Like a huge sabot riding the waves, Madagascar lies southeast of Africa, at about 240 miles from Mozambique. No European knew of its existence until the summer of the year of grace, 1500, when a Portuguese fleet of thirteen ships sailed the waters of the Indian Ocean on a voyage of exploration. August 10 dawned in a scowling mood. By noon, a furious tempest raged, mercilessly lashing the vessels and tossing them about like nutshells.
Although the hardy explorers bravely struggled to keep steering a straight course, it happened that the vessel commanded by Diego Dias finally drifted apart from the rest of the fleet. Suddenly, above the howling winds, a sailor’s voice rang out, “Land! Land!” The astonished Diego saw that indeed they were nearing what he at first imagined to be the coast of Mozambique but which in reality was a large island. He had stumbled unawares upon the continent of the Indian Ocean, the mysterious isle the Arabs called the Land of the Moon and the natives, Izao tontolo izao (this is the universe).
In 1506, another Portuguese mariner, Admiral Fernan Soarez, landed on Madagascar and attempted to establish in the south a permanent settlement in the name of his king. From the first, however, European colonization proved difficult. The
Dutch and the English followed the Portuguese but without more success. It was left to the French to succeed in founding the first permanent white colony of Fort Dauphin at the southeastern tip of the sabot […]