Moroni - Culture
Located in a strategic position at the northern end of the Mozambique Channel, the Comoro Islands once played a major role in a thriving world economy of the western Indian ocean. They were part of an ancient maritime civilization that connected Africa, Asia, and the Mediterranean world. The Comoros arose from the seabed of the western Indian Ocean as the result of volcanic activity. The four major islands: , are of varying age with distinct topographical characteristics. Mayotte, the oldest of the islands, is located closer to Madagascar than the other islands and is highly eroded with slow, meandering streams. Ngazidja, the youngest of the islands, is closest to Africa, is dominated , and marked by fresh lava flows. The islands possess a variety of animal life with several species unique to the Comoros or rarely found elsewhere. The famous Coelacanth, a fish once thought to be extinct for millions of years, is found very much alive in Comorian waters. Livingstone's flying fox, a giant fruit bat with a wing span over four feet, is found nowhere else in the world. Several varieties of insects, including the butterfly pictured at right, and over a dozen species of birds are unique to the islands. Many of these species are now being threatened with extinction.
Communities on the islands are mentioned in ancient documents. Domoni, one of these communities, for example, was described as a major trading center in the fifteenth century with trade contacts in Africa and Asia. We know from archaeological evidence that it traded with places as far away as Japan. After the Portuguese appeared in the Indian Ocean and before the opening of the Suez Canal, many European and American vessels stopped in the islands for supplies.
Today, the Comoros are "Islands in a Forgotten Sea" with the prospects and problems many small countries in the world are experiencing.
The highest point on the islands is the summit of Kartala, an active volcano on Njazidja (Grand Comore) Island, which is 2361m (7746 ft) above sea level. The Comoros climate is tropical with a monsoon season from November to April. The range of annual rainfall is from 109 to 551 cm (43 to 217 in); there are frequent cyclones. The people of the islands are of mixed descent: African, Arab and Malagasy.
Although Arabic and French are the official languages, the primary spoken tongue is the Comorian dialect of Swahili.
The great majority of the people, except on Mahoré (Mayotte) where Christianity is common, are Muslim. One of the poorest and most underdeveloped in the world, the Comorian economy is based primarily on agriculture.
The agricultural sector divides naturally into two parts: subsistence farming and farming for export. Subsistence farming, which provides the staples making up three-quarters of the islanders' diet, consists of coconuts, cassava, bananas and rice. Small quantities of fish are also eaten as well as very small amounts of meat.
Because of extensive land holdings in the hands of foreign companies and a traditional ruling elite, land for subsistence agriculture is inadequate to meet local needs; some 50% of the annual budget is spent on importing food and less than one-tenth of the active population is formally employed.
As world food prices rise and the price of Comorian exports falls, the country's trade deficit grows steadily.
Mostly in the hands of French companies and a few businessmen, the islands' export crops are copra, vanilla, coffee, cocoa, cloves and ylang-ylang. Ylang-ylang is a tropical Asian tree of the pineapple family with fragrant greenish-yellow flowers from which a perfume is distilled. Unfortunately, demand for copra, vanilla and ylang-ylang is now shrinking. Many former importers of vanilla and ylang-ylang now manufacture synthetic substitutes. The cultivation and export of sisal has also been abandoned.
Until 1974, the Comoros were controlled by France. In that year, the majority of the population except on Mahoré (Mayotte) voted for independence. Independence was unilaterally declared in July 1975 although in 1976 the mainly French-speaking inhabitants of Mahoré (Mayotte), as a result of their own referendum, chose to remain under French rule.
According to the 1992 constitution, the head of state is a president elected by universal suffrage for a term of five years. There is in addition a legislative branch of government -- the Federal Assembly -- with 42 members elected for four-year terms, and a Senate with 15 members chosen by an electoral college for six-year terms. The government is headed by a prime minister who represents the majority party in parliament.
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