The Archaeology of Islamization in Northern Madagascar


  • Nathan J Anderson Santa Clara University



Madagascar, Islamization, Mozambique Channel, The Swahili, Indian Ocean


Islamic towns dotted the northern coasts of Madagascar in the immediate precolonial period. The heritage of these settlements was not unlike their coastal East African contemporaries. Elaborating upon what is known from regional oral traditions and Islamic histories, archaeology has increasingly served as a conduit for understanding, facilitating the investigation of Muslim chronologies and lifeways in Madagascar. Tangible cultural heritage has corroborated Malagasy tradition, attesting to a human landscape sculpted by centuries of colonization, disparate and interconnected micro-migrations, and seasonal visitations. These finds are echoed in the genetics of the present-day Malagasy, where a legacy of Austronesian, African, and Indian Ocean inputs and population fluidity is found (Heiske et al. 2021; Radimilahy and Crossland 2015, 504–505). The compositional peculiarities of Muslim communities along the northern flanks of Madagascar recommend that Islamic beliefs reached the great island via the Comorian Archipelago in the early 2nd millennium CE, arriving via maritime routes and as components of larger southward dispersion phenomena, which included ideological dissemination, socio-religious affiliation, and the physical movement of people over multiple generations. The diffusion of Islamic ideologies to Madagascar was not realized according to a uniform Islamization pathway, nor was the development of member communities constrained within a single moment in time, as told in Antalaotra and Zafiraminia foundational biographies. Recent archaeological investigations at the Islamic town of Kingany in Madagascar’s northwest help clarify the trajectories of said ideological transmission and elaborate on underlying Islamizing mechanisms pertinent to the Mozambique Channel in this period.

Author Biography

  • Nathan J Anderson, Santa Clara University

    Nathan Anderson completed his PhD in Islamic Studies at the Centre for Islamic Archaeology, University of Exeter in 2021. His research interests are in the material manifestations of Islamic faith and Islamization in the western Indian Ocean world in the precolonial period, largely focusing on the Mozambique Channel, Madagascar, and southern Tanzania. Nathan is currently an Adjunct Lecturer at Santa Clara University in California.


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How to Cite

Anderson, N. J. (2023). The Archaeology of Islamization in Northern Madagascar. Journal of Islamic Archaeology, 9(2), 173–198.