Indonesia and Madagascar's Connection

The relationship between Indonesia and Madagascar.


Indonesia and Madagascar are two distant lands separated by the vast Indian Ocean, yet their historical connection is a remarkable relationship of people, trade, language, and food. 

The name Madagascar mistakenly originated from Magadoxo, a Somali port currently known as Mogadishu. Magadoxo was first used by Marco Polo, a Venetian explorer, around the year 1276. He mistakenly confused the island of Madagascar with Mogadishu and named it Magadoxo, which later evolved into Madagascar. Mogadishu, the capital and biggest city of Somalia, is situated on the Indian Ocean coast, about 850 miles from Madagascar.

Early Arab and Persian traders referred to Madagascar as Serandah, Chebona, Phelon or Phenbalon, Quam balon or Chambolon, Zaledz, Zanedz, Zabelz, Raledz, and Gezirat al-Komr meaning Island of the Moon. The Portuguese named Madagascar San Lorenzo, the French France Orientale, and  Íle Dauphine.

The Malagasy people are the indigenous inhabitants of Madagascar, although the island's original name is unknown in written history. The Malagasy people initially settled on the island over a millennium ago, having mixed African and Southeast Asian ancestry. Their language, Malagasy, is an Austronesian language, which reflects their Southeast Asian heritage.

The Bantu expansion was a massive movement of Bantu-speaking peoples from West and Central Africa. This expansion began around 2000 B.C. and continued for over two millennia. Around 1000 A.D., this Bantu expansion reached the eastern coast of Africa, where some groups embarked on seafaring journeys. These Bantu-speaking migrants, who had become proficient in navigating the oceans, set their sights on Madagascar. Their arrival on the island marked a significant event in its history.

These migrants brought their Bantu languages, agricultural practices, and social structures. They interacted with the existing population of Madagascar, which was influenced by earlier arrivals of Indonesian and Persian traders, creating a unique blend of cultures and traditions.

Indonesian Traders Sail to Madagascar

Indonesian traders, in particular, were skilled seafarers and navigators. Centuries ago, seafarers from Indonesia embarked on incredible voyages as they sailed across the Indian Ocean and reached the shores of Madagascar. Indonesian traders came from the Indonesian archipelago, a Southeast Asian nation of thousands of islands, including Java, Sumatra, and Bali.

These early Indonesian settlers influenced the culture and language of Madagascar with large-scale settlement that began between A.D. 350 and 550 with immigrants from present-day Indonesia. One of the earliest groups to be drawn to this island were the Indonesian and Persian traders, who arrived as early as the 7th century.

The island served as a valuable waypoint for seafaring merchants between the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia. These traders were motivated by Madagascar's rich spices, vanilla, and precious stones and its unique location in the Indian Ocean, making it a strategic stop along the ancient trade routes. 

Madagascar was known for its decadent array of spices, with cloves, cinnamon, and black pepper being particularly sought after. These spices were highly prized in the ancient world for their flavor and medicinal properties.

Malagasy Language and Indonesian Influence

Indonesian traders brought with them not only goods but also their own cultures, languages, and traditions. Over time, this cultural exchange led to the blending of local Malagasy culture with the traders' influences. Interactions between Indonesian traders and the local Malagasy population sometimes led to the birth of children and marriage. This created familial bonds and further integrated the Indonesian culture into the Malagasy society.

The Malagasy language has incorporated a considerable amount of maritime vocabulary with Indonesian origins. This includes words related to boats, sailing, and navigation. Terms for various types of boats, rigging, and nautical equipment often have roots in Indonesian languages. 

For example, the word lakana in Malagasy, which means outrigger canoe, is believed to be derived from an Indonesian term. Also, words related to navigation and direction-finding, such as loha, meaning north, have Indonesian origins. 

The Malagasy language is a linguistic mosaic that beautifully reflects the island's rich history of cultural interactions and influences, encompassing not only Indonesian maritime vocabulary but also elements from African, Arabic, and other linguistic traditions.


Madagascar Recipe for Koba, an Indonesian-influenced Recipe Dessert

Malagasy cuisine reflects Indonesian influences, especially in the use of rice and spices. Dishes like koba, a sweet rice cake wrapped in banana leaves, show similarities to Indonesian desserts. 

Koba is a traditional Malagasy dessert with influences from Indonesia made from rice flour, peanuts, sugar, and banana leaves. It's a delicious treat with a sweet, slightly nutty flavor. 


1 cup rice flour

1 cup roasted peanuts, finely ground

1 cup sugar (adjust to taste)

2 ripe bananas

Banana leaves or parchment paper for wrapping


If you're using banana leaves, carefully heat them over an open flame to make them more pliable and to remove any impurities. Cut the leaves into 6x6-inch squares. If you're using parchment paper, cut it into similar-sized squares.

In a bowl, mash the ripe bananas until you have a smooth, creamy consistency.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the rice flour, finely ground roasted peanuts, and sugar. Stir well to combine the dry ingredients.

Add the mashed bananas to the dry mixture. Mix everything together to form a dough-like consistency. You may need to use your hands to knead the dough thoroughly.

Take a square of banana leaf or parchment paper and place a portion of the dough in the center. Shape the dough into a rectangle or square shape, then fold the banana leaf or parchment paper to encase it completely. You can secure the wrap with twine or a strip of banana leaf.

Place the wrapped Kobas in a steamer. Steam them for 30-45 minutes or until they are firm and set. The time may vary depending on the size of your Kobas.

Once the Kobas are cooked, allow them to cool before serving. To enjoy, unwrap the banana leaves or parchment paper and savor the sweet, nutty Koba.

Madagascar gold mining

Did you know?

Early Arab and Persian traders had various names for Madagascar, including Serandah, Chebona, Phelon or Phenbalon, Quam balon or Chambolon, Zaledz, Zanedz, Zabelz, Raledz, and Gezirat al-Komr, which all meant "Island of the Moon." The Portuguese named it San Lorenzo, while the French named it France Orientale and Île Dauphine.


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