Also known as: Hova; Malagasy

The Merina are one of the indigenous peoples of Madagascar, now known as Malagasy. Although Madagascar is geographically far closer to Africa than to Asia, the cultural and genetic origins of the Merina and other Malagasy peoples lie in Indonesia. During the nineteenth century the Merina became the dominant ethnic group in Madagascar, conquering most of the island before being unseated by the French, who invaded the island in 1895.

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Traditional Culture(1820)Expand All +
Belief +

Supernatural Beings

Nature Spirits Present, but not a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 387-490
Sibree (1870), pp. 373-400
Nature god(s) Present, but not a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 369, 387-490
Sibree (1870), pp. 373-400
Ancestral spirits Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 392, 393
Sibree (1870), pp. 393-394
Deified ancestor(s) Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 359-360, 364
Sibree (1870), pp. 393-394
God(s) Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 387-490

Supernatural Punishment

Supernatural punishment for impiety Present (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 389, 397-398
Campbell (1992)

Afterlife and Creation

One's actions while living can affect the nature of one's afterlife One factor in determining one's afterlife (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 248
Bloch (1968), pp. 100
The actions of others after one has died can affect the nature of one's afterlife One factor in determining one's afterlife (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 255-256, 430
Myth of humanity’s creation Absent (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 396, 398
Ellis (1838A), pp. 394-395
Primordial pair Absent (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 396
Culture hero(es) Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 89-91

General Features

Forces of nature are controlled by or imbued with the supernatural Present (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 392

Classes of Tapu

Social hierarchy tapu Present (Source)
Graeber (1995)
Resource management tapu Present (Source)
Graeber (1995)
Kinship tapu Present (Source)
Graeber (1995)


Mana as a spiritual or religious concept Absent (Source)
Blust (2007)
Keesing (1984)
Blevins (2008)
Mana as a personal quality Absent (Source)
Blust (2007)
Keesing (1984)
Blevins (2008)
Mana related to social influence or technical skill Absent (Source)
Practice +

General Supernatural Practices

Headhunting Absent (Source)
Lebar (1972), pp. 2
Costly sacrifices and offerings Present (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 418-419, 429
Largest religious community Whole society or larger (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 359-360
Campbell (1992)
Political and religious differentiation Considerable overlap between religious and political leaders (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 359-360


Tooth pulling Absent from culture (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 145-200, 277-289
Scarification Present in culture, but not as a rite or feature of a rite (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 285
Piercing Present in culture, but not as a rite or feature of a rite (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 283
Tattooing Absent from culture (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 285
Genital cutting Present in the culture as a rite or feature of a rite (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 176-177
Bloch (1986), pp. 48-49
Social Environment +
Population 750,000 (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 114
Larson (2000), pp. xvii, 81
Population of largest political community 100,000 or more (Source)
Larson (2000), pp. xvii, 23, 81
Campbell (1991)
Importance of Patrilateral descent Medium (Source)
Bloch (1986), pp. 34-35
Importance of Matrilateral descent Medium (Source)
Bloch (1986), pp. 34-35
Kinship system Hawaiian (Source)
Kottak (1971), pp. 134
Polygamy Limited polygyny (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 167-168
Sibree (1870), pp. 195-196
Marital residence Patrilocal or virilocal - with husband's kin (Source)
Kottak (1971), pp. 134


(No) external warfare Common, at least every five years (Source)
Larson (2000), pp. 23-24, 74, 93, 100, 217-222
Conflict within community High (Source)
Bloch (1986), pp. 19
Sibree (1870)
(No) internal warfare Occasional, at least every generation (Source)
Larson (2000), pp. 23-24, 93, 121, 150-151
Isolation +
Contact with other cultures Frequent, through trade, warfare, travel, etc. (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 121
Distance to closest landmass inhabited by a different culture (km) 0.0 (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 114-115, 118
Distance to nearest continent 619.3 (Source)
Kottak (1971), pp. 133
Daft Logic Distance Calculator (2014)
Pre-Austronesian population Possible: Disputed / ambiguous evidence of human occupation prior to Austronesian settlement (Source)
Blench (2007)
Hindu / Buddhist influence on supernatural belief No evidence of influence but in a region where contact is likely (Source)
Adelaar (1995A)
Islamic influence on supernatural belief Evidence of influence (Source)
Ellis (1838B), pp. 2
Ellis (1838A), pp. 445
Christian influence on supernatural belief No evidence of influence but in a region where contact is likely (Source)
Larson (2000), pp. 49-50
Subsistence and Economy +

Land-based means of subsistence

Animal husbandry as a source of food Major (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 45-46, 200-213, 264
Land-based hunting performed by individuals Minor (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 200-213
Land-based gathering Medium (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 200-213
Land-based hunting performed by one or more groups Medium (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 45-46, 200-213, 264
Agriculture / Horticulture Principal (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 203-204

Water-based means of subsistence

Fishing and water-based hunting performed by one or more groups Minor (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 200-213, 264, 269
Fishing and water-based hunting performed by individuals Medium (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 200-213, 264, 269
Water-based gathering Minor (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 200-213

Commercial Activity

Trade / wage labour as a source of food Medium (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 51, 57-58, 200-213, 294
Metalworking Present (Source)
Ellis (1838A), pp. 305-314
Physical Environment +

Geographical Range of Culture

Number of islands inhabited by culture One (Source)
Larson (2000), pp. 23

Features of Island with Largest Culture Population

Island type (island with largest culture population or largest island if unknown) Continental island (Source)
Goodman (2009), pp. 577
Island Size (km²) 581500.0 (Source)
Goodman (2009), pp. 577
Campbell (2005), pp. 19
Maximum elevation (meters) 2876.0 (Source)
Raxworthy et al (2008), pp. 1704


Latitude -18.9 (Source)
Larson (2000), pp. 23
Google Maps (2014)
Longitude 47.5 (Source)
Larson (2000)
Google Maps (2014)
Post Contact History(1820-2014)Expand All +
Religious History +


Role of social status in conversion process Mixed / Neither (Source)
Gow (1981), pp. 229
Larson (1997), pp. 971-995
Use of force in conversion Low (Source)
Brown (1995), pp. 241-268, 274-275
Adoption of a world religion Present and predominant (Source)
Bloch (1986), pp. 39
Resident missionary involvement in conversion process Present, and from non-Austronesian societies (Source)
Campbell (1992), pp. 417
Larson (1997), pp. 971, 993

Syncretic Movements

Syncretic religious movements Present, but did not survive to the present-day (Source)
Bloch (1986), pp. 20, 22-23
Secular History +

Demographic and Social Changes

Foreign government systems Present, and of high importance (Source)
Central Intelligence Agency (Madagascar) (2014)
Ploch & Cook (2012), pp. 1-3
Bloch (1986), pp. 27-30
Immigration Low (Source)
Stobenau (2009), pp. 2047
Language shift Medium (Source)
Bouwer (2005), pp. 101, 102
Foreign education systems High (Source)
Bloch (1986), pp. 31-32
Central Intelligence Agency (Madagascar) (2014)

Economic Changes

Changes in means of subsistence Medium (Source)
Ploch & Cook (2012), pp. 6
Exportation of goods to other cultures Present and substantial (Source)
Central Intelligence Agency (Madagascar) (2014)

Modern Infrastructure

Vehicles and roads Present and widely used (Source)
Barrett (1994), pp. 452
Central Intelligence Agency (Madagascar) (2014)
Stobenau (2009), pp. 2047
Air travel Present and long-distance (Source)
Peypoch et al (2011), pp. 1231
Sea port Present (Source)
National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (2009), pp. 146

Loss of Autonomy

Nature of loss of autonomy Largely involuntary (Source)
Bloch (1986), pp. 27-30
Campbell (2005), pp. 337-339
Brown (1995), pp. 217-240
Loss of political autonoomy High (Source)
Bloch (1986), pp. 27-28
Current Culture(2014)Expand All +
Belief +

Religious Demographics

Unofficial religious syncretism Low (Source)
Bloch (2005), pp. 111-112
Institutional religious syncretism Medium (Source)
Bloch (1986), pp. 40
Randrianasolo (2006), pp. 128
Dominant world religion Christianity (Source)
Garenne & Zwang (2004), pp. 47
Bloch (1986), pp. 39
External Links
Adelaar, A. (1995A). Asian Roots of the Malagasy: A Linguistic Perspective. Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, 151 (3), 325-356. Retrieved from

Barrett, C.B. (1994). Understanding Uneven Agricultural Liberalisation in Madagascar. The Journal of Modern African Studies, 32 (3), 449-476. Retrieved from

Bergsmark, D. R. (1927). The Geography of Imerina, Madagascar. Journal of Geography, 26(1), 22-31.

Blench, R. (2007). New Palaeozoogeographical Evidence for the Settlement of Madagascar. Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa, 42 (1), 69-82. DOI: 10.1080/00672700709480451

Blevins, J. (2008). Some Comparative Notes on Proto-Oceanic *Mana: Inside and Outside the Austronesian Family. Oceanic Linguistics, 47 (2), 253-274. Retrieved from

Bloch, M. (1968). Tombs and Conservatism among the Merina of Madagascar. Man, 3 (1), 94-104. Retrieved from

Bloch, M. (1986). From Blessing to Violence: History and Ideology in the Circumcision Ritual of the Merina of Madagascar. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Bloch, M. (2005). Essays in Cultural Transmission. New York, NY: Berg.

Blust, R. (2007). Proto-Oceanic *Mana Revisited. Oceanic Linguistics, 46(2), 404-423. Retrieved from

Bouwer, L. (2005). Towards a Sociolinguistic Profile of Madagascar: Issues of Diversity. Language Matters: Studies in the Languages of Africa, 36 (1), 98-116, DOI: 10.1080/10228190508566237.

Brown, M. (1995). A History of Madagascar. Cambridge, UK: D.Tunnicliffe.

Campbell, G. (1991). The State and Pre-Colonial Demographic History: The Case of Late Nineteenth-Century Madagascar. The Journal of African History, 32 (3), 415-445. Retrieved from

Campbell, G. (1992). Crisis of Faith and Colonial Conquest: The Impact of Famine and Disease in Late Nineteenth-Century Madagascar. Cahiers d'Etudes Africaines, 32 (127), 409-453. Retrieved from

Campbell, G. (2005). An Economic History of Imperial Madagascar, 1750-1895: The Rise and Fall of an Island Empire. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Central Intelligence Agency (Madagascar). (2014). The World Factbook: Madagascar. Retrieved from

Daft Logic Distance Calculator. (2014).

Ellis, W. (1838A). History of Madagascar (Vol. I). London, UK: Fisher, Son, & Co. Retrieved from

Ellis, W. (1838B). History of Madagascar (Vol. II). London, UK: Fisher, Son, & Co. Retrieved from

Garenne, M. & Zwang, J. (2004). Social Change and Premarital Fertility in Madagascar. Southern African Journal of Demography, 9 (1), 27-48. Retrieved from

Goodman, S. M. (2009). Madagascar. In R. Gillespie & D. Clague (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Islands (pp. 577-582). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Google Maps (2014). Retrieved from

Gow, B.A. (1981). Independency among the Merina, 1833-1929. The International Journey of African Historical Studies, 14 (2), 229-253. DOI: 10.2307/218044

Graeber, D. (1995). Dancing with Corpses Reconsidered: An Interpretation of "Famadihana" (in Arivonimamo, Madagascar). American Ethnologist, 22 (2), 258-278. Retrieved from

Keesing, R. M. (1984). Rethinking "mana". Journal of Anthropological Research, 40(1), 137-156,

Kottak, C.P. (1971). Cultural Adaptation, Kinship and Descent in Madagascar. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, 27 (2), 129-147. Retrieved from

Larson, P. M. (2000). History and memory in the age of enslavement: Becoming Merina in Highland Madagascar, 1770-1822. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Larson, P.M. (1997). "Capacities and Modes of Thinking": Intellectual Engagement and Subaltern Hegemony in the Early History of Malagasy Christianity. The American Historical Review, 102 (4), 969-1002. Retrieved from

Lebar, F. (Ed.). (1972). Eastern Sumbanese in Ethnic Groups of Insular Southeast Asia. Volume 1: Indonesia, Andaman Islands, and Madagascar. New Haven, CT: Human Relations Area Files Press.

National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (2009). World Port Index Nineteenth Edition. Bethesda, MD: National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

Peypoch, N.; Randriamboarison, R.; Rasoamananjara, F.: & Solonandrasana, B. (2011). The Length of Stay of Tourists in Madagascar. Tourism Management, 33, 1230-1235. DOI: 10.1016/j.tourman.2011.11.003

Ploch, L. & Cook, N. (2012). Madagascar's Political Crisis. Washington DC: Congressional Research Service.

Randrianasolo, J. (2006). The Usefulness of the Lutheran Confessions in the African World. Dialog: A Journal of Theology. 45 (2), 127-131. DOI: 10.1111/j.0012-2033.2006.00252.x

Raxworthy, C.J.; Pearson, R.G.; Rabibisoa, M.; Rakotondrazafy, A.M.; Ramanamanjato, J.; Raselimanana, A.P.; ... & Stone, D.A. (2008). Extinction Vulnerability of Tropical Montane Endemism from Warming and Upslope Displacement: A Preliminary Appraisal for the Highest Massif in Madagascar. Global Change Biology, 14 (8), 1703-1720. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2486.2008.01596.x

Sibree, J. (1870). Madagascar and its People: Notes of a Four Years’ Residence. London, UK: William Clowes and Sons.

Stobenau, K. (2009). Symbolic Capital and Health: The Case of Women's Sex Work in Antananarivo, Madagascar. Social Science and Medicine, 68, 2045-2052. DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2009.03.018

Verin, P. & Wright, H. (1999). Indonesia and Madagascar: New Evidence from Archaeology and Linguistics. Bulletin of the Indo-Pacific Prehistory Association, 18, 35-42.