- LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2016
- LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0148
- LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2016
- LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2014
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0148
The four islands of the Comoro archipelago lie across the northern end of the Mozambique Channel between the African mainland and Madagascar. At the far southern reaches of the monsoon wind system, the islands constitute a southern outpost of the Swahili cultural zone as well as serving as stepping stones between the continent and Madagascar: culturally and ecologically, the islands’ influences are from both. The islands may well have been first visited during the settlement of Madagascar; Islam arrived in the late first millennium and the islands’ economies grew as traders and slavers took advantage of their pivotal position in the Indian Ocean. Following the European arrival in the ocean in the late 15th century, the islands became important supply points for both the Portuguese in Mozambique and other Europeans travelling to Asia. Whalers, pirates, and explorers frequented the islands, particularly Mwali (Mohéli) and, later, Ndzuani (Anjouan), while Ngazidja (Grand Comore) developed as a center of religious scholarship. French and British interests in the archipelago in the 19th century were resolved in favor of the former, who attached them to the French colonial empire as a province of Madagascar, consigning them to economic and administrative neglect for the first half of the 20th century. Since 1975 the three westernmost islands have formed an independent state, now known as the Union of Comoros—a member of the Arab league and the only Islamic country wholly within the Southern Hemisphere—while the fourth island, Mayotte (Maore), became a French département in March 2011. European neglect during the colonial period belies the social and cultural importance of the islands across the region. Comorian migrants served as civil servants and religious leaders the length of the East African coast, particularly in the British colonies, and a numerically important population in Madagascar was economically significant. Today, the local economy is dependent on a moribund spice industry and remittances from migrants in France. The lack of English language literature on the islands—a result of their colonial history—was exacerbated by Africanists who viewed the islands as part of the Indian Ocean world, and scholars of Madagascar, for whom the islands were African. Only recently has this in-between status been recognized as contributing to the islands’ pivotal role rather than marginalizing them. Nevertheless, although there are English-language texts in the natural sciences, in the humanities, and in the social sciences, the Comoros remain very much embedded in a Francophone world. For more on the wider Indian Ocean world, see also the following Oxford Bibliographies articles: Swahili City States of the East African Coast, Indian Ocean Trade, and Indian Ocean and Middle Eastern Slave Trades.
There are very few monographs of any kind on the Comoros in English. Scattered references and occasionally whole chapters may be found in works on the Swahili, the Indian Ocean, or Africa generally, but the paucity of original research and lack of firsthand knowledge of the islands has seen many of the general English-language texts—usually chapters in reference works—simply being reiterations of previous works. Much is therefore repetitive; unfortunately, this observation extends to errors, the most egregious (and tenacious) of which is Njazidja for Ngazidja, but this is only one of many. In English, Newitt 1984 is the only real choice: fortunately, although now thirty years old, it is excellent. In French there is more, but curiously most work is discipline-specific and there is again a conspicuous lack of recent works of a general character. Although both are some twenty years old, Chagnoux and Haribou 1990 is a competent “pocket guide” type text, while Vérin 1994 is the standard longer work. Barraux 2009 is a more recent contribution that complements Vérin 1994 nicely. Flobert 1976 is more academic, while Faurec 1941, Gevrey 1870, and Manicacci 1939 remain useful although they are almost primary sources themselves now.
Barraux, Roland. Du Corail au Volcan: L’histoire des îles Comores. Moroni, Comoros: Komedit, 2009.
Written by a French civil servant who was posted to the islands twice between 1954 and 1972, this book’s strength lies in the author’s firsthand knowledge of the colonial period.
Chagnoux, Hervé, and Ali Haribou. Les Comores. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1990.
A slim volume that provides a first overview of and a good introduction to the islands.
Faurec, Urbain. L’Archipel aux Sultans Batailleurs. Tananarive, Madagascar: Imprimerie officielle, 1941.
Situated firmly within the Orientalist tradition, the book is more interesting perhaps for its perspective than for the historical details. Reprinted in 1971 (Moroni, Comoros: Promo al Camar).
Flobert, Thierry. Les Comores: Evolution juridique et socio-politique. Aix-en-Provence, France: Centre d’Études et de Recherches sur les Sociétés de l’Océan Indien, 1976.
Despite the title, this text covers much historical ground and touches on the economy as well as social structures.
Gevrey, Alfred. Essai sur les Comores. Pondicherry, India: Saligny, 1870.
A comprehensive study of the islands by an early governor of Mayotte that, despite its emphasis on the classical period, remains a key text for the historian. Reprinted in 1980 (Antananarivo, Madagascar: Association Malgache d’Archéologie).
Manicacci, Jean. L’Archipel des Comores. Tananarive, Madagascar: Imprimerie Officielle, 1939.
Although a demographic study, this includes useful economic, historical, and ethnographic details.
Newitt, Malyn. The Comoro Islands: Struggle against Dependency in the Indian Ocean. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1984.
The only general work in English, providing an excellent introduction to the islands that although largely historical also deals with society and culture and the islands’ economies. The essential first text for an English-speaking audience.
Vérin, Pierre. Les Comores. Paris: Karthala, 1994.
An accessible general history of the islands by an archaeologist who was in the islands in the immediate post-independence period.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
- Achebe, Chinua
- Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi
- African Socialism
- Africans in the Atlantic World
- Aid and Economic Development
- Arab Spring
- Arabic Language and Literature
- Archaeology and the Study of Africa
- Archaeology of Central Africa
- Archaeology of Eastern Africa
- Archaeology of Southern Africa
- Art, Art History, and the Study of Africa
- Arts of Central Africa
- Arts of Western Africa
- Asante and the Akan and Mossi States
- Bantu Expansion
- Benin (Dahomey)
- Botswana (Bechuanaland)
- Brink, André
- British Colonial Rule in Sub-Saharan Africa
- Burkina Faso (Upper Volta)
- Cape Verde
- Central African Republic
- Children and Childhood
- China in Africa
- Christianity, African
- Coetzee, J.M.
- Colonial Rule, Belgian
- Colonial Rule, French
- Colonial Rule, German
- Colonial Rule, Italian
- Colonial Rule, Portuguese
- Communism, Marxist-Leninism, and Socialism in Africa
- Comoro Islands
- Congo, Republic of (Congo Brazzaville)
- Congo River Basin States
- Conservation and Wildlife
- Crime and the Law in Colonial Africa
- Democratic Republic of Congo (Zaire)
- Development of Early Farming and Pastoralism
- Diaspora, Kongo Atlantic
- Disease and African Society
- Early States And State Formation In Africa
- Early States of the Western Sudan
- Economy, Informal
- Education and the Study of Africa
- Egypt, Ancient
- Environmental History
- Equatorial Guinea
- Ethnicity and Politics
- Europe and Africa, Medieval
- Family Planning
- Farah, Nuruddin
- Food and Food Production
- Fugard, Athol
- Genocide in Rwanda
- Geography and the Study of Africa
- Gikuyu (Kikuyu) People of Kenya
- Gordimer, Nadine
- Great Lakes States of Eastern Africa, The
- Hausa Language and Literature
- Health, Medicine, and the Study of Africa
- Historiography and Methods of African History
- History and the Study of Africa
- Ijo/Niger Delta
- Image of Africa, The
- Indian Ocean and Middle Eastern Slave Trades
- Indian Ocean Trade
- Invention of Tradition
- Iron Working and the Iron Age in Africa
- Islam in Africa
- Islamic Politics
- Kongo and the Coastal States of West Central Africa
- Language and the Study of Africa
- Literature and the Study of Africa
- Lord's Resistance Army
- Maasai and Maa-Speaking Peoples of East Africa, The
- Mau Mau
- Media and Journalism
- Military History
- Modern African Literature in European Languages
- Music, Dance, and the Study of Africa
- Music, Traditional
- Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
- North Africa from 600 to 1800
- North Africa to 600
- Northeastern African States, c. 1000 BCE-1800 CE
- Obama and Kenya
- Oman, the Gulf, and East Africa
- Oral and Written Traditions, African
- Police and Policing
- Political Science and the Study of Africa
- Political Systems, Precolonial
- Popular Culture and the Study of Africa
- Popular Music
- Population and Demography
- Postcolonial Sub-Saharan African Politics
- Seychelles, The
- Slave Trade, Atlantic
- Slavery in Africa
- São Tomé and Príncipe
- Social and Cultural Anthropology and the Study of Africa
- South Africa Post c. 1850
- Southern Africa to c. 1850
- Spanish Colonial Rule
- States of the Zimbabwe Plateau and Zambezi Valley
- Sudan and South Sudan
- Swahili City States of the East African Coast
- Swahili Language and Literature
- Tanzania (Tanganyika and Zanzibar)
- Traditional Religion, African
- Trans-Saharan Trade
- Urbanism and Urbanization
- Wars and Warlords
- Western Sahara
- Women and African History
- Women and Colonialism
- Women and Politics
- Women and Slavery
- Women, Gender and the Study of Africa
- Women in 19th-Century West Africa
- Yoruba Language and Literature
- Yoruba States, Benin, and Dahomey