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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 these 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, so that the term for eating a meal is simply
''to eat rice ''. [[Famadihana]] - the ''turning of the bones'' - is a Merina custom.