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The Comoro Islands: Problems of a Microcosm

  • André Bourde
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Far out in the Indian Ocean, stretched like a string of pearls between the Grand Ile of Madagascar and the coast of East Africa, lies one of the world's most beautiful groups of islands, one of its most intriguing civilisations, and one of its most puzzling territories: the Comoro Islands. The archipelago is altogether one-quarter the size of Corsica. The four main islands—Mayotte, Anjouan, Mohéli, and Grande Comore, surrounded by numerous smaller isles and coral reefs—between them cover an area of only 852 square miles (2,336 sq. km.). The total population at the time of the most recent census in 1958 amounted to 183,133, with 90,790 on Grande Comore, 61,815 on Anjouan, 23,364 on Mayotte, and 7,164 on Moheli. The latest estimate, for 1963, gives a total of about 200,000. Tiny as they are, apparently unaffected by the wind of change, and isolated from the main tide of the world events, the islands still present a microcosm of the problems encountered by the developing countries on the mainland. They too are undergoing the difficult transition from a colonial system to independence, and have to reckon with the strong traditional structures of a civilisation left largely untouched by French administration, which still influences the lives of the mass of the population.

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Page 91 note 1 See Robineau, C., Premiére Approche socio-économique d'Anjouan (Tananarive, 1961, mimeo.).

Page 92 note 1 See Le Tourneau, R., ‘Musulmans dans I'Océan indien,’ in L'Afrique et l'Asie (Paris), LXIX, 1960.

Page 92 note 2 Slavery was abolished in Grande Comore in 1904, only after a decree of the French Governor of Mayotte.

Page 93 note 1 She later married a French gendarme and died in 1964 in a little village of Burgundy near Dijon, aged over 90.

Page 94 note 1 On the complex character of the ‘domination’ of the sociétés, see Robineau, Op. Cit. pp. 113–14.

Page 94 note 2 In 1945 there were only nine forms for the whole of the archipelago—with a total of 476 pupils. See Coornaert, F., Projet de réorganisation de l'enseignement dans l'archipel des Comores (1961 report, mimeo.).

Page 96 note 1 See Isnard, H., ‘L'archipel des Comores,’ in Les Cahiers d'outre mer (Paris), VI, 1953, pp. 1920.

Page 97 note 1 A report on this was produced by the Board for Agricultural Development (B.D.P.A.). The Institut national de la statistique et de l'économie (I.S.N.E.E.) has also published several reports on Comorian agriculture.

Page 97 note 2 The reasons for this are discussed by Robineau, op. cit. p. 75.

Page 99 note 1 Cf. Enquéte socio-économique des Comores (I.N.S.E.E., 1961, mimeo.).

* Professor of Modern History, Faculté des Letters, Université d'Aix-Marseille

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The Journal of Modern African Studies
  • ISSN: 0022-278X
  • EISSN: 1469-7777
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-modern-african-studies
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