Madagascar: a history revealed
The English-speaking world has long been ignorant about the history and background of the world’s fourth largest island. Madagascar is primarily famous for harbouring the world’s most unusual and most endangered flora and fauna, from lemurs to giant tortoises, and much more. Unbelievably, this huge island was uninhabited until only 2000 years ago, which is very curious, given that it lies very close to a continent where the very first traces of human existence on this planet have been recorded.
The first inhabitants did not, in fact, come from Africa, but from distant Indonesia, in boats hugging the coastline around the Indian ocean. They were the sole occupants until migrants eventually arrived from East Africa, gradually creating an ethnic mix that would ignite many struggles in later centuries.
Mervyn Brown’s A History of Madagascar has filled a gaping hole for English-speaking readers. Even though Britain had been immensely influential in the development of Malagasy society in pre-colonial days, especially under the auspices of the London Missionary Society, very little had been recorded and published in the English language. Mervyn Brown (whom we had the privilege of meeting at a recent celebration of 50 years of Malagasy independence) has been uniquely qualified to write this history, having served two spells as British Ambassador to Madagascar, learned the local language and studied its history in depth (mainly via French written sources). The book is full of fascinating detail and, with his skilful use of historical narrative language, he engages his reader as he tells the story of each phase of the island’s history.