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(1840-1865)Expand All +
Belief +

Supernatural Beings

Nature Spirits Present, but not a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 373-400, 388-389
Nature god(s) Absent (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 373-400
Ancestral spirits Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 393-394
Deified ancestor(s) Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 393-394
God(s) Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 394-397
Rogers (1985), pp. 220-223

Supernatural Punishment

Supernatural punishment for impiety Present (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 251-252
Campbell (1992), pp. 411

Afterlife and Creation

One's actions while living can affect the nature of one's afterlife One factor in determining one's afterlife (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 244-245
Bloch (1968), pp. 100
The actions of others after one has died can affect the nature of one's afterlife Principal determinant of one's afterlife (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 253
Graeber (1995), pp. 274
Myth of humanity’s creation Absent (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 373-400, 396, 398
Primordial pair Absent (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 396
Rogers (1985), pp. 218
Culture hero(es) Present, but not a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 175-176, 373-400

General Features

Forces of nature are controlled by or imbued with the supernatural Present (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 377

Classes of Tapu

Kinship tapu Present (Source)
Bloch (1971A), pp. 170
Resource management tapu Present (Source)
Graeber (1995), pp. 265
Social hierarchy tapu Present (Source)
Graeber (1995), pp. 265


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

General Supernatural Practices

Headhunting Absent (Source)
Lebar (1972), pp. 2
Costly sacrifices and offerings Present (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 258-259, 337, 347-348
Size of largest ritual social group Larger than a local community, no larger than the largest political community in the culture (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 316
Campbell (1992), pp. 411-412
Political and religious differentiation Considerable overlap between religious and political leaders (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 316
Campbell (1992), pp. 411-412


Piercing Present in culture, but not as a rite or feature of a rite (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 186-242, 219
Genital cutting Present in the culture as a rite or feature of a rite (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 238-239
Bloch (1986), pp. 48-49
Scarification Present in culture, but not as a rite or feature of a rite (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 221
Tattooing Absent from culture (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 221
Tooth pulling Absent from culture (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 186-242
Social Environment +
Population 500000 (Source)
Campbell (1991), pp. 419
Population of largest political community 100,000 or more (Source)
Campbell (1991), pp. 419
Bloch (1971B), pp. 17, 20-21
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)
Sibree (1870), pp. 195-196
Marital residence Patrilocal or virilocal - with husband's kin (Source)
Kottak (1971), pp. 134


Conflict within communities Low (Source)
Keenan (1974), pp. 130-131
Conflict between communities of the culture Rare or never (Source)
Campbell (1991), pp. 433
Bloch (1977), pp. 118-120
Bloch (1986), pp. 12-25
Conflict with other cultures Frequent, occurring at least yearly (Source)
Bloch (1977), pp. 118-120
Bloch (1968), pp. 19
Cultural Isolation +
Contact with other cultures Frequent, through trade, warfare, travel, etc. (Source)
Bloch (1977), pp. 118-120
Kottak (1971), pp. 132
Distance to closest landmass inhabited by a different culture (km) 0.0 (Source)
Kottak (1971), pp. 133
Distance to African or Asian mainland (km) 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), pp. 328
Islamic influence on supernatural belief Evidence of influence (Source)
Pearson (1997), pp. 394
Von Sicard (2011), pp. 105-107
Christian influence on supernatural belief No evidence of influence but in a region where contact is likely (Source)
Bloch (1986), pp. 15-16
Subsistence and Economy +

Land-based means of subsistence

Animal husbandry as a source of food Major (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 212
Campbell (2005), pp. 29
Linton (1928), pp. 377
Land-based hunting performed by individuals Minor (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 212-215, 231
Land-based gathering Minor (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 212-215, 213
Land-based hunting performed by one or more groups Minor (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 212-215, 231
Agriculture / Horticulture Principal (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 155-156, 212-213
Kottak (1971), pp. 140

Water-based means of subsistence

Fishing and water-based hunting performed by one or more groups Minor (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 212
Linton (1928), pp. 377
Fishing and water-based hunting performed by individuals Minor (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 212
Linton (1928), pp. 377
Water-based gathering Medium (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 212-215, 212

Commercial Activity

Trade / wage labour as a source of food Major (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 223-224
Metalworking Present (Source)
Sibree (1870), pp. 226
Physical Environment +

Geographical Range of Culture

Number of islands inhabited by culture One (Source)
Bloch (1986), pp. 13

Features of Island with Largest Culture Population

Latitude -18.9 (Source)
Google Maps (2014)
Kottak (1971), pp. 133
Longitude 47.5 (Source)
Google Maps (2014)
Kottak (1971), pp. 133
Island type (island with largest culture population or largest island if unknown) Continental island (Source)
Blench (2007), pp. 69
Island Size (km²) 587041.0 (Source)
Campbell (2005), pp. 19
Maximum elevation (meters) 2876.0 (Source)
Raxworthy et al (2008), pp. 1704
Post Contact History(1865-2014)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
Resident missionary involvement in conversion process Present, and from non-Austronesian societies (Source)
Campbell (1992), pp. 417
Larson (1997), pp. 971, 993
Adoption of a world religion Present and predominant (Source)
Bloch (1986), pp. 39

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

Berg, G.M. (1988). "Sacred Acquisition: Andrianapoinimerina at Ambohimanga, 1777-1790". The Journal of African History, 29 (92), 191-211. Retrieved from

Berger, L. (2012). Ritual, History and Cognition: From Analogy to Hegemony in Highland Malagasy Polities. Anthropological Theory, 12 (4), 351-385. DOI: 10.1177/1463499612470908

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. (1971A). The Implications of Marriage Rules and Descent: Categories for Merina Social Structures. American Anthropologist, 73 (1), 164-178. Retrieved from

Bloch, M. (1971B). Placing the Dead: Tombs, Ancestral Villages, and Kinship Organization in Madagascar. London, UK & New York, NY: Seminar Press.

Bloch, M. (1977). Disconnection Between Power and Rank as a Process: An Outline of the Development of Kingdoms in Central Madagascar. European Journal of Sociology, 18 (1), 107-148. DOI: 10.1017/S0003975600003131

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).

Encyclopaedia Britannica (2014). Madagascar. 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

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

Keenan, E. (1974). Rule-Makers, Norm-Breakers: Use of Speech by Men and Women in a Malagasy Community. In Bauman, R. & Scherzer, J. (Eds.) Explorations in the Ethnography of Speaking. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

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. (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.

Linton, R. (1928). Culture Areas in Madagascar. American Anthropologist, 30 (3), 363-390. Retrieved from

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

Pearson, M.P. (1997). Close Encounters of the Worst Kind: Malagasy Resistance and Colonial Disasters in Southern Madagascar. World Archaeology, 28 (3), 393-417. Retrieved from

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

Rogers, A.D. (1985). Human Prudence and Implied Divine Sanctions in Malagasy Proverbial Wisdom. Journal of Religion in Africa, 15 (3), 216-226. Retrieved from

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.

Von Sicard, S. (2011). Malagasy Islam: Tracing the History and Cultural Influences of Islam in Madagascar. Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 31 (1), 101-112. DOI: 10.1080/13602004.2011.556891