Malagasy culture is generally unified. Some divisions, however, occur between those people who live in the capital region and the surrounding mountains (including the largest tribe, the Merina) and those who inhabit the coasts (côtiers) .
Eighty percent of Malagasy are employed in agriculture. Most are subsistence farmers, especially in the mountains, where rice is the major crop and staple of the Malagasy diet. Rural families live in homes constructed from local materials, usually mud brick. Architecture in the capital shows a French colonial influence.
Almost half of Malagasy practice native tribal religious beliefs, and often integrate these beliefs with those of Christianity or Islam. The supreme god is known as Zanahary (God on High). Importance is placed on the reverance for and the consultation of deceased ancestors (razana), as well as maintenance of family tombs.
Family traditions are also shared nationwide, such as the patriarchal family unit. At meals, the eldest male will be served first. Households headed by a single female, though rarely a single male. More and more women work outside the home, with state laws now dictating that they be paid equally for the same work as men.
Arranged marriages, although formerly common, are now practiced more rarely and are usually to secure some economic or political benefit. Marriages are made only after three generations of ancestors are examined for suitability. Polygyny is practiced in around 50 percent of households, in which a man will maintain a separate family (known as a deuxieme bureau, or "second office").