Madagascar became independent in 1960, under the name of the Malagasy Republic, after 65 years under French rule. A little larger than France, it is the world's fourth biggest island. Its 51/2 million inhabitants are unique among Africans in having a strong admixture of Indonesian blood, derived from the now vanished Borneo trading community on the East African coast, many of whom settled in the then empty island early in the Christian era (E), subsequently blending with later Bantu arrivals. The Merina (Hova) people of the central highlands have kept more marked Indonesian characteristics than other Malagasy; for centuries, the well organized Merina monarchy at Tananarive (Antananarivo), which lasted until the French conquest in 1895, was the dominant force in the island.
A rising against French rule in 1947 was suppressed with thousands of casualties, and a number of political leaders (including some of the island's parliamentary representatives in Paris) were arrested and exiled for involvement in the rebellion. Recent relations with France have been friendly. In 1958 Malagasy voted to become a self-governing French Community republic along with other French African territories, and since it achieved full independence President Tsirinana has aligned it with the 'Brazzaville' group (14).
The 25,000 French and other white residents are mainly concentrated in Tananarive and Tamatave, the chief port. Although the mountains rise steeply to heights of over 8,000 feet from the east coast belt of tropical forest, communication with the interior is mainly from the east because there is quicker access to the central highlands from that side. Coffee is the main export, others including cloves, vanilla, rice, sugar and tobacco. There is a large coalfield, but production is still experimental. France has retained rights in the naval base at Diego Suarez ( Antsirane).