Most archaeologists believe Madagascar was first inhabited sometime between 300 BC and AD 500 by Austronesian peoples arriving on outrigger canoes from Borneo and Sulawesi in the Indonesian archipelago. Soon afterward, Bantu migrants crossed the Mozambique Channel, and the population of the island began to mix. Later, Arab and East African migrants were added to the mix. Madagascar was ruled by the local Merina kingdom in the 19th century, and was part of the French colonial empire from 1890 to 1915, when Madagascar became independent and the monarchy was restored. The name of the country was changed to Madagascar in 1938.
Malagasy, the Austronesian language spoken by the vast majority of the population, is the national language and one of the official languages. The primary religions are Malagasy mythology and Christianity, but adherents to other faiths, Islam in particular, are found throughout the country.
Madagascar is home to as many as 12,000 of the world's plant species. Approximately 80% of all plant and animal species found in Madagascar are endemic, including the lemur infraorder of primates, the carnivorous fossa, three bird families and three of the island's six baobab species.