it is traditional for a man to have many wives. Woman have the lowest ranking in society.

Betsileo: Meaning “The Many Invincibles” this tribe makes up 12% of the population. They live in the central highlands of Madagascar. They are considered to be the best and wisest farmers in Madagascar, making use of irrigation and rice paddies. The tribe is very superstitious and traditional.

Betsimisaraka: This tribe is another large tribe, making up 14.9% of the population. They live in the east and northeastern coast. Currently they are farmers, but historically they have been known as pirates. In large boats they would pillage the Comoro Islands, north of Madagascar.

Bezanozano: Residing in the central and eastern parts of Madagascar, this tribe is believed to be one of the oldest tribes.

Mahafaly: The name most likely translates to “Those Who Make Happy.” This tribe lives on the southwestern plains of the Betioky-Ampamihy area.

Makoa: This ethnic group of people were originally brought to Madagascar as slaves. They are sometimes considered a subgroup of the Vezo tribe, even though they hold their own identity and live in mostly western Madagascar, rather than the southwest.

Merina: “People of the Highlands” populate the central plateau of Madagascar. The Merina make up the majority of the educated middle-class and make their living as businessmen and government officials.

Sakalava: “People of the Long Valleys” live spread out across the western side of Madagascar. There are currently around 700,000 people in the group. They are one of the most diverse groups, having their own distinct culture and traditions made up from there mixed ancestory.

Sihanaka: “People of the Swamps.” This is another small tribe of fishermen and farmers, making up 2.5% of the total population. They reside the northern part of Madagascar. They are similar to the Merina people, but not as well educated.

Tanala: “People of the Forest” are known for their woodsmen and hunting skills. They live in southeastern Madagascar, but are separated from the coast by other ethnic groups

Tsimihety: “Those Who Never Cut Their Hair” live in the mountain ranges of central Madagascar. They have characterized by having large families due to a high birth rate and steady food supply of rice grown on their land.

Vezo: “Fishing People” have a far range of population on the west and southwestern coasts. They are skilled fishermen and boatmen; both men and women are contribute. The sea is seen as sacred.

Zafimaniry: Live in the forest mountain areas of the central highlands. They are most known for their woodwork and art.