Martyrs’ Day on March 29 every year is a very special celebration in the country! Held in honor of all those people who died in the 1947 revolt against the French, Martyrs’ Day is a public holiday on this island. This day also goes by the names ‘Commemoration Day’ or ‘Insurrection Day.’
History of Martyrs’ Day in Madagascar
The Kingdom of Madagascar was an independent nation that came under French rule because the French thought the island was a great strategic location. They removed the monarchy that ruled Madagascar and imposed colonial rule. During that first year of French occupation, revolts arose but were quickly squashed. A nationalist movement grew too, under different names across the island.
The tides began to turn with the Second World War. The French fought against the British, unsuccessfully, and their post-war actions increased anti-French sentiment to a furor on the island. Various secret organizations popped up, like the Democratic Movement for the Malagasy Renovation (M.D.R.M.), all of whom had one goal in mind — freeing Madagascar from their colonial oppressors.
Many of these movements failed, however, and contributed to the events that launched Martyrs’ Day. On the evening of March 29, 1947, hundreds of men, armed with lances and machetes, attacked the military camp of Moramanga and the coastal cities of Manakara and Vohipeno. The rebels fought against Europeans and anyone considered to be pro-French. The rebellion spread around the island in the following months. By May, additional French troops arrived, quashing this insurgency, and allowing the French to regain control of Madagascar.
There were many casualties, although the actual number varies. Most rebels were punished and the French blamed the leaders of the M.D.R.M., even though there was no evidence to support their theory. By the following year, this rebellion had been completely subdued.
While the French buried the rebellion, they were forced to establish reforms and new laws to deal with the Malagasy people. The rebellion served another, arguably more important cause. It paved the way for the country to move towards independence, but without the need for violence.
By 1960, the Malagasy people had gained their independence from the French, and President Philibert Tsiranana established Martyrs’ Day seven years later. Initially observed as a day of mourning for all the lives lost on March 29, this day has evolved to remember the sacrifice and celebrate the freedom the country now enjoys. Most people treat this as a family holiday, spending time with loved ones and relaxing over the long weekend.
Martyrs’ Day in Madagascar timeline
The Malagasy people lead a nationalist uprising against French colonial rule in Madagascar; it lasts from March 1947 to February 1949.
After months of negotiations with the French, the Malagasy Republic formally attains freedom from France.
President Tsiranana declares March 29 as a day of mourning.
President Andry Rajoelina inaugurates a national museum dedicated to the uprising, at Moramanga.
Martyrs’ Day in Madagascar FAQs
How is Martyrs’ Day celebrated in Madagascar?
Local officials deliver speeches and lay wreaths on the memorials dedicated to the martyrs. The Malagasy nationals treat this as a family day.
What is the significance of June 26 in Madagascar?
June 26 is Madagascar’s Independence Day. It marks the day the island officially attained independence from France in 1960.
What happens on Independence Day in Madagascar?
This public holiday is marked by concerts, military parades, colorful festivals, firework displays, and a presentation of Malagasy folklore combining traditional song, dance, and folk tales.
How to Observe Martyrs’ Day in Madagascar
Read more about the uprising
Multiple speeches, articles, and even books have been written documenting the uprising. Check out any you prefer.
Watch a movie
There are multiple movies based on the uprising, many by Malagasy directors (and even one by a French director), for your viewing pleasure. Search for titles online, and settle in to watch your movies of choice.
Catch a special TV program
There are plenty of series and shows documenting everything about this island, from the flora to its unique fauna. Search for your favorite ones online, and don't forget to share the Madagascar love with friends!
5 Fascinating Facts About Madagascar
Marco Polo accidentally named it 'Madagascar'
The island is called 'Madagasikara' in the official Malagasy language.
Gerald Durrell loved this island
In fact, the naturalist’s last expedition was to this island, and he wrote about it in his book, “The Aye-Aye and I.”
It has some weird animals
Madagascar is home to the aye-aye lemur — with a long middle finger that helps it find grubs inside trees — and the Malagasy giant rat, to name a few.
Speaking of lemurs
Madagascar boasts over 70 species and sub-species of lemur, most of which are found nowhere else on Earth.
It has endemic plants too
There are more than 10,000 species of native plants here, and around 90% of them are not found anywhere else on the planet.
Why Martyrs’ Day in Madagascar is Important
It’s a fitting tribute to the fallen
We honor the memory of every person who laid down their lives for freedom. On this day, we remember them.
We like history too
The story behind the scenes, the past that still influences today's events — they all tell a story. We are eager to listen and learn.
It shows us true strength
The Malagasy people’s never-give-up spirit and perseverance in the face of all odds show us what true courage. We can learn a lot from their example.
Martyrs’ Day in Madagascar dates