The National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) is a research center for ethnology and cultural anthropology.

A Study of Cultural Diversity in Madagascar

Joint Research Coordinator IIDA Taku

Reserch Theme List


The objective of this research is to concentrate on the culture of the Madagascar region, which is positioned at a crossroads of the Indian Ocean, so as to examine the following two questions.

  1. How have the diverse cultural elements brought from outside the islands coexisted, been integrated and preserved?
  2. The geographical condition of a large island area has allowed the coexistence of different cultures, but how are the cultures changing in response to contemporary developments in communications and transportation?

Various local societies in Madagascar which have preserved cultural elements from multiple regions in Asia and Africa serve as non-written materials on the history of exchanges among these regions and various groups. The mission of this research is an examination of such materials by multiple specialists that should allow for the formation of an integrated view on the manner in which the culture of Madagascar has developed. In addition, to promote understanding of Madagascar affairs among people of our current era, we intend to discuss the present conditions concerning the culture of Madagascar. With the globalization of the 21st century now giving rise to global-level changes, questions remain as to if Madagascar will be able to maintain its special position as a cultural crossroads or if that position will become meaningless. Determination of the answer depends on evaluating the possibility of the contribution of Madagascar's culture to humanity as a whole.

Research Results

The expression “Malagasy culture” gives a less clear image than the term “Japanese culture,” because of the more diverse cultural base that Malagasy people have shared.  Despite this situation, the cultures on Madagascar often share common features which differ from those in Africa or Southeast Asia. For example, all the local languages spoken on the island are considered to be variants of the Malagasy language, which gives grounds for the claim that Malagasy cultures are unified.

Under these conditions, this joint research investigated how anthropological efforts have been made to define the various cultural zones, and how local people have tried to claim a single Malagasy culture. However, our intent was not to demarcate rigid cultural zones, nor to confirm the integrity of the Malagasy culture. Rather, this research was intended to verify the historical processes of cultural development which swing between cultural commonalities that transcend regions and cultural diversity that are primarily defined by regional communication zones. In the discussion, special attention was paid to the effects of cultural globalization penetrating village life and making complex the dynamics of local cultures. In this manner, our joint research frequently addressed connections at different levels both inside and outside regions.

The papers presented in our joint research can be divided into the following three categories. (1) Papers focusing on specific local cultures, with consideration of the continuities and discontinuities with other regions. (2) Papers on the impact of social and communicative changes on local cultures. (3) Papers on local people’s efforts to transmit their culture amidst the changes caused by global communication. In the collection of monographs now being prepared, we will clarify the mutual relationships among these different themes in order to draw a cultural portrait of Madagascar. The primary results of this joint research project form the materials that will serve as the basis for these publications.