Located off the coast of Southeast Africa, it is the world's fourth-largest island with a total area of 592,800 square kilometers. Neighboring islands include the French island of Reunion and Mauritius to the east, as well as the state of Comoros and the French territory of Mayotte to the north west. The population of Madagascar was estimated at 25 million inhabitants in 2017.
Stone tools in the northeast indicate that Madagascar was visited by foragers around 2,000 years before our current era. It is considered today to have been the destination of one of the last major Human landmasses settlement on Earth. Early settlers reached the "Great Island" (la "Grande Ile" in French) in outrigger canoes from southern Borneo, Indonesia. Arab traders then reached the island between the 7th and 9th centuries. A wave of southeastern African Bantu migrants also settled later in the island around 1000 AD. They introduced the iconic zebu, a type of long-horned humped cattle which now massively populate Madagascar. The Merina people, major ethnic group composing today’s Madagascar’s population, may have arrived in the central highlands between 600 and 1,000 years ago. In the early centuries following European settlement (16th century), Madagascar gradually turned into an important transoceanic trading hub connecting ports of the Indian Ocean. The French established trading posts along the east coast in the late 17th century while wealth generated by maritime trade spurred the rise of organized kingdoms on the island. After more than a century of French presence, the island obtained full independence on 26 June 1960. Since then, Madagascar has gone through four Republics, the latest being established in 2010.
Madagascar territory comprises the main island, also called the "Great Island" and numerous smaller peripheral islands. Its highest peaks rise from three prominent highland massifs: Maromokotro (2,876 meters) in the Tsaratanana Massif is the island's highest point, followed by Boby Peak (2,658 meters) in the Andringitra Massif, and Tsiafajavona (2,643 meters) in the Ankaratra Massif. The western and southern sides, located in the rain shadow of the central highlands, are home to dry deciduous forests, spiny forests, deserts and bushes. The grassy plains composing the western part reveal stony massifs, patches of deciduous forest, and baobab trees.
From November to April comes the hot rainy season made of frequent cyclones / typhoons. They result from combined southeastern trade winds and northwestern monsoons. A cooler dry season lasts from May to October.
88 million years ago, following the breakup of supercontinent Gondwana, Madagascar separated from the Indian peninsula bringing native plants and animals to evolve in relative isolation. Considered as a unique biodiversity hotspot, number of native plants are used for their medicinal virtues. Similarly to its flora, Madagascar's fauna is notoriously diverse and about 90% wildlife is considered endemic. More than 100 species of Lemurs, listed by Conservation International as "Madagascar's flagship mammal species", are only present in the "Great Island". A number of other mammals, including the cat-like fossa, are also endemic to Madagascar. The island is home to 2/3 of the world's chameleon species, including the smallest known. According to some scientists, Madagascar may be the origin of all chameleons. However, the island's extraordinary diverse ecosystems and unique wildlife are today threatened by human activities as well as more and more exposed to climate change effects.
Malagasy cuisine reflects the diverse influences of Southeast Asian, African, Indian, Chinese and European culinary traditions. From North to South, today’s Malagasi cuisine usually consists of rice ("vary") served with an accompaniment ("laoka"). "Laoka" varieties may be vegetarian or include meat, and typically feature a sauce flavored with such ingredients as ginger, onion, garlic, tomato, vanilla, coconut milk, salt, curry powder, green peppercorns or, less commonly, other spices or herbs. In parts of the arid south and west, pastoral families may replace rice with maize, cassava, or curds made from fermented zebu milk. The island produces a number of crustacea, which most famous are the mud crabs ("crabes de mangrove"), but also seafood such as lobsters, shrimps and tunas. The "Great Island" is also home to some of the world's finest chocolates as well as spices, such as cloves, pepper and the famous Bourbon vanilla.