What You Should Know Before Visiting Comoros ; An Island in East Africa

Comoros is an independent state comprising three of the Comoro Islands in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of East Africa. A fourth island of the Comorian archipelago, Mayotte, is claimed by the country of Comoros but administered by France.

Wild and largely unexplored, the Comoros islands largely fly under the tourism radar and only get about 3,000 tourists per year. But that’s a shame, because although it’s one of the tiniest countries in Africa, Comoros has a rich history and is full of exotic plant and animal life and could easily compete with comparable islands like Reunion and Seychelles.

Comorians are typically from ancient African origins. Locals practice Sunni Islam, and the society is matrilineal. The presence of Islam can be traced back as early as the 11th century. Comorians give importance to family ties, and this has made the population a united cultural and social group. Conflicts are more a result of poor social, political and economic management than ethnic clashes.

The islands were colonized by Africans in the eighth century. The presence of Islam is recorded as early as the eleventh century. With the arrival of Muslim Arabs, chiefdoms evolved into sultanates in the fifteenth century. The era of “battling sultans” saw the flourishing of commerce and the slave trade as well as numerous Madagascan raids. At the end of the nineteenth century, colonial occupation imposed unity and peace in the archipelago. That unity ended in 1975 with the removal of Mahore (Mayotte), which remained French; it was threatened again in 1997 by the secession of Ndzuani.

Comorians, whose ancient African origins can be seen in their matrilineal social organization, have been influenced culturally by Arabian Islam and the West. Islam is considered synonymous with civilization, but Comorians also have appropriated many aspects of French culture. The official languages—French, Arabic, and Comorian—reflect that cultural diversity.

Family ties have made the islands a single cultural and social group. The secession of Ndzuani, which the majority of the population disavows, resulted from poor political, social, and economic management rather than ethnic conflicts.

Comorians are strong followers of Islam, and religious celebrations are widely observed. The local culture is a hodgepodge of Arab, French and African influences. The residents have a strong regard for music and other performance arts and local artisans are skilled in sculpture, pottery, embroidery, and basketry. Diversity is also evident in the many prevalent languages used on the islands, including French, Comorian, Arabic, and Swahili.

Customary celebrations in the Comoros often feature dancing, music and the re-creation of popular and important literary texts, including war epics and tales about the beginning of different villages.

Oral literature includes stories about the creation of villages, war epics, philosophical poetry, tales, riddles, and proverbs. Novels and poetry in French are available.

Artisans produce everyday objects, including sculpted wood coconut graters and abacus-style number games, makeup tables in carved coral, basketry, pottery, embroidery (ceremonial coats, Islamic bonnets, openwork curtains), and jewelry.

Traditional musical genres coexist with music performed by modern village orchestras. Comedic and tragic theatrical works deal with historical themes and often are critical of society.

Rice is the staple of the daily diet, along with manioc and other root vegetables, plantains, fresh and dried fish, and milk from grated coconuts. Food taboos provide a way to establish connections and acknowledge identity.

Ceremonial dishes include beef and castrated goat served with white rice and curdled milk as well as enormous cakes. Another traditional dish is gruel or porridge made with the dried fruit of sago palms. French cuisine and imported beverages are becoming prevalent.

Although Islam is the dominant religion and it influences the Comoros’ culture and traditions deeply, customs should be respected.There is also a Roman Catholic minority. Alcohol is not banned, though discretion should be used when drinking and don’t make too big a deal out of it.


Do you think you would visit the Island of Comores?

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