Madagascar, located in the western Indian Ocean between latitude 12 and 26 degrees south and longitude 43 and 47 degrees east, is one of the last major islands to have been colonized by humans. It is separated by approximately 400 km from the Mozambique coastline of Africa to the west and by almost 6400 km from Indonesia to the east. The landscape and climate vary due to changes in altitude and latitude, and at least five major ecological regions referred to as Western, Southwestern, Central Highland, Eastern Central and Northern may be distinguished (Fig. 12.1). A chain of mountains which runs from north to south makes up the Central Highland region. These mountains descend sharply to the Indian Ocean creating a narrow eastern part and a wider western part. Madagascar has a tropical climate and experiences a rainy and a dry season. The eastern mountain slopes bear the remains of the dense rain forest, while the western plain is drier and supports forests of deciduous trees and savannah grassland. The southwest region is the driest while the northern region is prone to monsoon conditions (Brown, 1978).
In the absence of written records, scholars have made use of linguistic, archaeological and historical data to try to elucidate the origins of the proto-Malagasy.
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