Madagascar, the third largest island in the world, is situated to the SE. of Africa, and is about four times as large as England and Wales. It is in 12° 2' - 25o 35' S. lat. and 42° - 51° 40' E. long. ; length, 978 miles ; greatest breadth, 350 miles; area, 230,000 sq. m. It consists of two great divisions - (1) an elevated interior region, almost central, from 3000 to 5000 feet above the sea ; and (2) a comparatively level country surrounding the high land, not much exceeding 600 feet in altitude, although there are lofty mountains extending to the SE. corner of the island. The interior highland comprises nearly half the total area ; the highest mountain-mass, Ankaratra (9000 feet), is probably an ancient volcano. The lower region of Madagascar is fertile and well wooded, especially on the eastern side of the island, though a large district in the south is barren. From the SE. to the NW. and N. a series of extinct volcanic craters has been traced, and there are many hot springs. There are fine bays and harbours on the NW. coast. All round the island is a nearly unbroken belt of dense forest, 10 to 40 miles across, and most largely developed in the NE. The flora of Madagascar is very rich and varied, and contains large numbers of valuable timber trees. Three-fourths of the species of plants are peculiar to Madagascar, showing that the island is of very great antiquity. The fauna contains several exceptional and ancient forms of life ; it is the home of the Lemurs, including the Aye-aye, as also of the chamAeleons. The remains of an immense struthious bird (Aepyomis) have been discovered, as well as of an extinct hippopotamus. The Malagasy people appear to be mainly derived from the Malayo-Polynesian stock, with some Melanesian, African, and Arab admixture. The Hovas, the most civilised and powerful tribe, inhabit the central province of Imerina. The Sakalavas are found along the entire west coast. Although there are many dialectic differences, the language of the whole country is substantially one, and is evidently nearly allied to those of the Malayan and Melanesian islands. The pop. of Madagascar is probably about 3,000,000. In their heathen state they are very immoral and untruthful, and cruel in war ; but they are also courageous, affectionate, and firm in friendship, law-abiding and loyal, courteous and hospitable. The capital, Antananarivo, has a pop. of about 100,000. The chief ports are Tamatave, on the east coast, and Mojanga, on the north-west. Amb6himanga in Imerina, and Fianarants6a in Betsileo, are important places in the interior.
The principal exports (£165,000 per annum) of Madagascar are cattle, hides, gum-copal, india-rubber, rafia bast, rice, ebony, and other valuable woods; coffee, sugar, and vanilla are also cultivated. The chief imports (£165,000 per annum) are cotton goods, ironmongery, crockery, and rum. The principal trade is from the eastern ports to Mauritius and Reunion, and there is also now an increasing trade from the western side with South Africa. Iron is abundant, copper and tin exist, lead, silver, and gold are mined, sulphur is plentiful. The people excel in weaving, in straw-work, in carpentry, and in the working of gold and silver.
Madagascar was known to the Greeks as Menuthias ; it is first mentioned by Marco Polo as Madeigascar or Magastar; but the first European who saw the island appears to have been the Portuguese Fernam Soares in 1506. The Dutch formed short-lived settlements ; the French, who made vain but persistent efforts for nearly two centuries to maintain military posts on the east coast, hold the islands of Ste Marie (east coast) and Nosibe (north-west coast); and in 1890 the English government formally acknowledged the French protectorate of Madagascar, but this has never been agreed to by the Malagasy government. Up to the middle of the 17th century Madagascar was divided into a number of independent chieftaincies ; about that time, however, the warlike Sakalavas made themselves masters of the western half of the island. But in the early part of the 19th century the Hovas threw off the Sakalava yoke, and, with the aid of English arms and discipline, made themselves masters of almost the whole of Madagascar. Radama I. abolished the export slave-trade, and from 1820 encouraged English missionaries. But under Queen Ranavalona I. the missionaries and Europeans generally were obliged to leave (1836), and a severe persecution of the native Christians ensued. Madagascar was reopened to Europeans at the accession of her son Radama II. Queen Ranavalona II., and her husband, the prime-minister, identified themselves with Christianity in 1868; idols were burnt, and masses of the people put themselves under instruction ; and erelong about 1600 Protestant Christian congregations had been formed, with about 280,000 adherents, besides 1300 schools, with 100,000 scholars. The Roman Catholics number some 50,000. In 1883 the French invaded Madagascar, and two years afterwards it became a French protectorate. Another French expedition in 1895 forced Queen Ranavalona III. to confirm the treaty of 1885. In 1896 the country was declared a French colony; and in 1897 the queen was deposed and exiled. The French regime, peaceful and on the whole prosperous, has not been favourable to Protestant missions, nor to British trade with Madagascar. See works on Madagascar by Ellis (1838, 1858, and 1870), Sibree (1870-96), Oliver (18S6), Grandidier (1876-1902), Dawson (1895), Foucart (1899), Killer (1901), and Matthews (1904).