The Tanala are a Malagasy ethnic group that inhabit a forested inland region of south-east Madagascar near Manakara. Their name means “people of the forest.” Tanala people identify with one of two sub-groups: the southern Ikongo group, who managed to remain independent in the face of the expanding Kingdom of Imerina in the 19th century, or the northern Menabe group, who submitted to Merina rule. Both groups trace their origin back to a noble ancestor named Ralambo, who is believed to be of Arab descent. They were historically known to be great warriors, having led a successful conquest of the neighboring Antemoro people in the 18th century. They are also reputed to have a particular talent in divination through reading seeds or through astrology, which was brought to Madagascar with the Arabs.
Tanala social structure is characterized by a harmonious interrelationship between the nobles of the Tanala who migrated into the forest where they settled, and the commoner chiefs of the people who were already settled there. This relationship is traditionally reinforced through marriage between the groups and particular roles given to each in the governance of the community. The Tanala speak a dialect of the Malagasy language and adhere to numerous fady such as a prohibition against visiting a nobleman when he is ill or closing the door to the house during mealtimes to prevent others from watching one eat. Their main livelihoods are the cultivation of coffee and rice.