Madagascar an island situated to the south-east of the African continent, in lat. 11° 57'- 25° 38' S., and longitude about 430 - 510; length, 1030 miles; greatest breadth, 350 miles; area estimated at 240,000 square miles, therefore covering a territory larger than the British Isles, contains a population of nearly five millions.
History up to the Introduction of Christianity. — The early history of this interesting island is involved in the deepest mystery. It is supposed to have been known to the ancients, by whom it was generally considered as an appendage to the main land, and was probably discovered by the Phoenicians. As an island, we find it first mentioned by Marco Polo, in the 13th century, as Magascar or Madagascar; but its discoverer is now admitted to have been the Portuguese Antao Gonalves, who named it Isla de San Lourseno. The unhealthy climate made the stay of Europeans for a long time impossible. In 1774, Europeans attempted to establish a colony at Antongil Bay, on the eastern side of the island; it was mainly composed of Frenchmen; but, failing to receive encouragement and assistance from the French government, the settlement proved a failure. With the Christian missionaries (1818) skillful mechanics and tradesmen entered Madagascar, and to-day the island contains, in spite of its unhealthfulness of climate, quite a number of Europeans.
The natives consist of many tribes, of which the Hovas inhabit the center and northern portion of the island, and are at present so powerful as to hold in subjection most of the others. The features of the inhabitants of this section present a striking resemblance to those of the South Sea Islanders; they are evidently of different extraction from the other and darker tribes, whose features are wholly African. The men are generally well made, having finely-proportioned limbs, and usually present a high type of physiological development. The women are well formed and active, but by no means so prepossessing in feature as the other sex. The complexion of the Hovas is a ruddy brown or tawny color, while that of the other tribes is much darker. Another and very peculiar distinction is the long, straight hair of the former as compared to the woolly growth of their neighbors. The principal article of dress in use among the Hovas is the lamba, a garment very similar to the Roman toga, and made of cotton or linen materials.
The religion of these natives not converts to Christianity, is strictly heathen. Mohammedanism never made its way to them, and has no converts among them. Aside from Christianity, they have no accurate conception of God. The Supreme Being they style Fragrant Prince. "Their ideas of a future state, and, indeed, their whole religious system, is indefinite, discordant, and puerile; it is a compound of heterogeneous elements, borrowed in part from the superstitious fears and practices of Africa, the opinions of the ancient Egyptians, and the prevalent idolatrous systems of India, blended with the usages of the Malayan Archipelago. There are no public temples in honor of any divinity, nor any order of men exclusively devoted to the priesthood, but the keeper of idols receives the offerings of the people, presents their requests, and pretends to give the response of the god. They worship also at the grave or the tomb of their ancestors" (Newcomb, p. 521). They practice circumcision, have the division of weeks into seven days, abstain from swine's flesh, and follow other Jewish practices. Marriage is general, but polygamy prevails, and conjugal fidelity scarcely exists among the non-Christianized.
Introduction of Christianity. — In 1816, Radama, the king of the Hovas, virtually even then the prince of all Madagascar, entered into diplomatic and commercial relations with the English. Only two years later — in 1818 Protestant missionaries set out for it, and ultimately this African isle became "one of the countries where the rapid and easy triumph of Christianity equals the most brilliant episodes in the history of Christian propagandism," and a lasting rebuke to those Roman Catholics who have dared to pronounce Protestant missions a failure. The first Protestant missionaries were sent out by the London Missionary Society; and their mission. from the beginning, was very successful. The whole Bible was circulated in the native language; about one hundred schools were established, and from ten to fifteen thousand persons received Christian instruction. Suddenly, however, Radama died (July 27, 1828), and was succeeded by Ranavala Manjaka, a woman of great cruelty, and inimical to Europeans. With her accession to the throne of Madagascar opened a fiery ordeal of persecution, lasting for nearly thirty years. Europeans were banished from the isle; the public profession of Christianity was forbidden; churches and schools were closed, and many of the members of the churches were persecuted to death. The conduct of the converts was most exemplary; by their constancy, and many by their death, they refuted the slanders of Romanists that the converts of the Protestant mission churches consist, for a large part, of men who seek to obtain a lucrative position. In 1862 queen Ranavala Manjaka died, and her son was proclaimed king under the title of Radama II. With his accession to the throne of Madagascar the period of religious toleration recommenced, and, although for a moment the assassination of the king (in 1863; he was strangled, and his own wife selected as his successor, the government having been modified into a constitutional form) spread alarm among the Christians, the missionaries of the London Society resumed their labors, and they were agreeably surprised in seeing that, in spite of all persecution, the Christian congregations had maintained themselves. . In 1867, the erection of four memorial churches on places where the first martyrs of Christianity fell a prey to heathen superstitions of Madagascar was projected; three of these have already been completed, and the fourth is in progress. (See Christian Advocate, Nashville, Tenn., Dec. 2, 1871.) But the greatest triumph the Gospel achieved in Madagascar in 1869 was when the now reigning queen, Ranavala II (she succeeded to the throne April 1I 1868), and, with her, a majority of the natives, threw away their idols, and embraced Christianity much in the same way as the ancient Britons did many centuries ago. Se e the Missionary Advocate (N. Y., Feb. 15, 1870).
Among those particularly worthy of praise, for services rendered in the missionary efforts in Madagascar, is the Rev. William Ellis (died in July, 1872). By years of missionary labors performed in the South Sea Islands he had become thoroughly acquainted with the missionary work; and when, by the death of Ranavala Manjaka, Madagascar seemed again open to the Europeans, he was selected by the London Missionary Society to visit the country, in company with Mr. Cameron, in order to ascertain the actual condition of things, with a view to resuming missionary labor. The manner in which Mr. Ellis conducted the most delicate negotiations with the government of Madagascar, so as to secure an entrance for the Christian teachers to the country, and the influence he exerted in high places, are well known to all persons acquainted with modern missionary enterprise. On three occasions he visited Madagascar, always on important missions, and always with signal success. He went before, and prepared the way for those who have gone in and occupied the field. On each occasion of his return to England he had marvelous things to tell of Madagascar and the prospects that were opening for the Church of God there. His Martyr Church of Madagascar, Madagascar Revisited (London, 1867, 8vo), and Three Visits to Madagascar, give a history of that mission-field which leaves nothing to be desired (compare, however, Westminster Rev. April, 1867, p. 249). It was he, too, who completed and revised the translation of the Scriptures into the Malagasy language.
The number of Christians in Madagascar is now estimated at more than 325,000. In 1888, the English missionaries (Episcopalians, Methodists, and Friends), — who have their head-quarters at the adjoining island of Mauritius (an English possession), had in operation 924 schools, attended by 93,388 pupils. The Roman Catholics have, since 1861, missionaries (Jesuits) in the island, but they are mainly at the capital, Tamatave, and vicinity, and in the French possessions, the adjoining island of Reunion. See, besides the works of Ellis, already mentioned, M'Leod, Madagascar and its People (London, 1865); Oliver, Madagascar and the Malagasi (London, 1866); J. Sibree, Madagascar and its People (London, 1870); Chambers's Cyclop. s.v.: Newcomb, Cyclop. of Missions, s.v.; Edinb. Rev. 1867, p. 212; Grundemann, Missions-Atlas, No. 17; N. Y. Methodist, 1867; N. Y. Christian Intelligencer, July 11, 1872.