The region surrounding Antananarivo is known as Imerina (Land of the Merina Tribe). Historically, the Merina have been Madagascar’s dominant tribe, reigning over the country for several centuries.
Merina hierarchy was based on a three-tier caste system, largely dependent on skin colour. The andriana (nobles; generally fairer-skinned and with pronounced Asiatic rather than African features, reflecting their Indonesian ancestry), comprised the upper echelon, while the hova (commoners) made up the middle class. The remainder – descendants of former slaves – were known as the andevo (workers).
The first Merina kingdoms were established around the 16th century, and by the late 19th century they were the dominant tribe in Madagascar. Ordinary Merina citizens customarily worked as administrators, shopkeepers, teachers and traders. Their position was enhanced by the choice of Antananarivo as the seat of the French colonial government, and by the establishment of an education system there.
Today, the Merina are still among the best-educated Malagasies and many remain at the forefront of public life: former president Marc Ravalomanana, coup leader Andry Rajoelina and the current president Hery Rajaonarimampianina are all Merina.