The Antakarana in Madagascar
Throughout most of Madagascar’s history, the Antakarana people have been cut off from the rest of the island by the Tsaratanana mountain range. However, in the early 1800’s Madagascar’s most powerful tribe, the Merina in the central highlands, expanded their kingdom over the entire island through warring with all the other tribes, including the Antakarana. During their resistance, the Antakarana fled and survived with their king as they hid for over a year in the limestone caves in north-western Madagascar. Many Antakarana were buried in those caves during that time and the place became sacred to them, which is why they’re now known as “the people of the rocks.”
When their hiding location was found out by the Merina, the Antakarana king made a vow to the “god” of the neighbouring Arab traders that if they were able to escape the conquering Merina, he and all of his people would become Muslim. They set off in dugout canoes across the ocean and safely arrived on the small island of Nosy Mitsio, about 30-40 km from the mainland of Madagascar. The Merina never pursued them further. The Antakarana king honoured his vow to become Muslim, commanding all of his people to do the same.
To this day, most Antakarana still follow the demands of their ancestors but also claim allegiance to Islam. It’s an allegiance primarily in name but not in action. Most Antakarana people simply say they’re Muslim while still worshiping their ancestors and practising rituals and sacrifices to a plethora of animistic gods and spirits.
CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
Antakarana people are typically very proud of their historical, cultural and ethnic identity. They often distrust input from outsiders, in particular, they maintain an animosity towards the Merina because of their past conflict. Because most of the churches in Madagascar are run by the Merina and in the official Malagasy dialect, the language of the Merina one - the Antakarana people have been so resistant to Christianity in their area in the past. There is no Christian witness on the island of Nosy Mitsio, no church, and only recently have effort been made to start sharing the gospel.
- Open doors so missionaries can take the Gospel to that group.
- Pray that the Antakarana will become disillusioned and dissatisfied with their allegiance to history and seek a living relationship with the Lord.