Comore Island

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    Located in a strategicposition at the northern endof the Mozambique Channel,the archipelago of theComoro Islands arose fromthe western Indian Ocean asthe result of volcanicactivity. The islands:

    Ngazidja (Grande Comore), Mwali (Moheli),Nzwani (Anjouan), and Maore (Mayotte), havedistinct topographical characteristics due totheir different ages. Mayotte, the oldest ofthe islands, is highly eroded with slow,meandering streams. Ngazidja, the youngestof the islands is dominated by a massive,active volcano. Volcanic experts areconcerned that a very violent eruption mayoccur in the near future. The other twoislands are mountainous but have no activevolcanic activity. The Comoro Islands once

    played a major role in the world economy ofthe western Indian Ocean. For centuries, theywere a major stopover along the mercantileroutes of the Indian Ocean from Africa to theOrient.

    Maritime trade in the Comoros ismentioned in ancient documents. The town

    of Domoni, located on the eastern shore of

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    the island ofNzwani(Anjouan), for

    example, wasa majortrading centerin the fifteenthcentury whenArabian,African, Indian,

    and Persian sailing vessels traveling betweenAfrica and Asia stopped there. Fromarchaeological evidence, we know that tradeexisted between the community and placesas far away as Japan. During the sixteenththrough the nineteenth centuries, Europeanand American ships also visited the islands.

    These included whalers, merchants, andpirates, such as the infamous Captain Kidd.Sailors liked the island of Nzwani, inparticular, for reprovisioning food and water.But after the opening of the Suez Canal,the Comoros ceased to be on the main routeof trade and, except for an occasional

    historical incident, they virtually disappearedfrom outsiders' awareness. Today, theComoros have become the "ForgottenIslands."

    The mountainous terrain found onseveral of the islands offers avariety of habitats home todiverse animal and plant species.Several species of animals are

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    unique to the Comoros. The bat picturedbelow is one of the species of rare animalsfound on the islands. The Livingstone's flying

    fox is a fruit bat unique to the Comoros witha wing span that exceeds four feet. Severaldifferent kinds of insects and over a dozenbird species are also unique to the islands.Many of these animals are now beingthreatened with extinction.

    In the waters around the islands, lives thefamous coelacanth. It is a unique fish oncethought by western scientists to have beenextinct for millions of years. But in thesecond half of the last century, anichthyologist learned that Comorian

    fishermen regularly caught coelacanths inthe deep waters surrounding the islands ofNgazidja and Nzwani. Several specimenshave since been preserved and can be seentoday in museums around the world.

    There is an abundance of life in the sea

    around the Comoros. One can find everythingfrom giant whales, large sharks, big mantarays, sailfish, sunfish, to lobsters, crabs andtiny shrimp. Deep water close to the islands,coral reefs, miles of sandy beaches, plusfresh water streams and shoreline springsprovide multiple habitats for the marine life.

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    The islands became aFrench colony followingthe Berlin conference of1886-7 and remainedunder French political

    control until 1975. Three of the islands:Ngazidja, Mwali, and Nzwani, declaredthemselves independent from France in 1975and became the Federal Islamic Republic ofthe Comoro Islands. The fourth major islandof the archipelago, Mayotte (Maore),continued to be administered by France

    although it's status has been continuouslychallenged by the Comorian government. Theclaim that Mayotte belongs within the sphereof the independent nation of the comoros hasbeen recognized by the United NationsGeneral Assembly. Separatists on the islandsof Nzwani and Mwali declared their islands to

    be independent from the Republic in 1997.This led to the breakup of the Republic and areformation of the government of the ComoroIslands as a Union in 2002 with each of thethree islands given considerable autonomy.Presidential elections are to be held everyfour years. The next election is scheduled for

    April of 2006.


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    Located a little more than10 degrees below the equatorin the western Indian Oceanthe islands have a maritimetropical climate.

    In the wet season from October to April,the predominant northerly winds of theIndian Ocean bring moist, warm air to theregion. Heaviest rainfall occurs during theperiod from December to April and amountscan reach as high as 15 inches (390 mm) in amonth. The mean temperature during the

    wet season is in the high seventies with thehottest month, March, averagingtemperatures in the middle eighties(fahrenheit).

    From May to September southerly windsdominate the region. These are cooler anddrier and temperatures in the islands

    average around 66 degrees fahrenheit (19degrees celsius).Rainfall and temperature vary from island toisland during any month and even vary on anisland due to the topography. The central,higher areas of an island are often cooler andmore moist than the coastal regions. This


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    variation results in microecologies on theislands with distinct flora and fauna.


    Traditionally, seabornetrade played an important rolein the Islands' economy. Today,

    agriculture is the principaleconomic activity with crops

    grown both for domestic consumption andexport. The major food crops are cassava,coconut, bananas, rice, sweet potatoes,pulses, and corn. Vanilla, ylang-ylang, cloves,and copra have been the major export crops.

    The Comoros were the world's leadingproducer of the essence of ylang-ylang, an oilwidely used in the perfume industry. TheIslands were also the world's second-largestproducer of vanilla. The market demands forthese products have decreased significantlyin the past decade, however. In 1996, for

    example, there was a 60% drop in the valueof vanilla and exports declined by 42.7%from the previous year. During the sameyear, the volume of ylang-ylang essencedeclined by 15.8% and the value of theexports dropped by 24.6%..

    Some animal husbandry is undertaken by

    individual farmers and a small scale fishingindustry exists. Coelecanth specimens


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    provided some income for fishermen and thegovernment. This fish was thought bywestern scientists to have been extinct for 70

    million years but has been caught by localfishermen for years. At one time it was soldto the local government and resold tomuseums and research centers all over theworld.

    There is a small tourist industry on theIslands which had been recently promoted by

    South African interests.France has been the major tradingpartner of the Comoros. The Islands have arelatively large negative trade balance andthe government has been for many yearsdependent upon external aid. A number ofcountries in the past have provided this aid

    with France being the dominant donor.The currency of the country is theComorian franc. Its value is tied to the Frenchfranc at 75 Comorian francs to 1 Frenchfranc. There are banks on the islands ofNgazidja, Nzwani, and Maore but no bank onMwali. The banks are open Monday through

    Friday mornings.


    The ComoroIslands are an


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    archipelago of four islands and several isletslocated in the western Indian Ocean aboutten to twelve degrees south of the Equator

    and less than 200 miles off the East Africancoast. They lie approximately halfwaybetween the island of Madagascar andnorthern Mozambique at the northern end ofthe Mozambique Channel. The archipelago isthe result of volcanic action along a fissure inthe seabed running west-northwest to east-

    southeast. The total area of the four islands is785 square miles (2,034 square kilometers).The four major

    islands areNgazidja, Mwali,Nzwani, andMayotte (Maore).

    Ngazidja is thelargest and theyoungest island inthe archipelago. It

    is the most westerly of the islands, lying 188miles from Mozambique. Ngazidja has anactive volcano that rises to a height of 7,746

    feet (2,361 meters) above sea level. Mwali,28 miles south-southeast of Ngazidja, is thesmallest of the islands with a centralmountain range that rises 2,556 feet (790meters) above sea level. Nzwani lies abouttwenty-five miles easterly of Mwali, has acentral peak that rises 5,072 feet (1,575meters) above sea level. It also has severalswift running streams that cascade down to


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    long, sandy beaches. Forty-four miles to thesoutheast of Nzwani is Mayotte (Maore), theoldest of the islands. It is almost surrounded

    by a barrier reef and is fairly flat with slowmeandering streams and mangrove swamps.


    The official languages of The Union of theComoros are French and Arabic. French is thelanguage of government while Arabic is thelanguage of Islam, the major religion in thecountry. French is used as the officiallanguage on the island of Mayotte.

    In daily life, most people speak one or morevarieties of Comorian, the language groupindigenous to the Islands. It is closely relatedto the Swahili of the East African coast.Comorian is typical of a Bantu language witha large number of noun classes and anelaborate set of verb tenses and aspects. For

    centuries, people have used Arabic script towrite Comorian and there is an attemptpresently to normalize an orthography forwriting the varieties of the language inRoman script.

    The rich vocabulary of Comorian hasbeen enhanced by the borrowing of words

    from many other languages. Since Comorianshave been involved in maritime trade for a


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    thousand years or more, they have come intocontact with a number of different peoplesand their language reflects this contact.

    Words of Indian, Persian, Arabic, Portuguese,English, and French origin have been addedto those of African ancestry.

    There are four varieties of Comorianspoken in the Islands: Shingazidja, Shimwali,Shinzwani, and Shimaore. Each one is namedfor the primary island on which it is spoken.

    Shingazidja is primarily spoken on Ngazidja,Shinzwani on Nzwani, Shimwali on Mwali, andShimaore on Maore.


    Located at the northern end of theMozambique channel, and at the easternedge of the Bantu linguistic area, theComoros are at a unique cultural and musicalcrossroads. Involved in the western IndianOcean trade for over a thousand years, theislands have absorbed cultural and musical

    influences from East Africa, the Middle East,Madagascar, and southern India. As a resultthere is a remarkably wide range of musicalstyles in the Comoros: solo and choral,through composed and stanzaic, improvisedand rehearsed, accompanied and acapella.

    Contemporary Artists in the Islands and

    in Europe have been utilizing traditional


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    sounds and themes and putting them in amodern idiom to produce some veryinteresting music.

    Traditional instruments include gongs,drums, tambourines, rattles, oboes, zithers,and five-stringed lutes. The musical examplebelow is a zither-and-rattle selection typicalof social events such as womens' weddingdances. It is performed by Shirontro, a well-known singer and instrumentalist from



    In 1997, the islands

    of Mwali and Nzwaniboth declaredthemselves independentof the Federal IslamicRepublic of the Comoro

    Islands. Since then Mwali has returned to theRepublic and, currently, Nzwani is undergoing

    talks with the Republic. The independence ofNzwani has not been recognized by anynation and pressure has been put on theseparatists by the ONU and other membersof the international community to negotiate areturn to the Federal Islamic Republic. (22August 2000)

    Meeting at Fomboni, on the island ofMwali, the Comorian head of state, Colonel


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    Azali Assoumani and the separatist leaderfrom Nzwani, Said Abeid, signed an accord onAugust 26 agreeing to the creation of a

    "Comoran entity" and a tripartiteCommission. This Commission, composed ofrepresentatives from Nzwani, Mwali, andNgazidja is to draft the details about the newentity.(28 August 2000)

    Statement of the Comoro Island'srepresentative to the United Nations, 3

    October 2001:Mahmound Aboud expressed his heartfeltcondolences to the people of the UnitedStates for the terrorist attacks of 11September. All nations had been shaken bythose acts of barbarity, which were designedto hurt all of mankind. He was gratified at the

    will of the Secretary-General to fightterrorism and fully supported its eradication.International cooperation alone could combatthe globalization of terrorism and guaranteesuccess. The coordination of States andwithin the framework of the United Nationswas the most effective and reliagble course

    ahead. He said prompt objectives must beestablished and concrete action determinedto attack the roots of evil--not a new evil, butone which had reached incomprehensibleproportions on 11 September. he noted thatthe concerns of the past were also part of thepicture, including conflicts arising from thediverse problems of under-development.International cooperation must be intensified


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    to meet the challenges of sustainable humandevelopment, which included problems of theenvironment and of education. His country

    had adopted national measures and ratifiedinstruments against international terrorism.He condemned terrorism in all its forms andmanifetations and expressed horror that suchacts had taken the lives of so many inocentcivilians.


    The total population of the ComoroIslands is estimated to be over 600,000people today. Over 27% live in urban areas.

    A 1980 estimate of the average density was182.5 persons per square kilometer, varyingbetween 65.5 persons per square kilometerin Mwali and 349.1 persons per squarekilometer in Nzwani. Today the densities aremuch higher.

    In recent decades the population was

    increased by the forced evacuation ofComorians from Madagascar and Zanzibar.

    These peoples resettled in the Comorosadding to an already difficult situation.Earlier, changes in politics in the area hadreduced the opportunities for Comorian mento go abroad; one means that had effectively

    eased population pressures. There still are anumber of Comorians living abroad.


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    Comorians can be found living in many partsof the world but most of the emigrants are inEurope or in Kenya and Zanzibar along the

    East African coast. There are an estimated60,000 Comorians or people of Comoriandescent living in France today.

    The present population increase is anestimated 3.5% per year with an annual birthrate of 47 births per 1,000 and an annualdeath rate of 12 deaths per 1,000 population.

    The most recent estimate of the total fertilityrate is 6.8 children born per woman. Lifeexpectancy at birth is 54 years for males and59 years for females.

    The inhabitants are a blend of variouspeoples of the Indian Ocean littoral. African,Malagasy, and Arabic features are clearly

    evident. Maritime commerce before entry ofEuropeans into the Indian Ocean broughtComorians into contact with peoples fromsouthern Africa to southeast Asia. Since theend of the fifteenth century Europeaninfluence has also impacted upon Comorianlife.

    The dominant religion in the islands isIslam. Outside of Mayotte, where there are anumber of Catholics, islanders arepredominantly Sunni Muslims conforming tothe Shafii rite.



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    The airlines have provided servicebetween the Comoro Islands and othercountries. These flights were into Prince Said

    Ibrahim International Airport at Hahaya, northof Moroni, Ngazidja. Service has also beenprovided to Mayotte from other countries.