The Comoros consist of four major islands and a number of smaller islets strategically located at the northern end of the Mozambique channel. They are 10 to 12 degrees south of the equator and halfway between northern Madagascar and eastern Africa. Three of the islands, Ngazidja, Nzwani, and Mwali, are members of an independent country, the Union of the Comoros, and these islands above have their names in their local language. The fourth island is a department of France and ‘Mayotte’ is its French name.
Located between 10° and 12°S latitude and 44° and 46°E longitude, the Comoros are at the northern end of the Mozambique Channel approximately halfway between Madagascar and Mozambique. They are an archipelago of four islands and several islets with an area of 785 square miles (2,034 square kilometers). Of volcanic origin, the Islands arose from a fissure in the seabed running northwest – southeast. The oldest island, Mayotte, is located southeast of the youngest island, Grande Comore, which still has an active volacano.
The four islands are Ngazidja (Grande Comore), Mwali (Moheli), Nzwani (Anjouan), andMaore (Mayotte). Ngazidja is the largest and most westerly of the islands, lying 188 miles from Mozambique. It is also the youngest island in the archipelago having emerged from the seabed only about 10,000 years ago. Karthala is the name of the active volcano that dominates the southern half of Ngazidja. It rises to a height of 7,746 feet (2,361 meters) above sea level.Karthala has the largest caldera of any volcano in the world and has produced numerous lava flows including some that reached the sea in recent times and are clearly visible today. Mwali, 28 miles south-southeast of Ngazidja, is the smallest of the islands with a central mountain range that rises 2,556 feet (790 meters) above sea level. Nzwani lies about twenty-five miles easterly of Mwali, has a central peak that rises 5,072 feet (1,575 meters) above sea level. It has rugged mountains and swift running streams with waterfalls that cascade down to long, black, sandy beaches. Forty-four miles to the southeast of Nzwani is Maore, the oldest of the four islands. Approximately 8 million years old, it is comparatively flat, has slow meandering streams, and is almost completely surrounded by a well-developed barrier reef.
Located a little more than 10 degrees below the equator in the western Indian Ocean the islands have a maritime tropical climate with wet and dry seasons. The wet season is from October to April. During this time, northerly winds bring moist, warm air from the Indian Ocean to the islands. Heaviest rainfall occurs during December to April and amounts can reach as high as 390 mm (15 inches) in a month. The mean temperature during the wet season is approximately 25 degrees celsius (77° F). The hottest month is March with temperatures averaging around 30 degrees celsius (86° F). From May to September southerly winds dominate the region. These are cooler and drier and temperatures in the islands average around 19° C (66° F).
Rainfall and temperature vary from island to island during any month and even vary from place to place on an island primarily due to the topography. The central, higher areas of an island are often cooler and more moist than the coastal regions and the windward side of an island will receive more rainfall than the leeward side. The variations in temperature and rainfall result in microecological differences on the islands with distinct regions of flora and fauna.
The official languages of The Union of the Comoros are French and Arabic. French is the language of government while Arabic is the language of Islam, the major religion in the country. French is used as the official language on the island of Mayotte.
In daily life, most people speak one or more varieties of Comorian, the language group indigenous to the Islands. It is closely related to the Swahili of the East African coast. Comorian is typical of a Bantu language with a large number of noun classes and an elaborate set of verb tenses and aspects. For centuries, people have used Arabic script to write Comorian and there is an attempt presently to normalize an orthography for writing the varieties of the language in Roman script.
The rich vocabulary of Comorian has been enhanced by the borrowing of words from many other languages. Since Comorians have been involved in maritime trade for a thousand years or more, they have come into contact with a number of different peoples and their language reflects this contact. Words of Indian, Persian, Arabic, Portuguese, English, and French origin have been added to those of African ancestry.
There are four varieties of Comorian spoken in the Islands: Shingazidja, Shimwali, Shinzwani, and Shimaore. Each one is named for the primary island on which it is spoken. Shingazidja is primarily spoken on Ngazidja, Shinzwani on Nzwani, Shimwali on Mwali, and Shimaore on Maore.
Not your typical tropical island getaway, Comoros may lay claim to sandy shores, limpid oceans and colourful coral reefs, but the archipelago’s greatest asset is its fascinating culture, which fuses together the most colourful elements of Africa and Arabia.
Floating between Mozambique and Madagascar, the archipelago has long been a crossroads between civilisations and most Comorians are of mixed Afro-Arab descent. A blend of Swahili and traditional Islamic influences pervade the islands giving them a calm and phlegmatic atmosphere that guarantees a hospitable welcome.
The four main islands that comprise sleepy Comoros do not share the tourist infrastructure of the Seychelles or Mauritius (with the exception of Mayotte), but they do share the warm seas, deserted beaches and stunning hiking that these destinations are renowned for.