The Sihanaka are a Malagasy ethnic group concentrated around Lake Alaotra and the town of Ambatondrazaka in central northeastern Madagascar. Their name means the “people of the swamps” in reference to the marshlands around Lake Alaotra that they inhabit. While rice has long been the principal crop of the region, by the 17th century, the Sihanaka had also become wealthy traders in slaves and other goods, capitalizing on their position on the main trade route between the capital of the neighboring Kingdom of Imerina at Antananarivo and the eastern port of Toamasina. At the turn of the 19th century, they came under the control of the Boina Kingdom before submitting to Imerina, which went on to rule over the majority of Madagascar. Today the Sihanaka practice intensive agriculture and rice yields are higher in this region than elsewhere, placing strain on the many unique plant and animal species that depend on the Lake Alaotra ecosystem for survival.
The Sihanaka have a generally egalitarian social structure, with the eldest male at the head of the family. Traditional beliefs predominate, although Christianity has also had an influence. Social life here, as elsewhere in Madagascar, is guided by the principles of respect for the ancestors and the fady (taboos) established by them. Traditional social practices include complex funeral and divorce rites and a strong and continuing prohibition on working in paddy fields on Tuesdays.