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Most historians agree that Madagascar was first settled about 1800 years ago. It was first inhabited by Malayo-Indonesian sea-farers. European settlers would first begin arriving in the 1500's. Over the next few centuries, the English, Portuguese, and French would all try to dominate and colonize the island, and all failed, except the French who were able to establish some colonies as early as the 1600's. By 1904, the French would successfully gain full control of Madagascar.
In 1947, there was a revolt against French rule. This revolt was met with French troops crushing the opposition, and killing between 11,000 and 90,000 people in the process. However, following World War II, the world took note that colonialism must end, and in 1958 the Republic of Madagascar became autonomous within the French Community. By 1960, it would be a completely independent State.
Madagascar is located off the southeast coast of the continent of Africa in the Indian Ocean. It is the fourth largest island in the world - only Greenland, New Guinea, and Borneo are larger. Madagascar has an area of 226,917 square miles - almost the size of Texas!
The island has several tropical rainforests as well as drier regions which are home to grasslands and desert-like vegetation. Madagascar will receive anywhere from 120 inches of rainfall in the rainforest areas each year to 15 inches of rain per year in the dry areas. The temperature is hot in the coastal areas and becomes cooler as the elevation increases toward the center on the island.
The island is home to a large variety of plant and wildlife. As a matter of fact, a large percentage of the island's plant and wildlife can only be found on Madagascar. Many people are familiar with the lemurs of Madagascar, but there are many more animals that call Madagascar home.
The plant life on the island is also very unusual. Many people recognize the Baobab tree, which is found on the African continent or Australia, but there are more Baobab trees on Madagascar than anywhere else in the world. It's also known as "the tree of life" to the Malagasy people because they believe it has medicinal properties. Madagascar is the leading producer of raffia, which comes from palm trees and they produce about 80% of the world's vanilla.
The capital of Madagascar is Antananarivo, which is located at the center of the island.
Madagascar is truly a beautiful and diverse land - and the people are no different. While the world has poured millions of dollars into studying the unique plant and wildlife of the island, the people have been all but forgotten. But the people are why the Lord has called the Longs to go to Madagascar!
Madagascar is home to nearly 23 million people. The average income for a Malagasy is $1.68 per day and 70% of the population would be considered malnourished. One missionary said that the typical Malagasy family consists of a single mom and her 6 children.
While about 50% of the population claim Christianity as their religion, in actuality they have integrated their traditional religion with Christianity. Malagasy people have a deep respect for their family - and ancestry worship is commonly practiced. Family tombs are usually spacious and well cared for. One of the rituals among the Malagasy people is the "famadihana" or the "turning of the bones." In the famadihana, ancestral remains are exhumed, bathed, and reshroud in an expensive silk, then paraded among well-wishers in a great celebration. The idea behind the ritual is to reaffirm the connection between the living and the dead, and to ensure the protection afforded by the ancestors. There are several different versions of this ritual, but the consistent factor in all is the worship of ancestors.
In a land where the living barely have what is needed to survive, death is the focal point, and the only hope that people have is in their dead relatives.
God has not forgotten the Malagasy People! The hope of Madagascar lies in Jesus Christ! Only Jesus can heal this broken and forgotten people, and it is our privilege to be called to take His message to them!