Map Courtesy CIA World Factbook
Madagascar is an island nation in the Indian Ocean, off the eastern coast of Africa. Madagascar is the 4th largest island in the world. It is the home of five percent of the world's plant and animal species, 80 percent of them unique to Madagascar. Most famous among those are the lemurs. Madagascar and Mauritania are the only countries not to use a decimal currency.
The written history of Madagascar began in the 7th century, when Arabs established trading posts along the northwest coast. European contact began in the 1500s, when Portuguese sea captain Diego Dias sighted the island after his ship became separated from a fleet going to India. In the late 17th century, the French established trading posts along the east coast. From about 1774 to 1824, it was a favorite haunt for pirates, including Americans, one of whom brought Malagasy rice to South Carolina.
Beginning in the 1790s, Merina rulers succeeded in establishing hegemony over the major part of the island, including the coast. In 1817, the Merina ruler and the British governor of Mauritius concluded a treaty abolishing the slave trade, which had been important in Madagascar's economy. In return, the island received British military and financial assistance. British influence remained strong for several decades, during which the Merina court was converted to Presbyterianism, Congregationalism, and Anglicanism.
The British accepted the imposition of a French protectorate over Madagascar in 1885 in return for eventual control over Zanzibar (now part of Tanzania) and as part of an overall definition of spheres of influence in the area. Absolute French control over Madagascar was established by military force in 1895-96, and the Merina monarchy was abolished.
Malagasy troops fought in France, Morocco, and Syria during World War II. After France fell to the Germans, the Vichy government administered Madagascar. British troops occupied the strategic island in 1942 to preclude its seizure by the Japanese. The Free French received the island from the United Kingdom in 1943.
In 1947, with French prestige at low ebb, a nationalist uprising was suppressed after several months of bitter fighting. The French subsequently established reformed institutions in 1956 under the Loi Cadre (Overseas Reform Act), and Madagascar moved peacefully toward independence. The Malagasy Republic was proclaimed on October 14, 1958, as an autonomous state within the French Community. A period of provisional government ended with the adoption of a constitution in 1959 and full independence on June 26, 1960.