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It was once, like much of the island, thickly forested.Sakalava is the dominant ethnic group in this region.Standard Malagasy taken from the Merina dialect was the first dialect to be written in Latin characters and is considered the literary dialect.The most similar language found outside of Madagascar is Ma'anyan, a language spoken in Borneo.They are involved in agriculture fishing, and cattle herding.The East Coast consists of several narrow bands of lowlands that lead to an intermediate zone of steep bluffs and ravines abutting a 1650 foot escarpment which provides access to the central highlands.
In 1998, the age structure of the population was 45 percent between 0-14 years; 52 percent 15-64 years; and 3 percent over 65 years. Life expectancy at birth is 51.7 years for men and 54.1 years for women.The arid southwest is inhabited by Antandroy and Mahafaly who pursue cattle raising and limited cultivation.The northern end of the island features the Tsaratanana Massif with an elevation of 9,500 feet. The Antankarana inhabiting this region are involved in cattle raising and tropical horticulture.The Betsimisaraka, the second largest ethnic group, is the most numerous group pursuing trading, seafaring, fishing, and cultivation.The Southwest is defined by the Ivakoany Massif to the east and by the Isala Roiniforme Massif to the north and includes the Mahafaly Plateau and the desert region.The highland/ côtier division can be understood in terms of the historical domination by the Merina Empire, which was originally centered on Imerina (the current capital Antananarivo).There are some common cultural practices that all Malagasy share. The official name of the country is the Republic of Madagascar ( Repoblikan'i Madagasikara ).The extent to which Malagasy from different regions view themselves as sharing a unified culture is context dependent.To some extent internal migration has resulted in sharing some customs such as spirit possession ( tromba ).The West Coast is characterized by deciduous trees on dry, open savanna grassland sloping toward the sea.