Summary and Keywords
Since the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century the observed ethnic complexity of the Malagasy, the Madagascan people, has been a subject of conjecture in several respects. When did people first reach Madagascar? Where did the different elements of the population originate? What was the sequence of their arrival? What was the nature of their maritime migrations? Early answers to these questions relied on the historical traditions of some Malagasy populations, especially of the Merina and highland groups, and on an extensive archive of historical and ethnographic observations.
Recent approaches, through historical linguistics, palaeoecology, genomic history, and archaeology, especially in the last thirty years have provided new perspectives on the enduring issues of Madagascan population history. The age of initial colonization is still debated vigorously, but the bulk of current archaeological data, together with linguistic and genomic histories, suggest that people first arrived around the middle of the first millennium ce or later.
Evidence of linguistic origins and human genetics supports the prevailing view that the first people came from Southeast Asia, the majority of them specifically from Borneo. Later Bantu migration from Africa was followed by admixture of those populations and other smaller groups from South Asia, in Madagascar. Admixture in East Africa before migration to Madagascar is no longer favored, although it cannot be ruled out entirely.
Voyaging capability is a key topic that is, however, difficult to pin down. There is no necessity in the current data to envisage transoceanic voyages, and no evidence of Southeast Asian vessels in East Africa or Madagascar in the first millennium ce, although it is impossible to rule that out. The safest assumption at present is that contact between Southeast Asia and Madagascar during the period of colonization occurred through the established network of coastal and monsoon passages and shipping around the northern perimeter of the Indian Ocean.
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