The origin of Madagascar's population is still being debated, but it is generally accepted that the ancestors of today’s Malagasy people were predominantly of mixed Austronesian (i.e.South-East Asian/Pacific Islander) and African origin. The Malagasy language, including its different dialects, is of Malayo-Polynesian origin.
About 45% of the Malagasy are Christian, divided almost evenly between Catholics and Protestants. Islam in Madagascar constitutes about 7% of the population. Even among the adherents of these world religions there are many that practice traditional religion, which tends to emphasize links between the living and the dead. When dying, one changes from an insignificant human being into an important ancestor, in some regions a reason to celebrate. Well-known are the burial practices of the Merina and Betsileo tribes of the plateau. During the famadihana (literally “to replace the dead”) the deceased family members are reburied in a new cloth, the lamba mena. This ceremony, also known as "turning over the dead" or “turning of the bones” celebrates this spiritual communion. Other tribes have other ceremonies, but everywhere the ancestors play an important role in people’s daily life. It is wise, as a visitor, to speak only with respect about the dead.
Another important feature of Malagasy culture is fady, generally translated as ‘taboo’, but that does not do justice to the complex of do’s and don’t, that differs from place to place, from family to family, even from individual to individual. It may be a prohibition for a family to eat pork or to own a dog. It may be a sacred lake where one can only go swimming after a ceremony for the ancestors. It may be a prohibition to work on the land on Tuesday. In general, when people indicate something is fady, the only option is to respect it.