The Betsileo of Madagascar are Malay and Bantu

By Razib Khan | October 23, 2011 1:21 am

A month ago I posted the genetic results of a Malagasy individual of Merina identity. Today I post those for someone of Betsileo heritage. All the technical details are the same. You can find all the ADMIXTURE and PCA files here.

This genotyping was paid for by readers. I’ll update the post with the names of those who contributed below the fold later. If you contributed but don’t want to be named, email me at contactgnxp -at- gmail -dot- com, and I’ll leave you off the list.

This analysis was made possible by the generous donations of the following individuals:

Åse Kvist Innes-Ker
J B Massey
Matt Reusswig
Paul Conroy
Dr. Joseph Pickrell
G H Chinoy
Ian Ramjohn
Loganayagam Ramalingam
April Shepherd
Paul Gomes III
Robert Beckstead

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Personal Genomics
MORE ABOUT: Betsileo, Malagasy

Comments (24)

  1. Insightful

    Serious question, is ‘Bantu’ the broadest human grouping or is this just testament to how dominant the Bantu were?

  2. what are you asking exactly?

  3. Insightful

    what are you asking exactly?

    More precisely, how did Bantus end up in Madagascar? Were they brought as slaves or did they venture there as part of the Bantu expansion and when?

  4. #3, probably not part of the bantu expansion. most likely slaves. there is some talk that once the austronesians figured out where madagascar was and how to get there that some bantu also started arriving. the prehistory of madagascar is kind of sketchy…. (there is evidence that the austronesians may have spent time on the mainland before madagascar).

  5. Eze

    Interesting, but not surprising results. Are there any estimates how many Malay made the initial journey? Also, was there only one major Malay migration to Madagascar or were there multiple ones?

  6. (there is evidence that the austronesians may have spent time on the mainland before madagascar)

    Curious to learn more about that.

  7. #6, crops and such which seem to be clear from southeast asia on the east african coast.

  8. Also, was there only one major Malay migration to Madagascar or were there multiple ones?

    it seems only one. the malagasy language is very close to east barito.

  9. Carl Grote

    Interestingly, Malagasy (both highlander and coastal) are mostly asian on the mtdna side and African on the y-chromosome side.

  10. Charles Nydorf

    Thanks to everyone who helped to do this.

  11. unknown

    @ Razib Khan

    I’ve yet to come across any research regarding Madagascar that has suggested that Bantu speakers first reached Madagascar via the slave trade. There’s evidence that Madagascar was settled by both Bantu and Malay speakers at roughly the same time period, i.e. at about 500 B.C. give or take. Explaining the likely west-east cline of African ancestry in Madagascar and vise-versa with regard to SE Asian ancestry (a coastal vs. highland scenario is also possible); with coastal groups in western Madagascar being the most African and highlander groups in eastern Madagascar being the most SE Asian.

    There is also no evidence that Austronesians ever reached mainland Africa (that scenario mentioned by yourself is faulty at best); SE Asian derived crops in mainland Africa were likely first introduced during the Indian ocean trade by Swahili intermediates.

    Malagasy likely experienced a relatively recent linguistic expansion, that probably absorbed other languages spoken on the island… some of whom were likely predominantly Bantu. Malagasy was probably the language of the Merina, who with time established their linguistic dominance over the entire island; if would make sense then that Malagasy would be predominantly Austronesian given the fact that the Merina are as such predominantly SE Asian. Lastly, the native Malagasy dialects found outside the Madagascar highlands possesses distinct linguistic elements indicating stronger past influences from SE Africa that were latter overshadowed by the more Austronesian Malagasy language; btw all Malagasy dialects have a Bantu linguistic element.

    The slave trade in Madagascar was largely based on slaves from Madagascar being deported to countries elsewhere, in particular South Africa and the Middle East, not the other way around.

    Last but not least, the genetic results of the Malagasy do not indicate the introduction of recent African ancestry via the slave trade. The fact that both East African and SE Asian ancestry are almost evenly distributed throughout the entire country suggests a more ancient arrival for both components.

  12. #11, put some citations up for your assertions. otherwise i’ll ignore you, as i have no idea how awesome you are.

    The fact that both East African and SE Asian ancestry are almost evenly distributed throughout the entire country suggests a more ancient arrival for both components.

    this isn’t true from what i’ve seen at all. what is your citation?

    and please don’t just repeat yourself, i’m curious about the academic literature on this.

  13. unknown

    @ Carl Grote

    Highlanders are 38% and 50% African maternally and paternally respectively, in contrast to coastal dwellers who are ~40% and 75% African. “Eurasian” y-dna is on avg 4-11% among the entire population.

    Only slightly more “SE Asian” according to the study your talking about.

    A possible scenario is that Bantu migrants who had just begin to move into southern Africa from SE African also expanded into Madagascar, where Austronesian immigrants had just recently settled, where they would eventually exchange gene-flow with the Austronesian speaking peoples. While Bantu ancestry quickly dominated coastal Madagascar, the highlands acted as a Refugium for elevated Austronesian ancestry (reason for why highlanders are more Austronesian than their coastal counterparts). The significant African ancestry among the Highlander communities is likely due to either admixture prior to the escape to the highlands and/or bi-directional gene-flow between highlanders and coastal dwellers. This would explain the relatively high frequency of African y-dna in both groups, given that the Bantu migrants would have been “expansionist”.

    The introduction of the Zebu and other Bantu affiliations in Madagascar overlaps with the southward expansion of Bantu speakers from SE Africa into southern Africa.

  14. unknown

    @ Razib Khan

    The same criticism is equally applicable to your initial statements, is it not?

    My earlier post is based on various genetic, linguistic, and archaeological sources regarding the history of Madagascar. Would you like me to post all of them? But surely that’s an unreasonable task?

    I posted the link to the study confirming my statement regarding the even distribution of African and SE Asian ancestry though out the country in the above post.

    While I appreciate your work, your results from these two Malagasy samples isn’t numerically significant enough to make a final conclusion regarding the autosomal ancestry diversity in Madagascar.

    Anyways, given that these two samples from the two most Austronesian groups in Madagascar are 1/3 and 1/2 African, I would expect coastal dwellers to be significantly more African.

  15. The same criticism is equally applicable to your initial statements, is it not?

    NO! i’m not some random commenter, i take a lot of time posting a lot of stuff. you know my background or lack thereof on any given topic. a lot of my assertions are derived from stuff you can find in my posts over 9 years of blogging. you’re just some random commenter on the internet who goes by the handle “unknown” (i know your name, but no one else does).

    Would you like me to post all of them? But surely that’s an unreasonable task?

    post the most important ones. why is it unreasonable? i get a lot of my information from links posted by commenters. i’m not interested in your opinions, i’m interested in the sources you draw upon to come to those opinions.* i actually follow up and read papers/books when i have time. i’m familiar with that paper you posted. i’ve blogged it, as well as others on malagasy genetics.

    * the main exception to this rule are those people who are scholars in the areas which they opine on. since they generate the primary research i don’t expect them to offer any citations to their opinions, since they opinions have a heavy weight.

  16. Robert

    The Merina composed the last of many migrations from the Indonesia island chain. They then moved, for reasons unknown, from the east coast to the central highlands in the past few hundred years, and in the late 18th and 19th centuries became Madagascar’s dominant political force. The Malagasy language (with variants) was already the predominate language and the Merina language merged and became one of the dialects. The Merina had not been the dominate culture of the enormous island long enough for their language to have diffused out in all directions by the time British missionaries and military had established themselves (roughly 1820 to 1870) and recorded interactions with people across the country.

  17. The Merina composed the last of many migrations from the Indonesia island chain.

    what’s your source on this? if people keep making assertions as if they are awesome anonymous authorities on malagasy history i’m going to close this thread.

  18. Johan

    Thanks on this, really interesting, I want to put some comments on the Merina of Madagascar research on which I have some recent doc based on DNA mitochondrial analysis and with a resonable sample results etc…but the articles are locked, can you send me you email address?

    Thank you,

  19. unknown

    I don’t see how that excludes you from also citing claims regarding the population genetics and history of Madagascar? In particular when suggesting such a theory, i.e. with regard to the slave trade sourcing the majority of the African component among native Malagasy peoples.

    Anyways thats besides the point.

    The study to the previous link…

    “On the Origins and Admixture of Malagasy: New Evidence from High-Resolution Analyses of Paternal and Maternal Lineages”

    only verifies my previous points (that are based on various anthropological studies regarding Madagascar).

    “A recent layer of southeastern-like Y haplotypes would have superimposed onto an early background formed by haplotypes typical of populations currently living near the roots of Bantu dispersal, with a larger impact on coastal groups.”

    The results from this study confirms that both Bantu and Austronesian speakers expanded into Madagascar during the same general time period some 2,000 years ago; with Bantu speakers entering Madagascar shortly after their arrival in SE Africa proper and prior to their southern expansion into southern Africa (probably when they introduced the Zebu into Madagscar). This was then followed by a migration from Mozambique, which primarily affected the coastal region.

    Other studies:^ you can access the journal through other channelsI’ll make sure to update this post with more sources when possible.

  20. Anyways thats besides the point.

    yes, besides the point.

    thanks for the link. i have academic access to most journals, so don’t worry about that. would appreciate more pointers.

  21. Charles Nydorf

    I am not personally qualified to evaluate this evidence but traditional musical instruments which are played by striking bars of graduated length with a mallet are found in Indonesia and much of Africa. A. M. Jones writes about this in his book “Africa and Indonesia: the evidence of the xylophone and other musical and cultural factors” (Leiden, Brill, 1971).

  22. Robert

    @Razib – “what’s your source on this? if people keep making assertions as if they are awesome anonymous authorities on malagasy history i’m going to close this thread.”

    if you want to sharpen your understanding of the history of the Malagasy people…

    History and Memory in the Age of Enslavement: Becoming Merina in Highland Madagascar, 1770-1822 (Social History of Africa) – Pier Martin Larson 2000

    Madagascar: A Short History – Solofo Randrianja and Stephen Ellis 2009

    There are also dozens of articles by British missionaries, military men and journalists written in the 19th century that are public domain and freely available. There are scores more if you read French.

  23. Tom Cushman

    The Antananarivo Annual published by the London Missionary from 1875 to 1898 contains quite a lot of references to Malagasy language and its origins as well as histories of Madagascar, its people, tribes their origins and relations with the West. Its not an academic journal or about genetics but was as good a scholarship as was available on Madagascar 175 years ago.
    An excerpt for the 1883 Annual



    THE ANTANANARIVO Annual for Christmas 1883 contains
    an article by the Rev. L. Dahle on which I propose to
    make some observations. Mr. Dahle’s conclusions, which he
    modestly terms his “hypothesis with regard to the origin of
    the Malagasy race éléments,” are as follows :— (i) The island,
    or more probably only the coasts of it, was first occupied by
    East African tribes (i.e. by the VazîmbaX’and others related to
    them). (2) There was a séries of émigrations “from the island
    world in the east,” peoples from which “took possession of the
    coasts of Madagascar, conquering the African natives, and
    afterwards intermarrying and mixing with them to such an
    extent as to become gradually one people with them, — a mixture
    of African and Malayo-Polynesian éléments.” (3) The interîor
    of the island was now first inhabited by the African Vazimba,
    not very strong in number, who broke through the forests and
    took possession of the interior, especially Imèrina. (4) The
    Hova came from the east, and finding the coasts already
    occupied by a people partly of their own race, and being either
    unable or unwilling to fight with them, proceeded to the interior.
    There they settled in Imerina, not mixing with the people of
    African blood, and as they grew in strength, “the Vazimba, X
    who found themselves too weak to resist them, and were too
    fond of independence to submit to them, quietly retired towards
    the west.”

  24. Robert

    @Tom Cushman – good reference article. Although the Vazimba have become a part of Malagasy mythology today, they were a real group of African origin who were driven off the highlands by people from the east who later became the Merina. The LMS missionaries, and other 19th century expatriates, used the term “Hova” in reference to the Merina people, although the hova are, in fact, Merina commoners. The Merina ethnic group was formed in the highland region of Imerina in the early 19th century by the coalescence of isolated klans with similar culture, but no formal political ties. Most of the LMS missionaries were educated linguists and translators who were able learn Malagasy quickly and put the Malagasy language into written form.



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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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