African Studies Comoro Islands
by
Iain Walker
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0148

Introduction

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.

General Overviews

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.

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    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.

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    • Chagnoux, Hervé, and Ali Haribou. Les Comores. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1990.

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      A slim volume that provides a first overview of and a good introduction to the islands.

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      • Faurec, Urbain. L’Archipel aux Sultans Batailleurs. Tananarive, Madagascar: Imprimerie officielle, 1941.

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        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).

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        • 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.

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          Despite the title, this text covers much historical ground and touches on the economy as well as social structures.

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          • Gevrey, Alfred. Essai sur les Comores. Pondicherry, India: Saligny, 1870.

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            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).

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            • Manicacci, Jean. L’Archipel des Comores. Tananarive, Madagascar: Imprimerie Officielle, 1939.

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              Although a demographic study, this includes useful economic, historical, and ethnographic details.

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              • Newitt, Malyn. The Comoro Islands: Struggle against Dependency in the Indian Ocean. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1984.

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                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.

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                • Vérin, Pierre. Les Comores. Paris: Karthala, 1994.

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                  An accessible general history of the islands by an archaeologist who was in the islands in the immediate post-independence period.

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                  Island Overviews

                  While the General Overviews treat the islands as a group, there are significant differences—social, historical, cultural, political, and economic—between the islands, and a more localized approach is often appropriate. The references that follow are representative in that each provides a good introduction to the island in question. Bertile 2012 and Chanudet and Rakotoarisoa 2000 are recent works on the two smaller islands, and Fontaine 2002 is a general text published in the same series as Vérin 1994 (cited under General Overviews); for some reason the larger islands have not been the object of accessible general texts in the recent past, but Fontoynont and Raomandahy 1937 and Repiquet 1901 are both well-known works useful to the curious and the scholar alike; and while Robineau 1966 is the published version of the author’s doctoral thesis in economics, it nevertheless has much to interest a wider audience. Some of the more competent works tend to be reports and other documents produced by various French government bodies and are thereby often difficult to locate—Hocquet 1957, for example.

                  • Bertile, Wilfrid. Mayotte à l’heure de la départementalisation. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2012.

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                    Unlike the other islands, Maore (or Mayotte) is well-researched. This title (one of many on Maore in its current political context) focuses on contemporary issues linked to departmentalization of the island but situates it in a historical context.

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                    • Chanudet, Claude, and Jean-Aimé Rakotoarisoa. Mohéli, une île des Comores à la recherche de son identité. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2000.

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                      The only monograph devoted to the smallest island of the group, coauthored by an archaeologist and a geographer.

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                      • Fontaine, Guy. Mayotte. Paris: Karthala, 2002.

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                        A general overview by a geographer that provides a good introduction to the island.

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                        • Fontoynont, M., and E. Raomandahy. La Grande Comore. Tananarive, Madagascar: Pitot de la Beaujardière, 1937.

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                          Although there are more recent works on the island (see Hocquet 1957), this text is, despite its age, a comprehensive and representative study of the island.

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                          • Hocquet, Yves. La Grande-Comore: Pour une meilleure connaissance de l’archipel des Comores. Paris: CHEAM, 1957.

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                            An excellent study, but there appears to be only one publicly available copy, held at the French Centre des Archives Contemporaines at Fontainebleau.

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                            • Repiquet, Jules. Le sultanat d’Anjouan (Iles Comores). Paris: A. Challamel, 1901.

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                              Somewhat curiously, there is no recent general work on Ndzuani, but Repiquet’s text remains of interest.

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                              • Robineau, Claude. Société et Economie d’Anjouan. Paris: ORSTOM, 1966.

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                                Although largely economic in nature, there is a brief historical section and a substantial section on social structures.

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                                Bibliographies

                                A number of bibliographies have been prepared over the years, although, regrettably, none have been in print for the best part of two decades, during which time there has been a significant output on the islands, and particularly in the islands themselves, where numerous small publishing ventures have appeared (and frequently disappeared again) following the vulgarization of desktop publishing software. Probably the most complete Comorian bibliography—it hosts Clockers, et al. 1992 as well as listing almost all subsequent publications up to (in some categories) 2011—is on the Mwezinet website. Gorse and Sauvalle 1964 was the first major bibliography specifically concerned with the territory, while Dubins 1969a and Dubins 1969b are both useful points of departure for Anglophone scholars, even though most of the references contained therein are in French. Girardin, et al. 1991 was the basis for Clockers, et al. 1992 and contains items not in the latter, while Clockers 2005 updates the earlier collaborative works. Finally, Ottenheimer and Ottenheimer 1994 also contains an extensive bibliography arranged thematically.

                                • Clockers, Alain. “Les sources documentaires écrites de l’Archipel des Comores: Aperçu et perspectives.” Ya Mkobe 12–13 (2005): 9–25.

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                                  Although not strictly a bibliography, this is an extremely thorough and useful survey of scholars, their research, and sources for works on the islands.

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                                  • Clockers, Alain, Pierre Vérin, and Claude Allibert. Premier dénombrement pour une banque de données bibliographiques sur les sciences humaines des Comores. CERSOI Travaux et documents 17. Paris: Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, 1992.

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                                    A compendious work of some 2,000 references, it includes almost everything that had appeared about the islands as of the early 1990s. Also available online (with the “A” section missing).

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                                    • Dubins, Barbara. “The Comoro Islands: A Bibliographical Essay.” African Studies Bulletin 12.2 (1969a): 131–137.

                                      DOI: 10.2307/523155Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                      A useful and thorough survey, with commentary, of the general literature from the mid-19th century to the 1960s, with commentary.

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                                      • Dubins, Barbara. “Nineteenth Century Travel Literature on the Comoro Islands: A Bibliographical Essay.” African Studies Bulletin 12.2 (1969b): 138–146.

                                        DOI: 10.2307/523156Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                        This article provides an extensive annotated survey of primary sources, organized by island, written by travelers to the Comoros in the immediate precolonial period.

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                                        • Girardin, Monique, Claude Allibert, Pierre Vérin, and Alain Clockers. “Comores. Bibliographie. 1984–1991.” Annuaire des Pays de l’Océan Indien 12 (1991): 547–595.

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                                          This is an extract, more complete but restricted both in time and scope (human sciences only), of Clockers, et al. 1992, and was subsequently republished as CERSOI Travaux et documents no 19 (1992). It contains many references, mostly locally produced dissertations and reports, that did not appear in Clockers, et al. 1992.

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                                          • Gorse, Jean, and Hélène Sauvalle. Territoire des Comores: Bibliographie. Paris: Bureau Pour le Developpement de la Production Agricole, 1964.

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                                            One of the earlier bibliographies; as the source suggests, it is mostly concerned with the natural sciences, but it also has social and historical items.

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                                            • Mwezinet.

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                                              This site, maintained by enthusiastic amateurs, is extraordinarily complete. The various sections include almost everything published on the islands, although updates seem to have ceased in late 2011.

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                                              • Ottenheimer, Martin, and Harriet Ottenheimer. Historical Dictionary of the Comoro Islands. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1994.

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                                                An extensive bibliography is undoubtedly the most useful aspect of this accessible text.

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                                                Reference Works

                                                There are very few reference works that include the Comoros in anything more than a cursory fashion, although most works on the Swahili or general works on Africa that have sections on the Swahili will usually contain some references to the islands. The references below are all in English, aimed at providing a first approach for those who do not read French. A Country Study: Comoros, published on the Library of Congress website, is an online version of the Comoros chapters from Indian Ocean: Five Island Countries, originally published in the library’s Area Handbook series in the 1990s, but it is still useful. The other texts are brief, but together they provide a point of departure for further reading on the islands. The Comoro entries in Shillington 2005 and the Encyclopedia Britannica (Ottenheimer and Ottenheimer 2014) are both by reliable scholars, the former by Malyn Newitt, the latter by the Ottenheimers. The CIA’s World Factbook entry is largely quantitive but up to date—and, interestingly, appears to include Mayotte in its (inaccurate) calculation of the country’s land area.

                                                Journals

                                                Articles in English about the islands do not appear with sufficient regularity for any specific journal to be cited by name, with the possible exceptions of Azania and the Journal of Eastern African Studies. In French, however, both Africanist and Indian Ocean journals regularly include articles about the Comoros, while locally published journals are almost exclusively devoted to Comorian topics. Annuaire des Pays de l’Océan Indien, Asie du Sud-Est et Monde Insulindien and Etudes Océan Indien were the product of research centers concerned with the region, but the former two have both ceased publication; the latter has resumed publication after a hiatus. Of the two Comorian journals cited, Tarehi is particularly useful, although it has also suspended publication. Ya Mkobe has many articles of merit from both Comorian and foreign scholars and appears with reasonable regularity. Cahiers d’Études africaines, Islam et sociétés au sud du Sahara and Journal des Africanistes are French Africanist journals that carry articles on the Comoros although rarely in English. The historian should also consult the many colonial era journals published both in France and in the colonies that regularly carried items on the islands, some perhaps only half a page, others lengthy articles on the economy, political situation, or ethnography of the archipelago. Most of those of substance are included in the Bibliographies.

                                                Archaeology and Prehistory

                                                As a result of their marginal location on the periphery of the French empire, the Comoros have historically attracted far less attention than the Swahili coast of the African mainland or Madagascar. This has changed as both historians and archaeologists have come to recognize the islands’ potential to shed light on trading networks and the movements of populations in the western Indian Ocean, particularly in light of their location close to the African coast and on the route to Madagascar, and their potential, which it increasingly appears was realized, to serve as a nexus on these trade routes. Archaeological finds have confirmed the extent to which the islands were involved in foreign trade, with some of the highest percentages of imported artifacts of any site in the entire East African region. Trade goods came from as far away as Persia, Indiam and China, and apparently with some regularity. Archaeology in the Comoros was long the preserve of Claude Allibert, Pierre Vérin (see General Overviews) and, particularly, Henry Wright (see Wright 1984 and Wright 1992), although both Allibert and Vérin focused their later efforts on historical and ethnographic research rather than archaeology; a summary of their work is provided in Allibert 2002. Over the past two decades, scholars have also worked in the islands and begun to reveal their early importance in the region (see Chanudet 1988 and Pradines and Brial 2012). Even more recently, researchers associated with the Sealinks Project at the University of Oxford—including Henry Wright—have returned to the islands; Boivin, et al. 2013 provides a synthesis of this work. In a different discipline, recent advances in genetic analysis are beginning to furnish data concerning the geographical origins of the Comorian population, providing useful comparative material for the linguist and the archaeologist. In particular, Msaidie, et al. 2011 and Gourjon, et al. 2011 are two works that appeared almost simultaneously and are beginning to reveal the diversity of origins of the local population. For more on the wider Indian Ocean world, see also the separate Oxford Bibliographies articles Swahili City States of the East African Coast, Indian Ocean Trade, and Indian Ocean and Middle Eastern Slave Trades.

                                                • Allibert, Claude. “L’Interdépendance de archéologie et de l’anthropologie culturelle dans l’Océan Indien occidental: L’exemple de Mayotte.” Etudes Océan Indien 33–34 (2002): 11–31.

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                                                  A good overview of findings on Mayotte/Maore and their significance. Includes a lengthy bibliography.

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                                                  • Boivin, Nicole, Alison Crowther, Richard Helm, and Dorian Fuller. “East Africa and Madagascar in the Indian Ocean World.” Journal of World Prehistory 26.3 (2013): 213–281.

                                                    DOI: 10.1007/s10963-013-9067-4Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                    A recent overview that draws on a variety of disciplinary sources, placing Comorian prehistory in the wider context.

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                                                    • Chanudet, Claude. “Contribution à l’étude du peuplement de l’île de Mohéli.” PhD diss., Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales, 1988.

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                                                      The doctoral thesis on which Chanudet and Rakotoarisoa drew for their general text on Mwali (see Chanudet and Rakotoarisoa 2000, cited under Island Overviews) is far more detailed, and it is the only full-length archaeological report from the island.

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                                                      • Gourjon, Geraud, Gilles Boetsch, and Anna Degioanni. “Gender and Population History: Sex Bias Revealed by Studying Genetic Admixture of Ngazidja population (Comoro Archipelago).” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 144.4 (2011): 653–660.

                                                        DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.21474Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                        A report on recent findings based on genetic analysis and implications for the prehistorical and historical movement of people in the Indian Ocean.

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                                                        • Msaidie, Said, Axel Ducourneau, Gilles Boetsch, et al. “Genetic Diversity on the Comoros Islands Shows Early Seafaring as Major Determinant of Human Biocultural Evolution in the Western Indian Ocean.” European Journal of Human Genetics 19.1 (2011): 89–94.

                                                          DOI: 10.1038/ejhg.2010.128Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                          Complements Gourjon, et al. 2011 with data on the genetic origins of the population, shedding light on the origins of the population and, more widely, the nature of Indian Ocean mobilities.

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                                                          • Pradines, Stéphane, and Pierre Brial. “Dembéni, Mayotte (976): Archéologie swahilie dans un département français.” Nyame Akuma, Bulletin of the Society of Africanist Archaeologists 77 (2012): 68–81.

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                                                            A more recent reevaluation of one of the most important archaeological sites in the region.

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                                                            • Wright, Henry. “Early Seafarers of the Comoro Islands: the Dembeni phase of the IXth–Xth centuries AD.” Azania 19 (1984): 13–59.

                                                              DOI: 10.1080/00672708409511327Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                              An early report from the islands, following Wright’s digs in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

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                                                              • Wright, Henry. “Early Islam, Oceanic Trade and Town Development on Nzwani: The Comorian Archipelago in the XIth–XVth Centuries AD.” Azania 27 (1992): 81–128.

                                                                DOI: 10.1080/00672709209511432Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                A return to the early history of the island, based on further archaeological research.

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                                                                Oral Tradition

                                                                As in many African societies, oral histories provide rich sources both for the historian and for the anthropologist. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a number of histories were either written or came to light, at least partially in the context of struggles by different ruling families to assert their rights as the old political order encountered colonialism, and these should be interpreted in this light. There are a number of well-known and published texts, several of which have been the object of commentary on more than one occasion. The texts cited in this section are all published versions of oral traditions that may or may not have been reshaped to social or political ends as they were written down. They are the most easily accessible and the most thoroughly commentated upon, and although their contents vary quite significantly, most include the history of the island (or islands, although most are island-specific given the political context of their production) from the myths of first settlement through the arrival of Islam, Arabs, and Shirazis, to the Portuguese and other Europeans, before finishing with genealogies of the ruling houses. Some also provide explanations of social structures and cultural practices, and describe the islands’ relationships with the mainland. Many of these texts, when first written, were written in Swahili, which was the language of the educated classes in the precolonial period, and in Arabic script, and most deal with Ngazidja, largely due to the internal political struggles on the island, which were attenuated if not absent elsewhere. Aboubakar 1982 presents one of the better known oral histories of Ngazidja, while Chouzour 1982, also concerned with Ngazidja, is useful for its reproduction of the original text. Damir, et al. 1985 is an excellent history of the island, drawing on supplementary sources to contextualize the text reproduced therein, while Harries 1977 is useful as the only English-language translation of a Comorian historical narrative. Gou 2000 and Allibert 2000 both provide histories of Ndzuani, while Gourlet 2001 does the same for Mayotte. There are no published texts concerned uniquely with Mwali, but for those who read German, Rotter 1976 is a history of all four islands, complete with a facsimile of the original text.

                                                                • Aboubakar, Aziza. “L’histoire d’Angazija (Habara na Angazija): Présentation et traduction des textes arabe et swahili en français.” Etudes Océan Indien 1 (1982): 5–10.

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                                                                  One of several articles that discuss this text, which circulated widely in oral form. This article compares a Swahili version collected in Zanzibar and the Arabic translation of a version in Shingazidja, now lost, that was written down in Madagascar around 1890.

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                                                                  • Ali Mohamed Gou. “La Fondation de villes d’Anjouan selon le manuscrit de Mouchamou Ben Mohamed ben Abdallah ben Soilihi.” In L’Extraordinaire et le Quotidien: Variations anthropologiques; Hommage au Professeur Pierre Vérin. Edited by Claude Allibert and Narivelo Rajaonarimanana, 495–521. Paris: Karthala, 2000.

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                                                                    This forty-page manuscript, largely in Shindzuani but partly in Arabic, was written down about 1914. The text describes the settlement of the island of Ndzuani.

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                                                                    • Allibert, Claude. “La chronique d’Anjouan par Said Ahmed Zaki.” Études Océan Indien 29 (2000): 9–92.

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                                                                      This history of Anjouan written by the qadi of Mutsamudu is based on both oral tradition and written sources.

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                                                                      • Chouzour, Sultan. “Histoire et sociologie de Ngazidja: Le manuscrit de Said Hussein.” Etudes Océan Indien 1 (1982): 15–53.

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                                                                        By a member of the royal families of Bambao, Ngazidja, presented in the original Shingazidja text (in Arabic script) and accompanied by a French translation and annotations by Chouzour.

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                                                                        • Damir Ben Ali, Georges Boulinier, and Paul Ottino. Traditions d’une lignée royale aux Comores. Paris: L’Harmattan, 1985.

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                                                                          The chronicle of Abdul Latwif Msafumu, written in Swahili in Arabic characters, is the history of the ruling clan of the sultanate of Itsandra on Ngazidja. The transliterated text and French translation are preceded by a historical essay based on the text and Damir’s own research.

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                                                                          • Gourlet, Jean-François, ed. Chroniques Mahoraises. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2001.

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                                                                            This volume gathers together five manuscripts that provide largely oral histories of the island of Mayotte, with commentary.

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                                                                            • Harries, Lyndon. The Swahili Chronicle of Ngazidja by Saïd Bakari bin Sultan Ahmed. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1977.

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                                                                              This text was written down by the son of Sultan Ahmed (Mwinyi Mkuu) of Bambao, Ngazidja, at the end of the 19th century. It is presented in Swahili, with English translation and commentary.

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                                                                              • Rotter, Gernot. Muslimische Inseln vor Ostafrika: Eine arabische Komoren-Chronik des 19. Jahrhunderts. Beirut, Lebanon: Orient-Institut der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft, 1976.

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                                                                                This text discusses all four islands. It was written in Mayotte, in Arabic, in 1865 by Qadi Umar bin Abubakar al-Shirazi and is here presented in the original (facsimile, not transliterated), and in German translation, with extensive commentary.

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                                                                                Primary Sources

                                                                                Although the subheadings into which primary sources are divided should not be taken as markers of discrete historical periods, there is nevertheless a difference in character between the pre-Portuguese contact texts, which are sparse and mostly originally written in non-European languages; the European travel narratives, which are numerous and vary from a few sentences’ observation of a brief halt during a voyage to lengthy accounts of extended visits; and the colonial texts, which are far more political in character.

                                                                                Pre-Portuguese Texts

                                                                                If Oral Tradition is concerned with locally generated texts, there is a significant body of external written sources that help shed light on the history of the islands. Greeks, Arabs, Turks, and even Chinese were all travelling in the region before Vasco da Gama entered the Indian Ocean in 1498. The number of texts that mention the East African coast is enormous, and there are undoubtedly others that remain undiscovered or unpublicized in archives, such as those of the Ottoman Empire. There is a significant body of literature devoted to the interpretation of classical texts that mention the East African coast, often including identifications (frequently speculative) of the Comoros and Madagascar. Regardless of whether or not the Comoros are specifically mentioned, the following texts are all crucial to an understanding of the pre-European history of the Swahili coast and are fundamental to an understanding of the dynamics of Indian Ocean networks prior to the arrival of the Europeans. Depending on their time frame, most of the collections include extracts from the Periplus and Ptolemy’s Geography, the three classic Arabic texts from al-Mas’udi, al-Idrisi and Ibn Battuta (10th, 12th, and 14th centuries, respectively), and the account of the Chinese traveller Zhao Rugua (Chao Ju-Kua, 13th century). Derideaux appears to have assembled a collection of every text that ever appeared that mentions (or may be interpreted as mentioning) East Africa (History of East Africa); the most important of these are also presented in Ferrand 1913 and Freeman-Grenville 1962. Casson 1989 is generally considered the most reliable translation of the Periplus, the classic handbook for the Indian Ocean merchants of antiquity, and although neither it nor the accounts of Chinese voyages presented by Hirth and Rockhill 1911 mention the Comoros, they both provide context and suggest that the Comoros, if peripheral, were unlikely to have been excluded from these trading networks. Finally, Allibert and Korchid 1988 is the earliest detailed description of the Comoros currently available.

                                                                                • Allibert, Claude, and Said Korchid. “Une description turque de l’Océan Indien au XVIè siècle: L’Océan Indien Occidental dans le kitab-i Bahrije de Piri Re’is (1521).” Etudes Océan Indien 10 (1988): 9–51.

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                                                                                  Whether Piri Re’is travelled to the Comoros himself or obtained his information from others is unclear, but this was one of the last texts produced before the Indian Ocean fell under European hegemony.

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                                                                                  • Casson, Lionel. The Periplus Maris Erythraei:. Text with Introduction, Translation, and Commentary. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989.

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                                                                                    This guide for traders is a classic text, assumed to have been written by a Greek merchant at the beginning of the first millennium. Essential reading for scholars of East African history.

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                                                                                    • Derideaux, Pieter, ed. History of East Africa.

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                                                                                      This extraordinarily complete collection would appear to contain almost every known text that mentions East Africa up to the early 16th century.

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                                                                                      • Ferrand, Gabriel. Relations de voyages et textes géographiques arabes, persans et turcs relatifs à l’Extrème-Orient du VIIIè au XVIIIè siècle. Paris: Ernest Leroux, 1913.

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                                                                                        A more complete, and more finely annotated collection than Freeman-Grenville 1962. The Comoros are largely absent: unlike Freeman-Grenville, Ferrand does not believe that al-Idrisi was writing of Ndzuani.

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                                                                                        • Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P. The East African Coast: Select Documents from the First to he Earlier Nineteenth Century. Oxford: Clarendon, 1962.

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                                                                                          This has long been the basic English-language starting point for primary sources about the coast. The texts are presented with very little commentary, but the author does make some unwarranted assumptions.

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                                                                                          • Hirth, Friedrich, and W. W. Rockhill. Chau Ju-Kua: His Work on the Chinese and Arab Trade in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries, entitled Chu-fan-chi. St. Petersburg, Russia: Imperial Academy of Sciences, 1911.

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                                                                                            Freeman-Grenville 1962 contains two Chinese sources, but this text gives an idea of the importance of the Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean.

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                                                                                            European Travel Narratives

                                                                                            Once Europeans entered the ocean, written sources that mention the Comoros began to proliferate. Although Ngazidja and Maore offered little to passing ships, both Mwali (in the early period) and Ndzuani were popular supply points on the route to Asia, particularly prior to the British possession of Mauritius. Although the Portuguese left little by way of travel narratives or ships’ logs, the French, the Dutch, and above all the British produced numerous accounts, from the first Portuguese mention of the islands at the beginning of the 16th century to the explorers of the 19th century. Although many of the texts are in English, the most complete collection is to be found in the nine-volume compilation Grandidier and Grandidier 1903–1920. With time, scattered references in travel narratives gave way to more detailed accounts, although most are based on brief visits. The anonymous “A Visit to the island of Johanna” (1930) and Jones 1807 are just two of many accounts by English travelers who called at Ndzuani in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, while Leigh 1849, unusually, is an account of a visit to Mayotte. Leguével de Lacombe 1840 provides firsthand knowledge of Mwali following the authors’ enslavement there, while Otto Kersten was the first European traveler to provide a useful description of Ngazidja. Capmartin and Colin 1811 is a classic and detailed account of the state of knowledge about the islands in the early 19th century, while Prior 1819 provides insight into some of the political intrigues of Ndzuani.

                                                                                            • “A Visit to the Island of Johanna.” United Service Journal 1 (1830): 144–152.

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                                                                                              Although sometimes attributed to the missionary William Elliott, this much-cited anonymous account is by a fellow passenger on the ship that took Elliot to Ndzuani.

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                                                                                              • Capmartin, and Epidariste Colin. “Essai sur les îles Comores.” Annales des voyages, de la Géographie et de l’Histoire de Malte-Brun 13 (1811): 129–170.

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                                                                                                An early French account of a visit to the islands that draws on firsthand observations as well as third-party sources.

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                                                                                                • Grandidier, Alfred, and Guillaume Grandidier. Collection des ouvrages anciens concernant Madagascar. 9 vols. Paris: Comité de Madagascar, 1903–1920.

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                                                                                                  Includes almost all travel narratives that mention the Comoros, and although they are drawn from French translations (where available) it is a relatively simple matter to trace the originals. Most have been published by the Hakluyt Society.

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                                                                                                  • Jones, William. “Remarks on the Island of Hinzouan, or Johanna.” Asiatic Researches 2 (1807): 77–107.

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                                                                                                    One of several English accounts of Ndzuani from the period, by the president of the Royal Asiatic Society.

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                                                                                                    • Leguével de Lacombe, B. F. Voyage à Madagascar et aux Iles Comores. Paris: Louis Desessart, 1840.

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                                                                                                      Leguével de Lacombe spent a number of years in the region, including a brief period as a slave on Mwali.

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                                                                                                      • Leigh, T. S. “Mayotte and the Comoro Islands.” Journal of the Royal Geographical Society 19 (1849): 7–16.

                                                                                                        DOI: 10.2307/1798076Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                        A rare account of an English visit to Mayotte, immediately prior to the French annexation of the island.

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                                                                                                        • Prior, James. Voyage Along the Eastern Coast of Africa, to Mosambique, Johanna, and Quiloa; to St. Helena; to Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, and Pernambuco in Brazil, in the Nisus Frigate. London: Sir R. Phillips, 1819.

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                                                                                                          In 1812, Bombay Jack, an emissary of the King of Ndzuani, arrived at Cape Town to request British support against Malagasy raiders. This is Prior’s account of his fact-finding mission to Ndzuani, accompanied by said Bombay Jack.

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                                                                                                          Colonial Encounters

                                                                                                          By the late 19th century, the Comoros had been relinquished to the French, who had annexed Mayotte in 1841 and subsequently established protectorates over the remaining islands in 1886. Although this was largely the result of wider geopolitical strategies, the closure of the British consulate on Ndzuani was a decisive step in the British withdrawal. Pelly was acting consul in Zanzibar when he visited William Sunley, the British consul in Ndzuani, and his article, Pelly 1860, is a version of his report. Thereafter the sources are largely in French. Langlois 1872 describes French attempts at establishing control over Mwali long before the protectorate was finally imposed; in the 1880s Léon Humblot, the “white sultan,” arrived to rule Ngazidja as a private fief until his abuses became public (see Humblot 1886 and Lignac 1908). Around the turn of the century, a number of texts appeared, most of which were firmly colonialist in orientation. There is little to distinguish them, but both Legeret 1897 and Vienne 1900 are useful overviews. Although the islands found themselves in a marginal position on the periphery of the French colonial empire, they nevertheless continued to attract scientific interest. Voeltzkow 1914 is an account by one of the last foreign “explorers” to visit the islands, while Poirier 1921 is the report of a particularly observant French administrator.

                                                                                                          • Humblot, Léon. “Les Comores.” Bulletin de la Société de Géographie commerciale de Paris IX (1886): 386–392.

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                                                                                                            Humblot’s defense of his colonial enterprise, published as the protectorate was established over Ngazidja.

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                                                                                                            • Langlois, Louis. Jomby Sondy, scènes et récits des îles Comores. Paris: Abanel, 1872.

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                                                                                                              A reasonably even-handed account of French attempts to wrest Mwali from the British sphere of influence.

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                                                                                                              • Legeret, Edmond. Etude sur les îles Comores. Paris: Impr. de G. Camproger, 1897.

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                                                                                                                A fairly substantial text, but the perspective is typical of the early colonial period.

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                                                                                                                • Lignac, Annet. Les Scandales de la Grande-Comore. Paris, 1908.

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                                                                                                                  A comprehensive denouncement of Humblot’s exploitation of Ngazidja and its people.

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                                                                                                                  • Pelly, Lewis. “Miscellaneous Observations upon the Comoro Islands.” Transactions of the Bombay Geographical Society 16 (1860): 88–98.

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                                                                                                                    The acting consul in Zanzibar, Pelly went to Ndzuani to report on the economic potential of the island and pursue allegations of slavery.

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                                                                                                                    • Poirier, Charles. “Mayotte et Dépendances.” Bulletin Economique de Madagascar 18.3 (1921): 233–245.

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                                                                                                                      An acute observer, Poirier published his report in three parts. It remained essential reading for his successors in the colonial administration until the Second World War. Continued in Bulletin Economique de Madagascar 18.4: 231–237; 19.1: 141–146

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                                                                                                                      • Vienne, Émile. Notice sur Mayotte et les Comores. Paris: Alcan-Lévy, 1900.

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                                                                                                                        An official publication prepared for the Exposition Universelle in 1900, suitably positive in tone but comprehensive in content.

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                                                                                                                        • Voeltzkow, Alfred. Reise in Ostafrika in den Jahren 1903–1905. Vol. 1, Die Komoren. Stuttgart: E. Schweizerbart’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1914.

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                                                                                                                          The last of the “explorer” narratives as the 20th century opens, a useful and even-handed text from the early colonial period.

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                                                                                                                          History

                                                                                                                          Possibly for political reasons as much as linguistic ones, much of the English-language literature is on the precolonial period; thereafter, scholarship is largely in French. As noted in Archaeology and Prehistory, there is a growing recognition that the marginalization of the islands during the colonial period was the exception rather than the rule: the Comoros were deeply embedded in regional networks, part of the Swahili zone but strategically located on the trade routes between the African coast and Madagascar. Religious leadership was also important in maintaining Comorian influence on the coast, and many Islamic scholars on the mainland, and in Madagascar, were of distinguished families of Hadrami (southern Arabian) origin who had first settled in the Comoros. Following the western European entry into the ocean, the islands (and particularly Ndzuani) became a preferred supply point on the outward route to India, and much political intriguing was aimed at encouraging the European presence. Pirates and convicts were both among those who settled. Although the islands’ role as a provisioning station declined after the British possession of Mauritius, and then even further following the opening of the Suez Canal, the islands’ central role in the slave trade of the 19th century attracted further attention from both the British and the French, and it was not until the end of the century, and the European carve-up of Africa, that the islands were finally relinquished to French neglect. French control over the islands was never easy, and most administrators had little understanding of the culture of this isolated part of their colony of Madagascar. Customary social structures continued to frame political practice on all islands up until independence (and beyond), when the renewed recognition of their strategic location led to de facto control by mercenaries supported by the French and South African governments. The intrigues of the 1980s have provided ample raw material for the historian, as has the mismanagement of the mid-1990s and the secessionist crises of the late 1990s and early 2000s, during which Ndzuani declared independence, resolved (for the moment at least) by the promulgation of a new constitution in 2001. The declaration of independence of the country itself in 1975 left Mayotte in French hands; today the island is a French department and part of the European Union, and it remains a thorn in the side of Franco-Comorian relations.

                                                                                                                          Precolonial History

                                                                                                                          Although the majority of histories of the islands are in French there have been a sufficient number of English-language works to provide the scholar with an adequate foundation for further work. In addition to Newitt’s essential work listed in General Overviews, he has written a number of articles, of which Newitt 1983 is representative. Shepherd 1984 also discusses the Comoros and the Swahili world in this early period while Martin 1974 situates the islands in an Arab world. Prestholdt 2007 discusses Wandzuani interactions with the English in the precolonial period while Beaujard 2007 provides an overview of the islands place in wider regional history in the long durée; Clendennen and Nottingham 2000 discusses 19th century British links with the islands, particularly Ndzuani, while Dubins 1972 analyzes Comorian relationships within the region prior to the establishment of the protectorate. Finally, the compendious text Martin 1983 draws on a wealth of archival sources to provide a highly detailed account of the history of the islands up to the establishment of a French colony in 1912.

                                                                                                                          • Beaujard, Philippe. “East Africa, the Comoros Islands and Madagascar before the Sixteenth Century: On a Neglected Part of the World System.” Azania 42.1 (2007): 15–35.

                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1080/00672700709480448Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                            A wide-ranging article that provides an overview of the region in early world history.

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                                                                                                                            • Clendennen, G. W., and Peter Nottingham. William Sunley and David Livingstone: A Tale of Two Consuls. Madison: African Studies Program, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2000.

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                                                                                                                              David Livingstone recruited his porters on Ndzuani and forged a friendship with the British consul.

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                                                                                                                              • Dubins, Barbara. “A Political History of the Comoro Islands 1795–1886.” PhD diss., Boston University, 1972.

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                                                                                                                                One of very few full-length works in English on the history of the islands.

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                                                                                                                                • Martin, B. G. “Arab Migrations to East Africa in Medieval Times.” International Journal of African Historical Studies 7.3 (1974): 367–390.

                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.2307/217250Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                  Argues that an understanding of the Arab influence underlies Comorian claims to Arab identity.

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                                                                                                                                  • Martin, Jean. Comores: Quatre Iles Entre Pirates et Planteurs. 2 vols. Paris: L’Harmattan, 1983.

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                                                                                                                                    Martin’s compendious two-volume work is an essential reference for scholars of the late precolonial period.

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                                                                                                                                    • Newitt, Malyn. “The Comoro Islands in Indian Ocean Trade before the 19th Century.” Cahiers d’Études africaines 23.1–2 (1983): 139–165.

                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.3406/cea.1983.2260Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                      A history of Comorian trading relationships, with a focus on Europeans.

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                                                                                                                                      • Prestholdt, Jeremy. “Similitude and Empire: On Comorian Strategies of Englishness.” Journal of World History 18.2 (2007): 113–138.

                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1353/jwh.2007.0015Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                        Discusses the strategies engaged in by Comorians in their encounters with Europeans.

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                                                                                                                                        • Shepherd, Gillian M. “The Earliest Swahili? A Perspective on the Importance of the Comoro Islands in the South-West Indian Ocean before the Rise of Kilwa.” In Swahili Language and Society: Papers from the Workshop held at the School or Oriental and African Studies in April, 1982. Edited by David Parkin and Joan Maw, 261–295. Beiträge zur Afrikanistik 23. Vienna: Afro-Pub, 1984.

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                                                                                                                                          Once again, the importance of the Comoros is emphasized in the development of Swahili trading networks.

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                                                                                                                                          Colonial History

                                                                                                                                          Much like the islands themselves, the colonial history of the Comoros has long been neglected in favor of studies of the political intrigues that both preceded and followed the colonial period. This is as true among French and Comorian scholars as it is among those writing in English. Alpers 2001, extending forward into the colonial era, is the only accessible work in English that touches upon the period in any detail (although, see General Overviews). Among the texts in French, Ibrahime 1997 and Ibrahime 2000 cover the entire colonial period, including the political intrigues within and between local cliques, and remain the authoritative texts for a history of the period. The massive colonial expropriation of land on Ngazidja (where one company owned half the island) and on Ndzuani caused severe economic problems and social conflict that endures to the present day. Sidi 1998 analyses the crises prompted by the colonial expropriation of land on Ndzuani. Meunier 1970 (published in two parts) explores the political evolution of the colony and is essential reading for an understanding of the administrative history of the period. Jean Martin is one of the foremost historians of the Comoros, and his article on two popular uprisings of the 20th century (Martin 1984) provides insights into the (often glossed over) tensions underlying colonial neglect. Blanchy and Gueunier 2000 provides a biography of one of the more engaged of the colony’s administrators, Charles Poirier, who later in his career was called upon to report upon the influential Comorian community of Zanzibar, is the subject of Saleh 1936. Comorians outside the archipelago have long been important to the homeland, and the Zanzibari community was one of the more prosperous.

                                                                                                                                          • Alpers, Edward A. “A Complex Relationship: Mozambique and the Comoro Islands in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.” Cahiers d’Études africaines 161 (2001): 73–95.

                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.4000/etudesafricaines.67Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                            On the political, economic, and religious links between the Comoros and the Portuguese colony in Mozambique.

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                                                                                                                                            • Blanchy, Sophie, and Noël Gueunier. “L’‘impossible’ Charles Poirier, administrateur et ethnographe aux Comores.” Etudes Océan Indien 29 (2000): 93–119.

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                                                                                                                                              A biographical sketch of a man whose insights were a valuable resource for his successors.

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                                                                                                                                              • Ibrahime, Mahmoud. Etat Français et colons aux Comores (1912–1946). Paris: L’Harmattan, 1997.

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                                                                                                                                                The first part of this history deals with the period during which the islands were a neglected province of Madagascar.

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                                                                                                                                                • Ibrahime, Mahmoud. La Naissance de l’élite politique comorienne (1945–1975). Paris: L’Harmattan, 2000.

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                                                                                                                                                  Describes how the islands’ status as a separate territory led to self-government and finally independence.

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                                                                                                                                                  • Martin, Jean. “Grande Comore 1915 et Anjouan 1940: Etude comparative de deux soulèvements populaires aux Comores.” Etudes Océan Indien 3 (1984): 69–100.

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                                                                                                                                                    A comparative analysis of two rebellions against the colonial power: one at the beginning and the other at the end of the Madagascar period.

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                                                                                                                                                    • Meunier, Alexis. “Le statut politique et administratif de l’archipel des Comores de l’annexation à l’autonomie restreinte (1912–1968).” Penant 80.729 (1970): 281–299.

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                                                                                                                                                      Traces the political history of the archipelago from the establishment of the colony through to self-government. Continued in Penant 80 (730): 441–457.

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                                                                                                                                                      • Saleh, Ibuni. A Short History of the Comorians in Zanzibar. Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: Tanganyika Standard, 1936.

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                                                                                                                                                        This booklet by one of the leaders of the Comorian community in Zanzibar is almost a primary source.

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                                                                                                                                                        • Sidi, Ainouddine. Anjouan: L’histoire d’une crise foncière. Paris: L’Harmattan, 1998.

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                                                                                                                                                          The expropriation of land was a feature of the French colonial system, leading to great local hardship, and nowhere more so than on Ndzuani.

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                                                                                                                                                          The Independent State

                                                                                                                                                          Independence (declared, not granted) left the island of Maore (Mayotte) in French hands, an event that has produced a large body of literature, very little of it impartial. Pujo 1993 and Caminade 2003 are representative of the two extremes of the argument from a French perspective. In a similar vein, the brief but important revolutionary period of Ali Soilihi, during which he attacked the preponderant role of custom and religion, particularly on Ngazidja, has also attracted much attention, particularly as his legacy is being reassessed somewhat more positively than was the case in the 1980s. Soilihi and Nassur 2000 reevaluates the revolutionary project, while Elaniou 2003 is less forgiving of Solihi and his entourage. Ali Soilihi was followed by Ahmed Abdallah, a businessman from Ndzuani, who ruled with significant support from mercenaries led by Bob Denard, who were given free rein to do much as they pleased, including supporting Renamo in Mozambique on behalf of South Africa and trafficking arms to Iran on behalf of the Reagan administration. Mukonoweshuro 1990 is somewhat equivocal in its analysis of the first fifteen years of independence, while Newitt 1992, a comparative essay, is more balanced. Mattoir 2004 provides a local perspective. The demise of Abdallah did not put an end to corruption, and Perri 1994 documents closely some of the intrigues within the Comorian political system in the early 1990s, a period during which democracy was popularly expressed as “do as you like.”

                                                                                                                                                          • Caminade, Pierre. Comores-Mayotte: Une Histoire néocoloniale. Marseille, France: Agone, 2003.

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                                                                                                                                                            A solid condemnation of the French occupation of Mayotte.

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                                                                                                                                                            • Elaniou, Ali Abdou. Ali Soilihi ou l’indépendance dans la citerne. Moroni, Comoros: Komedit, 2003.

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                                                                                                                                                              Similarly, a return to the Soilihi years, but with a more critical approach, recalling the failings of the revolution.

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                                                                                                                                                              • Mattoir, Nakidine. Les Comores de 1975 à 1990. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2004.

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                                                                                                                                                                Covers the mercenary period from the Soilihi revolution to the assassination of Abdallah.

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                                                                                                                                                                • Mukonoweshuro, Eliphas G. “The Politics of Squalor and Dependency: Chronic Political Instability and Economic Collapse in the Comoro Islands.” African Affairs 89.357 (1990): 555–577.

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                                                                                                                                                                  An external perspective that highlights the various problems faced by the young state.

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                                                                                                                                                                  • Newitt, Malyn. “The Perils of Being a Microstate: São Tome and the Comoros Islands since Independence.” In Political Economy of Small Tropical Islands: The Importance of Being Small. Edited by Helen Hintjens and Malyn Newitt, 76–92. Exeter, UK: University of Exeter Press, 1992.

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                                                                                                                                                                    A comparative study that points out that some of the difficulties faced by the Comoros are not unique to the islands.

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                                                                                                                                                                    • Perri, Pascal. Comores: Les nouveaux mercenaires. Paris: L’Harmattan, 1994.

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                                                                                                                                                                      Perri, a journalist, provides a fairly detailed inspection of corruption at high levels, indicative of the problems marking the local political system.

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                                                                                                                                                                      • Pujo, Pierre. Mayotte la Française. Paris: France-Empire, 1993.

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                                                                                                                                                                        A defense of the French occupation of Mayotte, by a French monarchist.

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                                                                                                                                                                        • Soilihi, Youssouf Saïd, and Elmamouni Mohamed Nassur. Ali Soilihi, l’élan brisé? Paris: L’Harmattan, 2000.

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                                                                                                                                                                          A reevaluation of the Soilihi years by two of his partisans, which is perhaps not impartial but informative nevertheless.

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                                                                                                                                                                          Language

                                                                                                                                                                          Despite claims to the contrary, the Comorian languages are not dialects of Swahili, nor are they mutually intercomprehensible with it, although the eastern dialects are closer to Swahili than the western ones, both lexically and syntactically. They are, however, all Bantu languages of the Sabaki group, which also includes Swahili, and much of the vocabulary, particularly words of Arabic origin, is similar to Swahili. There are four dialects spoken in the islands, divided into two groups: the western group, comprising Shingazidja and Shimwali, and the eastern group, comprising Shindzuani and Shimaore. Whether or not the languages of different groups are mutually intelligible seems to be a political choice as much as a linguistic one. Approximately a third of the population of Mayotte speaks Kibushi, an Austronesian language that was brought to the island by immigrants from Madagascar. Although the languages are entirely unrelated, Kibushi speakers are entirely Comorian and are socially and culturally indistinguishable from their Shimaore-speaking neighbors. See also the separate Oxford Bibliographies article on Swahili Language and Literature.

                                                                                                                                                                          Linguistics and Historical Texts

                                                                                                                                                                          The various Comorian languages (or dialects) have been reasonably well studied over the years. The early works, as is so often the case, were by missionaries such as Sacleux (Ahmed Chamange and Gueunier 1979, but originally written in the early 20th century), and remain useful even today. Heepe 1920 is of particular value, since it contains a number of specimen texts that are interesting in their own right, while Heepe 1926 includes the text of a Shindzuani grammar written by the missionary William Elliott in 1822. Struck 1909 provides a useful overview of the history of European encounters with, and classifications of, Comorian languages, while Ottenheimer and Ottenheimer 1976 does likewise, although interestingly the authors do not distinguish Shindzuani and Shimaore. Nurse and Hinnebusch 1993 places the language in the wider context, while Lafon 1995, a collection of the speeches of Ali Soilihi, in bilingual text, is an invaluable source for the study of a president renowned for his eloquence. Gueunier 1988 is by one of very few linguists to have worked on Kibushi.

                                                                                                                                                                          • Ahmed Chamanga, Mohamed, and Noël-Jacques Gueunier. Le Dictionnaire comorien-français et français-comorien du RP Sacleux. 2 vols. Paris: SELAF, 1979.

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                                                                                                                                                                            Includes extensive grammatical notes but is occasionally ambiguous about the differences between Comorian and Swahili.

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                                                                                                                                                                            • Gueunier, Noël. “Dialectologie et lexicostatistique: Cas du dialecte malgache de Mayotte (Comores).” Etudes Océan Indien 9 (1988): 143–169.

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                                                                                                                                                                              This article is a good introduction to Kibushi by one of the few linguists working on the Austronesian languages of Mayotte.

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                                                                                                                                                                              • Heepe, Martin. Die Komorendialekte Ngazidja, Nzwani und Mwali. Hamburg, Germany: L. Friederichsen, 1920.

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                                                                                                                                                                                An extremely useful work, largely for its inclusion of sample Comorian texts.

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                                                                                                                                                                                • Heepe, Martin. “Darstellung einer Bantusprache aus den Jahren 1821/22 von Elliot: Nach einer Handschrift der Grey Library in Kapstadt.” Mitteilungen des Seminars für Orientalische Sprachen an der Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität zu Berlin 29.3 (1926): 191–232.

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                                                                                                                                                                                  Regrettably hard to find, this article includes Elliott’s Shindzuani grammar, the first (and a remarkably competent) study of a Comorian language, accompanied by a commentary.

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                                                                                                                                                                                  • Lafon, Michel. L’Eloquence comorienne au secours de la révolution: Les discours d’Ali Soilihi (1975–1978). Paris: L’Harmattan, 1995.

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                                                                                                                                                                                    Although not a study of the language as such, the speeches collected here are presented in the original Shingazidja as well as in French translation, and as such are invaluable to scholars, linguists, and others.

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                                                                                                                                                                                    • Nurse, Derek, and Thomas Hinnebusch. Swahili and Sabaki: A Linguistic History. University of California Publications in Linguistics 121. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      Includes an analysis of the historical development of the language, and is extremely useful in conjunction with historical and archaeological sources.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      • Ottenheimer, Harriet, and Martin Ottenheimer. “The Classification of the Languages of the Comoro Islands.” Anthropological Linguistics 18.9 (1976): 408–415.

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                                                                                                                                                                                        By two anthropologist who first worked on Ndzuani in the 1960s.

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                                                                                                                                                                                        • Struck, Bernhard. “An Unpublished Vocabulary of the Comoro Language.” Journal of the Royal African Society 8.32 (1909): 412–421.

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                                                                                                                                                                                          In addition to providing an early word list, this article reviews the history of reports on the languages of the Comoros.

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                                                                                                                                                                                          Contemporary Courses and Dictionaries

                                                                                                                                                                                          There is as yet no Comorian dictionary for native speakers, but there are a number of bilingual dictionaries, although none for Shimwali. In the Harmattan series, Ahmed Chamanga 1992 is a Shindzuani-French dictionary, whereas Lafon 1991 is a French–Shingazidja dictionary; Blanchy 1996 has both French-Shimaore and Shimaore-French. The courses are all Shingazidja, possibly a reflection of the fact that Ngazidja is the island of origin of most Comorians in diaspora. Saleh 1979 is one of the oldest and is still useful. Yahaya 2012, a “teach yourself” book, is in its third impression. For the linguist, the two-volume grammar Ahmed-Chamanga 2010 is invaluable.

                                                                                                                                                                                          Anthropology and Sociology

                                                                                                                                                                                          Socially, the islands represent an Arab influence overlaid on an African (largely Bantu) foundation. Although there are differences between the islands, they all exhibit a fundamentally African matrilineal system of kinship, with political structures based on an age system. Both matrinlineality and the age system are highly developed and provide for strong social cohesion on Ngazidja (where land is owned by women and the age system has produced the ostentation aada, or great wedding), and they also exist on Mwali. On Ndzuani there are few vestiges of matrilineality and greater polarization of society on Ndzuani—between urban Arabs and rural Africans—which means that age systems (and the shungu, the equivalent of the aada of Ngazidja) are only developed in rural areas. On Mayotte, thanks to French influences, the shungu has all but disappeared. Although there are a number of colonial-era texts—be they ethnographic reports on the population from colonial administrators or the product of more sustained anthropological research, the references below are all from the post-independence period, even if the research for some of them was based on colonial-era fieldwork. Most of them will cite earlier texts where relevant. Two North American anthropologists worked in Mayotte in the 1970s: Jon Breslar, whose thesis, Breslar 1981, was never published, and Michael Lambek, whose doctoral thesis on religious practice, Lambek 1981, was the first of many works based on his long engagement with the island. Martin Ottenheimer is one of very few anthropologists to have carried out fieldwork on Ndzuani, and he, too, has produced a body of work on the island—the text cited, Ottenheimer 1985, is based on his doctoral thesis. Mwali has yet to produce any sustained and accessible work, but Ngazidja, with its elaborate marriage rituals and characteristic age system, has attracted the attention of a number of anthropologists: Sultan Chouzour, a native of the island, provides us with a classic essay on Ngazidja society in Chouzour 1994; Gillian Shepherd’s article, Shepherd 1977, is a concise and accessible first approach to the famous aada marriage, while Le Guennec-Coppens 1994 places it in the context of the age system. Blanchy 2010 and Walker 2010 provide contrasting and complementary anthropological approaches to the island’s social structures.

                                                                                                                                                                                          • Blanchy, Sophie. Maisons des femmes, cités des hommes: Filiation, âge et pouvoir à Ngazidja (Comores). Nanterre, France: Société d’ethnologie, 2010.

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                                                                                                                                                                                            A detailed study of the social structures of Ngazidja by a French anthropologist who has worked on several of the islands.

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                                                                                                                                                                                            • Breslar, Jon. “An Ethnography of the Mahorais (Mayotte, Comoro Islands).” PhD diss., University of Pittsburgh, 1981.

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                                                                                                                                                                                              An ethnography of Mayotte prior to the significant changes that have accompanied the island’s incorporation into the French social and political system.

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                                                                                                                                                                                              • Chouzour, Sultan. Le Pouvoir de l’honneur: Tradition et contestation en Grande Comore. Paris: L’Harmattan, 1994.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                One of the earlier published works that present the customs of Ngazidja from an insider’s perspective.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                • Lambek, Michael. Human Spirits: A Cultural Account of Trance in Mayotte. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                  A classic text on spirit possession by an eminent anthropologist.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Le Guennec-Coppens, Françoise. “An Influence from the Mainland: The Age-Grade System in Greater Comoro.” In Continuity and Autonomy in Swahili Communities. Edited by David Parkin, 123–136. Vienna: AFRO-PUB, 1994.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                    Situates the Comorian age system in the wider East African context.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Ottenheimer, Martin. Marriage in Domoni: Husbands and Wives in an Indian Ocean community. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1985.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                      A useful text explaining marriage practices on Ndzuani, an island often neglected by anthropologists.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Shepherd, Gillian M. “Two Marriage Forms in the Comoro Islands: An Investigation.” Africa 47.4 (1977): 344–359.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.2307/1158341Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                        An explanation of the marriage systems in the islands, and an essential first reading.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Walker, Iain. Becoming the Other, Being Oneself: Constructing Identities in a Connected World. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2010.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                          The only full-length anthropological work on Ngazidja in English.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                          Religion and Law

                                                                                                                                                                                                          A small handful of Christians and Hindus excepted, the Comoros are entirely Islamic, following the Shafiʿi madhhab of Sunni Islam. The islands have long had a reputation for religious learning, largely the result of a community of scholars of Hadrami origin whose forebears migrated to the islands, and who themselves moved onwards not only to eastern and southern African but also further afield—there are Comorians scholars in the Arab world and in Europe. Loimeier and Seesemann 2006 contains several contributions about or touching on Comorians in the Swahili world; Martin 1971 provides an overview of these scholars; and Bang 2003, a monograph on the Alawiyya of Hadramawt, focuses on a particular family, the Bin Sumeit. The numerous works of the magistrate Paul Guy are notoriously difficult to find, but his article on civil law in the Comoros, Guy 1986, is the least inaccessible. Mas 1979 similarly considers the juridical aspects of local syncretism. Abdallah Chanfi Ahmed has long worked on religious networks in the region, and Ahmed 2002 is required reading for the scholar, while Ali Mohamed 2008 provides a more focused study of religious leadership. Lambek 1993, an analysis of the articulation of Islam and local practice, is both incisive and required reading. See also the separate Oxford Bibliographies articles on Islam in Africa.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Ahmed, Abdallah Chanfi. Ngoma et mission islamique (da’wa) aux Comores et en Afrique orientale. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2002.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                            Details the spread of Islam in East Africa, with an emphasis on the Comorian contribution.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Ali Mohamed, Toibibou. La Transmission de l’Islam aux Comores (1933–2000). Paris: L’Harmattan, 2008.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                              Describes the role of religious leaders from the author’s town of Mbeni on Ngazidja.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                              • Bang, Anne. Sufis and Scholars of the Sea: Family Networks in East Africa, 1860–1925. London: Routledge Curzon, 2003.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                The history of the religious leaders of the region, many of whom were Comorian or had Comorian connections.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Guy, Paul. “Le Minhadj at Twalibin et les coutumes comoriennes dans le statut personnel.” Etudes Océan Indien 6 (1986): 7–34.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                  On the legal aspects of the differences between Comorian custom and Islamic law.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Lambek, Michael. Knowledge and Practice in Mayotte: Local Discourses of Islam, Sorcery and Spirit Possession. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Analyzes how different and often conflicting cultural and religious traditions are negotiated through daily practice.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Loimeier, Roman, and Rüdiger Seesemann, eds. The Global Worlds of the Swahili: Interfaces of Islam, Identity and Space in 19th and 20th-Century East Africa. Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2006.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                      A collection of texts that situate the Comoros, and Comorians, in the wider world of the Swahili and of Islam.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Martin, Bradford G. “Notes on Some Members of the Learned Classes of Zanzibar and East Africa in the Nineteenth Century.” African Historical Studies 4.3 (1971): 525–545.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.2307/216528Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Many of these religious leaders were Comorian, and this article provides the wider context.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Mas, Jean. “La loi des femmes et la loi de Dieu (A propos d’une coutume Grand-comorienne).” Annuaire des Pays de l’Océan Indien 6 (1979): 103–126.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                          A perspective on how matrilineal principles of inheritance endure in an Islamic society.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Politics and Economy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Many of the particularities—and the peculiarities—of post-independence political intrigues in the islands have come under the scrutiny of historians (see The Independent State). It is nevertheless useful to look beyond the mercenaries and the revolutionaries to consider some of the issues and problems facing the country and the constraints within which political and economic developments operate. Damir 1990 begins with customary political systems and points out that they remain relevant today, even if Islam provides an enduring framework for the country and is now the official state religion. Ahmed 1999 considers how politics and Islam have shaped each other over the years. Ostheimer 1975 and Gaspart 1981 straddle the moment of independence, and it is useful to read the two together, while Walker 2002 suggests how the economic development of the country is affected by expenditure during the elaborate customary marriages on Ngazidja. Economically, the country faces severe problems: during the colonial period the spice industry was profitable (to the plantation companies if not to Comorians), and at independence the country was exporting high-value vanilla, cloves, ylang ylang, and other perfume oils. Markets for these crops have now declined, if not collapsed. Labor costs are too high for the development of industry, tourism has potential but lacks infrastructure, and the islands’ volcanic origin means there is little potential for the development of mineral resources, although, in view of discoveries in northern Mozambique and southern Tanzania, exploration for oil and gas is now underway in Comorian waters between the islands and the mainland. Finds would be of great significance for the national economy. The three reports from the Bretton Woods institutions (World Bank 1979, World Bank 1983 and Rozwadowski 1995) provide a series of interesting readings on the country’s development from a more formal perspective.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Ahmed, Abdallah Chanfi. Islam et politique aux Comores. Paris: L’Harmattan, 1999.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Based on the author’s doctoral thesis, this book explores how religion and politics are inextricably intertwined.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Damir Ben Ali. “Approche historique des structures administratives des Comores.” Ya Mkobe 4 (1990): 14–22.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                              A long-term overview of the evolution of the political systems in the islands.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • Gaspart, Claude. “The Comoro Islands since Independence: An Economic Appraisal.” Civilisations 29.3–4 (1981): 293–311.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Essentially an overview of the Ali Soilihi period, situating it in the context of the exiguity of the economy.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Ostheimer, John. “The Politics of Comorian Independence.” In The Politics of the Western Indian Ocean Islands. Edited by John Ostheimer, 73–101. New York: Praeger, 1975.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Looking forward, slightly pessimistically, to looming independence.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Rozwadowski, Francis. Comoros, Recent Economic Developments. Washington, DC: International Monetary Fund, 1995.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    A report on the state of the economy, produced some years after the departure of the mercenaries.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Walker, Iain. “Les aspects économiques du grand mariage de Ngazidja (Comores).” Autrepart 23 (2002): 157–171.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.3917/autr.023.0157Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Considers the net economic impact of Ngazidja’s marriage system.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • World Bank. The Comoros: Problems and Prospects of a Small, Island Economy. Washington, DC: IBRD Eastern Africa Regional Office, 1979.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        A frank appraisal of the difficulties faced by the newly independent state, following the end of Ali Soilihi’s revolutionary experiment.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • World Bank. The Comoros: Current Economic Situation and Prospects. Washington, DC: IBRD Eastern Africa Regional Office, 1983.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Discusses the changes following the reestablishment of links with France and South Africa by Ahmed Abdallah.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Music and Literature

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          There is, not surprisingly, a significant body of oral literature in the islands, as well as a diversity of musical practices. The musical and literary forms reflect both the African and the Islamic contributions to Comorian culture, and these forms have themselves been influence more recently by European practice, visible particularly in the increasingly widespread production of the Western novel. There are numerous recordings available from Comorian musicians in both popular and more conservative styles. Damir 2004 is a very complete overview of customary Comorian musical forms. Performance also includes narrative texts and poetry: both Alaoui 1997 and, at greater length, Said Ahmed 2000 explore the importance of oral tradition in Comorian (and particularly Ngazidja) society. Literary forms include both folktales, formerly transmitted orally and now collected (Blanchy, et al. 1993; Said 1995), and works with a more contemporary structure: the three novels cited (Said Salim 2009, Soilhaboud 1993, Toihiri 1985) are from prominent contemporary Comorian writers and typically touch on social themes. See also the separate Oxford Bibliographies article on Swahili Language and Literature.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          • Alaoui, Masséande Chami. “Genres of Comoran Folklore.” Journal of Folklore Research 34 (1997): 45–57.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            A discussion of the types of oral tradition encountered in the islands.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            • Blanchy, Sophie, Zaharia Soilihi, Noël Gueunier, and Said Madjidhoubi. La Maison de la mère: Contes de l’île de Mayotte. Paris: L’Harmattan, 1993.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              A collection of tales, in bilingual version, from Mayotte.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              • Damir Ben Ali. Musique et Société aux Comores. Moroni, Comoros: Komedit, 2004.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                A published version of Damir’s masters’ thesis, and, despite some shortcomings, an essential starting point for the musicologist.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                • Said, Abdallah. Contes des îles de la lune: Contes comoriens. Paris: L’Harmattan, 1995.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  A collection of classic Comorian tales translated into French.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  • Said Ahmed, Moussa. Guerriers, Princes Et Poètes Aux Comores Dans La Littérature Orale. Paris: L’Harmattan, 2000.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Essential reading for scholars of oral tradition, emphasizing the social importance of oratory.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    • Said Salim, Aboubacar. Le Bal des mercenaires. Moroni, Comoros: Komedit, 2009.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      This novel, the author’s second, is a love story facing the inevitable constraints imposed by tradition.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      • Soilhaboud, Hamza. Un Coin de voile sur les Comores. Paris: L’Harmattan, 1993.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Another novel that again questions tradition and political unrest through the prism of a love story.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        • Toihiri, Mohamed. La Repubique des imberbes. Paris: L’Harmattan, 1985.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          The first Comorian novel, a thinly fictionalized account of the revolutionary period of the late 1970s.

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