The rich Malagasy culture: Customs & traditions in Madagascar

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Madagascar is a land of striking natural beauty and profound cultural diversity. Nestled off the southeastern coast of Africa, this enchanting island nation is renowned not only for its unique flora and fauna but also for its rich tapestry of customs, traditions, and cultural heritage. 

From the intricate rituals of the Malagasy people to the vibrant festivals that punctuate the year, Madagascar’s cultural landscape is a vivid mosaic shaped by centuries of history, diverse ethnic influences, and a deep connection to the land and its ancestors. In this article, we delve into the fascinating world of Madagascar’s culture! 

Local Mitsio fishermen in Madagascar

Local Mitsio fishermen in Madagascar

Ethnic groups in Madagascar: All shades of Malagasy culture

The diverse ethnic groups which make up the Malagasy people, divided into 18 ‘tribes’, are united around the common Malagasy language and traditional beliefs in the importance of kinship and the veneration of their ancestors.

Malagasy cuisine: A delicious part of Madagascar’s culture

The cuisine of Madagascar reflects its diverse cultural influences, blending flavors from Africa, Asia, and Europe. Central to Malagasy meals is rice, often accompanied by a variety of flavourful dishes including fresh seafood, zebu meat, and an array of vegetables.  

The use of spices such as ginger, garlic, and curry add a distinctive taste to the food, while traditional cooking methods and locally sourced ingredients highlight the island’s rich culinary heritage. Food is not just sustenance in Madagascar; it is a vital part of social gatherings and celebrations, embodying the warmth and hospitality of the Malagasy people. 

Discover 5 traditional dishes of Madagascar!

Madagascar arts and crafts

Crafts including raffia weaving, woodcarving and silk weaving – particularly the weaving of the silk lamba, the island’s national dress – can be traced back to the very first inhabitants of the island and are central to Madagascar’s cultural history.

The traditional woodwork of the Zafimaniry people of Madagascar were considered so important that in 2008 UNESCO included them on its List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

Music of Madagascar: The rhythm of Africa and Indonesia

Music plays an important role in the lives of the Malagasy people with beats and rhythms echoing the music of Africa and Indonesia and often played on traditional instruments or sung with only hand clapping accompaniment.

Malagasy religion: A mix of identities

In Madagascar, religion plays a significant role in the cultural and social fabric of the nation. According to Report on International Religious Freedom for 2022 in Madagascar, an overwhelming majority of the population, 85.3%, identify as Christian. This includes various denominations such as Roman Catholicism, Presbyterian, Lutherans and Anglicans 

A smaller yet substantial segment, 4.5 %, adhere to traditional beliefs, which are often intertwined with ancestral worship and local customs. The Muslim community, although a minority, makes up 3% of the population, contributing to the country’s religious diversity.  

Additionally, 6.9 %of the populace claim no religious affiliation, reflecting a spectrum of secular and non-religious perspectives within the society. 


Languages of Madagascar: Learn Malagasy

Seize the opportunity on the mainland or on Tsarabanjina to really get a sense of what makes the people of this region so special.

Here are some Malagasy phrases you might find useful during your visit:

  • Welcome: Tongasoa
  • Good morning: Mbolatsara/ Salama
  • How are you? : Karakory/In vao vao?
  • Goodbye: Veloma/Samitsara
  • Have a nice trip: Soavadia
  • Goodnight: Samy mandry mifoha
  • Enjoy your breakfast/ launch/dinner: Mazotoa misakafo
  • Slowly: Mora Mora
  • Thank you: Misaotra
  • Thank you so much: Misaotra Betsaka
  • Best wishes: Mirary soa/ Tsara tsara
  • Island: Nosy
  • Fish: Laoko
  • Rice: Vary
  • Lemurs: Komba/Maki

Curious to find out more about Madagascar: visit the island with our travel guide! 

Discover our luxury Malagasy lodge: Constance Tsarabanjina!

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