Identification. The Tandroy live in the far south of Madagascar and speak a Malagasy dialect. Their land is known as "the Androy," literally, "where the roy ( Mimosa delicatula ) is," but more commonly rendered as "land of the thorny bush" or "spiny desert," both of which are allusions to the highly adapted vegetation of this semiarid region. "Tandroy," the name of the people, translates as "those of the thorny bush." In the vernacular, the prefix "An-" is normally dropped.
Location. The Androy is located south of the Tropic of Capricorn between 24° and 26° S and 44° and 47° E, in an area approximately bounded by the Mandrare and Menarandra rivers. Its climate is semiarid or even subarid, with average annual rainfall varying from 35 centimeters on the southwestern coast to 70 centimeters toward the north. There is no clear-cut wet season, although the months of December, January, and February generally receive more than 5 centimeters of rain. Irregular precipitation makes the Androy subject to periodic drought, and, save for the Mandrare in the east, the riverbeds are often dry. South of the savanna, the xerophilous bush, with its Didiereaceae and Euphorbiaceae families of plants, is the most specialized of all Malagasy habitats. An estimated 48 percent of its plant genera and 95 percent of its species are endemic to Madagascar.
Demography. In 1980 the population of Madagascar was estimated at around 9 million. Numbering more than 400,000, the Tandroy are of an average size among the twenty officially recognized ethnicities; the census, however, included other groups, such as the Karembola in the southwest. The average population density has been reckoned at 10 per square kilometer, and annual population growth at between 2.8 percent and 3 percent. The southeastern coastal strip is the most densely populated; once described as "the Tandroy cradle," it has been the area from which clans set out to colonize the north.
Linguistic Affiliation. Although Madagascar lies only 382 kilometers from the East African mainland, its native languages are considered to belong to the Indonesian subgroup of the Malayo-Polynesian Family. When and how this designation came about is as uncertain as is the question of the peopling of Madagascar itself. Even though it is often said that the languages spoken in Madagascar are relatively homogeneous, preliminary glottochronological studies have established shared cognate rates of between 61 percent and 69 percent for Tandroy—considered to belong to a dialect family with Vezo, Bara, and Mahafale—and Merina, a dialect of the highlands and now the official language of Madagascar. More extensive research on Tandroy syntax and phonology, as well as on diversification between so-called Tandroy speech communities, is required. The existence of dual vocabularies to indicate a person's status in the social hierarchy also merits attention. The transcription of Tandroy, which is taught nowadays in school, is based on the official orthography of the Merina dialect, which has four vowels and twenty-seven consonants, to which the velar n was added by official decree in 1962.