Why Is Madagascar Called the Great Red Island? Madagascar is called the “Great Red Island” because of the prominence of red lateritic soils with a reddish tint. The red soils predominate the Central Highlands, although there are much richer soils in the regions of former volcanic activity, Itasy and Ankaratra, and Tsaratanana to the north.
Madagascar is an island republic off south-east Africa. Capital, Antananarivo (formerly Tananarive); area about 594000 sq km (229000 sq miles). Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world. Having developed in isolation, the island nation is famed for its unique wildlife.
It was made a French colony in 1898 and French overseas territory in 1946. It gained independence in 1960. Since gaining independence from France in 1960, Madagascar has experienced repeated bouts of political instability, including coups, violent unrest, and disputed elections. The most recent coup in 2009 led to five years of political deadlock, international condemnation, and economic sanctions.
The ‘great red island’ of Madagascar is mostly highland, with upland plateaux and high peaks near the center. In the east the land falls to a narrow but fertile coastal plain; at the west, the slope is more gradual. In the highlands, the climate is fairly temperate, but it is very dry in the south-west. The people are mainly a mixture of African and Indian descent; many are nomadic herdsmen.
Madagascar has remarkable wildlife. In particular, it has various species of animals many now extinct in the wild. Best known for its lemurs (primitive relatives of monkeys, apes, and humans), colorful chameleons, stunning orchids, and towering baobab trees, Madagascar is home to some of the world’s most unique flora and fauna.
Lack of resources plus transport problems hinders industrial growth. Valuable exports are vanilla beans, coffee, cloves, and other tropical produce, including oils used in perfumes. But, despite a wealth of natural resources and a tourism industry driven by its unique environment, the country remains one of the world’s poorest and is heavily dependent on foreign aid.
How did Madagascar get its name? Marco Polo was the first European to report the existence of a ‘great red island’, which he named Madagascar, after possibly having confused it with Mogadishu in Somalia. But Arab cartographers had long known the island as Gezirat Al-Komor, meaning ‘island of the moon’ (a name later transferred to Comoros).
Content for this question contributed by Bruce Nolan, resident of Alton, Madison County, Illinois, USA