Origin and Evolutionary History of the Malagasy


The uniqueness of Malagasy people comes from a balanced admixture between deep‐rooted branches of the human evolutionary history, the Southeast Asian and the African branch. The time and the place of origin of the admixture event have been long elusive because of controversial results, but new insights from multiple disciplines are providing a crossroad for an integrated theory. A complex pattern is emerging, which traces the superimposition of cultural and biological layers of different origin upon a preexisting common substratum. A connective role for the two main ethnic components was most likely played by Malays in historical times. However, the genetic and lexical legacy with mainland Africa and proto‐Austronesians suggests that a former admixture is likely to have occurred before human groups settled in Madagascar. Postcontact demographic dynamics and an initial multiethnic composition of migrants could be further confounding elements that make the search of univocal ancestries inconclusive.

Key Concepts:

  • Multidisciplinary contributions are giving new insights on the evolutionary history of the Malagasy.

  • The Malagasy are an admixed population with unique features.

  • The Malagasy admixture is the result of the combination of two main components, Indonesian and African.

  • The origin of Malagasy admixture can be traced back to the contacts between people surfing the waves of expansion of Austronesian and Bantu languages.

  • The Malays have played a crucial role to connect Austronesian and Bantu people in historical times.

  • The time and the place of origin of the admixture event are still uncertain.

  • A former admixture is likely to have occurred in mainland Africa before human groups settled in Madagascar.

Keywords: Malagasy; Madagascar; Austronesian languages; Bantu languages; admixture; human evolution; human genome

Figure 1.

Map of the distribution of the main Malagasy ethnic groups across Madagascar.

Figure 2.

Admixture proportions in Malagasy population subdivided by parental inheritance (mtDNA, NRY) and ethnic group (Highlanders, Côtiers). Diversity values (Nei's I) are overwritten on pie charts Modified from Tofanelli et al. .

Figure 3.

(a) and (b) Most likely place of origin of Malagasy NRY lineages based on the ranking of DHS values (only the lowest values are reported). The circled areas denote the lack of key reference data. (c) and (d) Most likely place of origin of Malagasy mtDNA lineages based on the ranking of DHS values. From Tofanelli et al. .



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Tofanelli, Sergio, and Bertoncini, Stefania(Oct 2010) Origin and Evolutionary History of the Malagasy. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0022885]