Located off the East Coast of Africa, Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world, and is well-known for having animals, birds and plants that don't exist anywhere else on earth. Due to its location, Madagascar has been in the path of many tropical cyclones, the destruction leaving thousands homeless over the years. In 1896 Madagascar was colonized by the French who ruled until independence in 1960. Ten years later the military seized power under Didier Ratsiraka, who was followed by Marc Ravalomanana in 2002 and Andry Rajoelina in 2011. The unpredictable political situation here has left the country isolated and deprived of foreign aid. With over 70% of the people living on under a $1 a day, Malagasies compete for agricultural land and their nature reserves, which are also a major tourist attraction, are being put under pressure.
Despite the political instability, the diversity in Madagascar is unique. The people of the country arrived through the Indian Ocean trade routes. Now making up about 90% of the population here, the Malagasy people can then be divided into 18 different sub-groups. Generally, however, Malagasy people are an equal mix between East African and Austronesian roots, although some have more African, Arab or European ancestry than others. There are also some Chinese, Indian and Comorian minorities living on the island and the official languages are Malagasy and French.
Malagasy culture is noted for its taboo and magic, with nature taking on supernatural attributes. In this sense, religion plays an important role in Malagasy life. With a vital link between the living and ancestors, it is traditional to pay a lot of attention to the dead and put a effort into the celebration of ancestral tombs. Malagasies also share a worldview that values family and community, making kinship ties an extremely important aspect of life. The arts in Madagascar are most commonly expressed through poetry and proverbs, which have been handed down through communities for centuries. The works of writers such as Jean Joseph Rabearivelo (considered Africa’s first modern poet) and Elie Rajaonarison are examples of Malagasy poetry. Similarly, musical heritage here is rich and diverse, like many other aspects of the island.