Page:Madagascar - Phelps - 1883.djvu/30

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Madagascar, and of the efforts which have been made to Christianize them.

There cannot of course be any very accurate estimate formed of the number of inhabitants which occupy the island, but it is supposed that they amount to five millions. But this is evidently less than the island has contained at former and not remote periods of its history. The embankments spread over large tracts of country, now overgrown with grass or brushwood, show that these parts were once regularly cultivated rice fields; and the scattered ruins of villages, or whole ranges of villages, now totally deserted, mark, though imperfectly, to what extent the country has been depopulated.

The island is not inhabited by one single race, but by a number of distinct tribes, more or less numerous, evidently derived from more then one source; differing also in many respects from each other, and remaining, though nominally comprised in one political empire, distinct and peculiar nations. There are points, however, in which they bear a general resemblance to each other. They are all rather below the middle stature, which but few exceeded; and their countenances do not exhibit that prominence of features which distinguish the European and most of the Asiatic nations. The men are more elegantly formed than the women, in whom there is a greater tendency to corpulency than in the other sex. The beards of the men are but slight, and are plucked out in youth. Their hands are not so warm to the touch as those of the Europeans, and their blood by the thermometer is colder. But the distinction between them the most strongly marked is that of color; and this, though presenting slight variations in each tribe, separates the population of Madagascar into two great classes, and is by some supposed to allow of its being traced to only two sources—the one distinguished by a light, exquisitely formed person, fair complexion, and straight or curling hair; the other more robust, and dark colored, with woolly hair. In one or the other of these two classes, the several tribes inhabiting the island may be included. In fact, so far as color is any indication, there are but two distinct races in Madagascar, the olive and the black; and the people may be supposed to be derived from a mixture of these two, forming all kinds of varieties of which their complexion, hair, and features are capable. From the character of the language, it may be presumed that the population is composed partly of the Malay and partly of the African race. But how the mixture came