Traditional mythology in Madagascar tells of a divine Creator, referred to as Zanahary, and the division of Heaven and Earth between the "Zanahary" and his son, Andrianerinerina, a rebellious hero and frequent theme of their myths. In Madagascar, numerous creation myths are used to explain origins for specific ethnic groups, such as tracing the lineage of Merina kings to Andrianerinerina, whom they worship as the son of God. In contrast to Andrianerinerina, the word Andriamanitra (Merina language for "Fragrant Lord") is used to refer to revered ancestors.
Ancestors are generally viewed as a benevolent force in the life of the living, but among some Malagasy it is believed that the spirits of ancestors may become angatra (ghosts of the dead) if they are ignored or abused. Angatra are believed to haunt their own graves and bring disease and misfortune to those living who offended them. A particular type of angatra is kinoly: beings which look like people but have red eyes and long fingernails and disembowel living people. Rituals such as famadihana - rewrapping the bodies of the dead every 5–10 years in fresh lamba (handmade cloth) - are believed by some to prevent kinoly due to the traditional association of the lamba with hasina, the mystical and sacred life force. Beliefs relating to the powers and activities of the ancestors vary greatly from community to community within Madagascar.
The declarations or actions of ancestors are often the source of fady (taboos) that shape the social life of Malagasy communities. Across Madagascar, lemurs are often revered and protected by fady. In all of the origin myths of the Indri (in Betsimisaraka dialect: Babakoto), there is some connection of the lemur with humanity, usually through common ancestry. There are numerous accounts of the origin of the Indri in particular, but all characterize lemurs as sacred, and not to be hunted or harmed.
Malagasy mythology portrays a pygmy-like people called the Vazimba as the original inhabitants. Some Malagasy believe that these original inhabitants still live in the deepest recesses of the forest. In certain communities (and particularly in the Highlands), the practice of ancestor veneration can extend back to veneration of the Vazimba as the most ancient of ancestors. The kings of some Malagasy tribes claim a blood kinship to the Vazimba, including the Merina dynasty that eventually ruled over all of Madagascar. The Merina claim Vazimba ancestry through the royal line's founder, King Andriamanelo, whose mother, Queen Rafohy, was Vazimba.
- Paul Ottino, Myth and History: The Malagasy "Andriambahoaka" and the Indonesian Legacy, History in Africa (1982).
- Colleen J. McElroy, Over the Lip of the World: Among the Storytellers of Madagascar (1999), ISBN 978-0-295-97824-6.
- Yves Bonnefoy, Wendy Doniger, Asian Mythologies, University Of Chicago Press (1993), ISBN 978-0-226-06456-7, pp. 187–201.
- Lee Haring, Ibonia: Epic of Madagascar, Bucknell University Press (1994), ISBN 978-0-8387-5284-5.
- Peter Tyson, The Eighth Continent: Life, Death and Discovery in the Lost World of Madagascar (2000), ISBN 978-0-380-97577-8.
- C. Renel, Contes de Madagascar (1930)
- A. Dandouau, Contes Populaires Des Sakalava Et Des Tsimihety (1922)
- Didier Randriamanantena, Le Roi et Ifara (graphic novel retelling the Razafimbolamena (prodigal son) legend)