The Antakarana people are one of Madagascar’s 18 tribal groups and one of the least-reached by the good news of Jesus. There are currently about 400,000 Antakarana people and they live on the northern tip of Madagascar and on some of the small surrounding islands. All Antakarana people speak the Antakarana dialect (very distinctly different from the official Malagasy language of Madagascar), and the most-educated among them also speak French and a very few speak English. It’s generally estimated that less than 2% of the Antakarana people have been reached by Christianity, and almost all of those reached are living in the cities and large towns of northern Madagascar. However, the majority of the Antakarana live in distant rural villages or small islands that are entirely unreached by the Gospel of Christ.
The name of the Antakarana tribe means “the people of the rocks“, specifically referring to the wind- and rain-carved limestone “tsingy” formations and caves in the nearby mountain range. Throughout most of Madagascar’s history, the Antakarana people have been mostly cut off from the rest of the island by the Tsaratanana mountain range on their south. However, in the early 1800s 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 for over a year in the limestone caves in northwestern 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 neighboring Arab traders, that if they were able to successfully escape the conquering Merina, he and all of his people would become Muslim. They set off in dugout wooden 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 and so the Antakarana king honored his vow to become Muslim and commanded all of his people to do the same.
To this day, most of the Antakarana people still follow the demands of their ancestors and claim allegiance to Islam. However, it’s an allegiance primarily in name (which is also true of much of the colonialist-founded Christian churches in Madagascar). There are almost as few Islamic mosques throughout Antakarana areas as there are Christian churches. Most Antakarana people simply say they’re Muslim while still worshiping their ancestors and practicing rituals and sacrifices to a plethora of animistic gods and spirits.
Antakarana people are typically very proud of their cultural and historical heritage and ethnic identity, and they often distrust input from outsiders. In particular, they maintain an animosity towards the Merina because of the past conflict. Because most of the churches in Madagascar are run by the Merina and in the official Malagasy dialect (the Merina one), that may be why the Antakarana people have been so resistant to Christianity in their area in the past.
Because of the Antakarana people’s unique historical and cultural heritage, and our desire to share the abundant life of Jesus with them in ways that will truly bring them new life, our work among them begins on the island of Nosy Mitsio. Nosy Mitsio is a beautiful, small and undeveloped island off the northwest coast of Madagascar, about 12 km long and 7 km wide at its widest. There are about 2000-4000 inhabitants, all Antakarana, living in rural communities with no electricity and no running water, mostly fishing and growing rice to survive, maintaining strong ties to their heritage and their history. There is absolutely no Christian witness on the island of Nosy Mitsio, no church, and no one to share the Gospel with the people there. Though wary of outsiders, the inhabitants are willing to accept people who want to come and learn from them.
As members of YWAM, we’re leading a church-planting team on the remote island of Nosy Mitsio. We’ve spent over 4 years on Nosy Mitsio already, 1 1/2 years on our own, pioneering the area and preparing for the arrival of our team, and another 2+ years together as a team, living in the village communities of Nosy Mitsio in the midst of the Antakarana people. We’ve been building relationships with them and honoring their cultural identity through learning the Antakarana language, their history and legends, their culture, and their way of living. As the people of Nosy Mitsio have exhibited willingness, we’ve engaged in small-scale sustainable community development, primarily through basic healthcare training and services. Through an Antakarana language Bible story set we’ve developed, we’ve also begun to share with them the ultimate reason we’re living among them: not to flee from an oppressor, but to share the good news of the One who liberates us from all oppression! The long-term goal is to see the Antakarana people worship and follow Jesus in ways that are authentic both to their cultural identity and to the new life Jesus brings to them. We then hope to see it turned into a movement, led by the Antakarana themselves, to spread Jesus’s new life throughout the rest of the Antakarana people and northern Madagascar.
Here’s an introduction to the Antakarana people and an overview of the work our team is doing to reach them with the good news of Jesus.
Here is a nice short introduction to the Antakarana of Nosy Mitsio and to our team.
Here is an excellent video developed by AIM,
This is a short introduction to the country of Madagascar, to our past work in the rural villages of the east with YWAM Tamatave, and an introduction to our current work to the Antakarana tribe, with a little footage from Nosy Mitsio.
For further resources on the Antakarana people, please see the following:
Madmissions blog posts for Antakarana people – Sometimes personal stories and anecdotes are the best way to learn. This will take you to all the pages and blog posts on our site that we’ve written about personal experience with the Antakarana people.
The Antakarana People of Madagascar – The AIM profile of the Antakarana people, together with regularly updated prayer requests.
Antakarana Ethnic Profile – The Joshua Project ethnic profile of the Antakarana people (unfortunately the information is somewhat inaccurate and also dated)
Ethnographic Survey of the Antakarana People – An older, but fuller, ethnic profile of the Antakarana people, including prior missions efforts among them
Antakarana page on Wikipedia – a great article on the Antakarana people and their history as a people group
An Island Too Far – A vivid story written by AIM workers about the Antakarana people and visiting Nosy Mitsio (and Nosy Be) while scouting for the future work that we’ll be beginning next year
The Antakarana – An Interview – A short video interview of AIM Madagascar’s former unit leader talking about the future work among the Antakarana people on Nosy Mitsio