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Distribution of Malagasy ethnic groups

The Antaifasy are an ethnic group of Madagascar inhabiting the southeast coastal region around Farafangana. Their name means "people of the sand."

Ethnic identity[edit]

The Antaifasy are considered a subgroup of the Antaisaka people by some African ethnographers. Most live in the area near Farafangana on the southeastern coast of Madagascar. The Antaifasy believe they originated in mainland Africa. [1]


The Antaifasy migrated to southeastern Madagascar from the southwest coast around four centuries ago. According to oral histories, Ndretsileo, the founder of the clan, is said to have come from the African mainland to the Menarandra river in Ibara, the homeland of the Bara people. His grandson, Ndrembolanony, ruled during a period of worsening relations with a rival group, the Zafimanely Bara clan. Ndrembolanony formed an alliance with the Antevatobe clan through marriage to their king's daughter, which produced three sons. One of these sons, Marofela, renamed his clan Antaifasy[2] ("people of the sand"),[3] implying that the people of his kingdom would be as innumerable as grains of sand.[2]

Beginning in the 1680s, the Antaifasy entered into a conflict with the neighboring Antaimoro people. Skirmishes between the clans continued through the 18th century without either clan ever clearly achieving victory over the other. For a short time, the Antaifasy were dominated by the Antaimoro, but were liberated by an Antaifasy king named Maseba. During the 18th century the Antaifasy engaged in coastal trade. Ifara became the most important king during this period by monopolizing trade with European ships, becoming powerful enough to be seen as having control over all trade and travel on the Manampatra river.[4]

In the 19th century, the Antaifasy kingdom was invaded by the Merina armies of the Kingdom of Imerina in the central highlands. During an 1852 military campaign led by Rainivoninahitriniony, later Prime Minister of Madagascar, the Antaifasy fled to an island called Anosinandriamba where they believed they would be safe, but the Merina army crafted rafts out of bamboo to cross the sea and captured the Antaifasy by surprise.[5] In the Merina military conquests between 1820 and 1853, captured Antaifasy men were typically killed, but women and children were often taken as slaves back to Imerina. Over a million slaves were captured during this time, with the majority from the Antaifasy, Antaisaka, Antanosy and Betsileo ethnic groups.[6]

The Antaifasy remained resistant to Merina domination and were never fully subjugated. In an effort to weaken them, the Merina provided support to the Zafisoro, a people who the Antaifasy had previously ruled. Despite French colonization in 1896 and the collapse of the Merina monarchy in 1897, animosity between the two groups has remained and occasionally flared up into violent conflict, as occurred in 1922, 1936 and 1990, resulting in dozens of deaths.[7] During the Malagasy Uprising of 1947, the Malagasy leaders of the resistance movement against French rule (some of whom were aligned with Merina interests) took advantage of the unstable political context to act on old grudges by instigating the Zafisoro to attack the Antaifasy.[8] Since 1990, this has manifested in competition for control of disputed territory, the most significant being in Vangaindrano prefecture.[9]


Antaifasy society is traditionally divided into three clans. Each is governed by its own king.[3]


The moral codes that guide Antaifasy social life are very strict.[3]

Traditional clothing among the Antaifasy was made of bark cloth or woven mats of beaten reeds or sedges sewn together. The bark cloth from the Antaifasy region was made from a mix of fibers blended together for sheen and softness and became a specialty trade product of the area. For women, this material was sewn to form a tube that was belted at the waist or pulled up at the shoulder. Women and adolescent girls also often wore a mahampy reed band or short top with or without sleeves, to cover the breasts. Men wore a bark loincloth, and over it they would typically wear a vest or tunic; sleeves were added for older men. Woven hats were also commonly worn by Antaifasy men.[10]

Funeral rites[edit]

Like the Antaisaka, the Antaifasy do not bury their dead but instead place them in a kibory funeral house located in a sacred and distant patch of forest.[3]


The Antaifasy speak a dialect of the Malagasy language, which is a branch of the Malayo-Polynesian language group derived from the Barito languages, spoken in southern Borneo.[citation needed]


The cultivation of rice and fishing from freshwater lakes and rivers are traditional sources of livelihoods among the Antaifasy.[3] In recent decades, there has been a large migration of Antaifasy from their coastal homeland to seek employment farther north.[1]