A Short History

April 2009 9781850659471 288pp
Temporarily out of stock


Two thousand years ago, Madagascar was probably uninhabited. An isl and twice the size of Great Britain, it was home to unique species of flora and fauna that were undisturbed by humanity until the first navigators landed on its shores. Since then, the changes imposed by humans on the wide range of environments to be found in this mini-continent have formed one of the threads of Madagascar’s history. No one knows where the island’s first inhabitants came from, but there was a strong connection from the earliest period to the islands of South East Asia – today’s Indonesia. Austronesians, Arabs, Portuguese, and Dutch sailors and traders successively dominated the sea-lanes around Madagascar, some of the world’s oldest long-distance shipping routes. Over the centuries, Madagascar developed its own distinctive language and cultural systems, absorbing migrants from every shore of the Indian Ocean. In the nineteenth century, Britain and France projected a new type of global power that had a major effect on the island, which became a French colony from 1896 to 1960. Throughout this colourful and often turbulent history, the tension between the formation of a highly original culture and the absorption of immigrants, the development of strong social hierarchies, a long experience of slavery and the slave trade, have all had effects that are still felt today. Now home to 17 million people, Madagascar is one of the world’s most fascinating and least-known societies


‘Stephen Ellis and Solofo Randrianja have spent a lifetime studying Madagascar and have written a definitive history. Authoritative and readable, this book is the perfect introduction for those who know little about this vast island and, for those who do, they challenge the accepted versions of its past.’ — Richard Dowden, Director of the Royal Africa Society.

‘This is an excellent general history of Madagascar. It is an enjoyable, erudite and excellent study of the world’s most fascinating and enigmatic island.’ — Luke Freeman, London School of Economics

‘Colleagues in African history, this is the book you have been waiting for to bring you up to speed on Madagascar and its history, a topic so important and integrated into that of East Africa and the western Indian Ocean, yet so poorly covered in our professional training. Madagascar is your key reference, your source for learning and a starting point for further explorations. … Put it on your shelf, read it, study it, teach it.’ — Journal of African History


Solofo Randrianja is Professor of History at the University of Toamasina, Madagascar.

Stephen Ellis was Desmond Tutu Professor at the Faculty of Social Sciences at the VU University, Amsterdamand a senior researcher at the African Studies Centre, Leiden. He wrote groundbreaking books on the ANC, the Liberian Civil War, religion and politics in Africa, and the history of Madagascar.  

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