Merina literally means People of the highlands or Those from the country where one can see far. This clan lives in the central highlands, the most developed area of Madagascar. The Merina represent more than one-quarter of the total population. 95% of the population of Antananarivo are Merina. In the 18th century the Merina king Andrianampoinimerina conquered nearly all of Madagascar, creating the most powerful Merina kingdom ever.
The Merina people are of Malayo-Polynesian origin, which reflects in their appearance: their skin colour varies from light brown to very dark and their hair is straight. Historically the Merina are divided in three castes: the Andriana (nobles), the Hova (freemen) and the Andevo (serfs). Legally those divisions do not longer exist.
Most Merina houses are built of bricks and mud, sometimes even two-storeyed. Almost each village has a church, often even two: Catholic and Protestant. The Merina are rice farmers and their cuisine is so heavily dominated by rice, that the term for eating a meal is simply "to eat rice".
Merina worship the water spirits, known as the Vazimba who inhabited the land before the arrival of humans and are believed to have supernatural power. The Merina bury the dead in tombs. Famadihana - turning of the bones - is a Merina custom. About 15 minutes south of Ambatolampy on both sides of the national street RN7 are nicely painted Merina tombs.