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Ragazze Mahafaly.JPG
Mahafaly children
Total population
c. 150,000 (2013)
Regions with significant populations
Related ethnic groups
Other Malagasy groups; Austronesian peoples

The Mahafaly are an ethnic group of Madagascar that inhabit the plains of the Betioky-Ampamihy area. Their name means either "those who make taboos" or "those who make happy", although the former is considered more likely by linguists. In 2013 there were an estimated 150,000 Mahafaly in Madagascar.[1]

Ethnic identity[edit]

Distribution of Malagasy ethnic groups

The Mahafaly are believed to have arrived in Madagascar from southeastern Africa around the 12th century and managed to preserve autonomy during the reign of the Merina kingdom. They inhabit the plains of the Betioky-Ampamihy area.[2][3]


Mahafaly tomb

Funeral rites[edit]

Mahafaly tomb, Berenty Reserve

Mahafaly are known for the large tombs they build to honor dead chiefs and kings.[4] They are large stone squares surmounted by wooden sculptures and heaps of zebu horns; the greater the importance of the dead being buried, the greater the number of sculpture and horns placed on the tomb. The sculptures are termed aloalo, a word that implies the meaning "messenger" or "intermediary", possibly with reference to the interconnecting role they play between the worlds of the living and of the dead. One of the largest Mahafaly tombs is that of king Tsiampody, which is decorated with horns from over 700 zebus.


The Mahafaly 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.