Anthropology: The Traditions, Economy, and Culture of the People of Comoros

Introduction to Comoros

Comorian residents refer to their country’s “island” as Mashiwa or by their respective names. Zisiwa za Komor is a French translation of the country. “Comoros” is derived from the Arabic words qumr, “moon”, or “whiteness” of Qamar.  Despite the Comorians belonging to the Sunni Muslims of the Chafi’i school, their place of residence, as well as social structure, remains matrilineal.

Social life is characterized by a vast system of exchanges. This system of exchange creates some noteworthy rituals and ceremonies, like shungu and Aida. Additionally, there are the grand wedding ceremonies that the culture is known for, called ndoola nkuu and arusi.

All join as members of a particular pedigree or age group, or as members of a particular gender association.


The comoros island tour
by wanderlust travel magazine

The Islamic Republic of the Commonwealth of Comoros is a group of three volcanic islands, totaling 719 square miles (1,862 square kilometers), located between Africa and Madagascar. The capital, Moroni, is located on the island of Grande Comores, which has an active volcano and has no rivers, rocky shores, or beaches. Humid tropical climate. The fauna is rich in rare species such as mantises, sea turtles, and lemurs.


The population of the three islands was estimated at 539,000 in 1999, doubling in 25 years. 5% of the population is under 15 years old and only 6% is over 60 years old. Almost 20% of the population has migrated, mainly from Ngazidja to France. Many farmers from the populated island of Anjuan have settled in Mwali.

Linguistic links

Comorian is a Bantu language similar to Swahili but unrelated. Dialects differ from island to island due to geographical segregation. This language contains many words derived from Arabic and French. All of Comoros has been educated in the Koran and learned to write their own language in Arabic script. Formal education is provided in French.

Overview of the history, lifestyle, and economy of Comoros

History of the Comorians

The islands were colonized by Africans in the 8th century. The existence of Islam has been proven since the 11th century. With the arrival of Muslim Arabs, the kingdom developed into kings in the 15th century. During the “Battle of the Sultan”, the rise of trade and the slave trade, and numerous invasions of Madagascar were witnessed. In the late 19th century, colonial occupation brought unity and peace to the archipelago.

The union ended in 1975 with the dismissal of Mahoa (Mayotte), who was still French. He was threatened again in 1997 by the separation of Ndzuani.

Food culture & commerce of Comoros

Rice, along with cassava and other root vegetables, dried fish, and grated coconut milk, is the staple food in our daily meals. Food taboos provide a way to make connections and recognize identities. Ceremonial dishes include steamed rice and curds of castrated cows and goats, as well as large pies. Another traditional dish is fruit porridge or sago dried palm fruit porridge. French cuisine and imported beverages are on the rise.

Basic economics

70% of the workforce is engaged in commercial and subsistence agriculture. Overfished forests on Anjuan Island produce firewood. Cows and goats are slaughtered during the holidays. 6000 state employees and two South African tourist hotels occupy the service sector. In a small and very poor country, the informal economy is very active. The base currency is Comorofra.

Property rights

Three systems of legal ownership co-exist customary grammar, “ownership” and modern identification. The land has no concept of personal property and is divided among families. The land is owned by the community and its use is sufficient for the people who live there. In Ngazidja, these undivided assets are inherited by daughters but can be used by brothers and husbands to support their families.

Commercial activities of Comoros

Economy and trade in Comoros
by Brittanica

The long tradition of mercantile trade has led to an increase in the number of shops selling imported basic goods, textiles, and clothing. There are many informal trading relationships with France, Reunion, Mauritius, and Saudi Arabia, which buy gold and household items for a large wedding.
The industry accounts for only a small percent of the Gross National Product and is represented primarily by companies that process spices and aromatic plants for export. Vanilla, cloves, copra, and ylang-ylang, which named Comoros the “Perfume Islands”, account for the majority of exports to France, Germany, and the United States. Comoros imports construction materials, groceries, and oil. France is the biggest donor, followed by the European Union and the World Bank. A large number of remittances come from Comoros de Ngazidja, which lives in France.

Town planning and architecture

Comoros lived in villages and towns, some of which were fortified. Examples of stone monuments are mosques, palaces, public squares, stone and coral domes known as the Gates of Peace, and tombs decorated with domes and columns. The houses are generally known to be made of coral lime, mud (a mixture of straw and mud), and dark basalt covered with intertwined coconut leaves. Concrete gradually replaces stone and sheet metal replaces the intertwined coconut palm leaves. A typical house has two rooms. One is a private room, the other is used to receive guests. In some cases, there is also a living room. The courtyard is used for domestic activities. Kids sleep in a single dormitory. Women reside in homes, courtyards, and alleys. The men’s territory included a mosque and a public square.

Division of labor

Children help their parents get water and plants. Girls usually work at home and boys are away from home. Men and women share agricultural work. While men tend to cut down trees to produce profitable crops, women tend to go to food-producing areas. Men fish in imported canoes and small speedboats and women sell fish. Women fish at low tide with a piece of cloth such as a net or with plants that release substances that paralyze small fish. Traditionally, wealthy women did the cooking and embroidery work rather than working in the fields.
Comoros engages in formal and informal commerce. Construction materials and auto parts are sold by Indian dealers. Comoros prefers public service work to providing clean, satisfying, and regular work over agricultural work.

The social structure in Comoros

social structure among the Comorians
by everyculture

The business consists of three layers. The descendants of the former princes and sultans trace their genealogy to Arab immigrants, who married into a matrilineal family of local chiefs. The title of Sharif, a descendant of Muhammad, was inherited by male families. The peasant family was organized according to a regional hierarchy which reflected its role in the formation or development of the village. In cities, fishermen may be wealthier than other city dwellers, but they are a clear and socially low class. The descendants of African slaves, arriving in the 1st and 19th centuries, lived in separate colonies or villages. The lifestyle of Arab aristocrats in the urban areas of Anjuan Island was quite different from that of farmers.

Social classes and status

A solemn wedding identifies a skilled man, wears special ceremonial clothing and scarves on Fridays, and in some villages enters the mosque through a special door. Ngazidja only allows women attending large weddings to wear black Bwibwi clothing. Villagers often wear large bridal jewelry to work. In town, the size of the house a family builds for their daughter reflects their wealth.

Relative gender roles

Men work to provide for and support their families. Fear of ridicule drives men away from household chores. Teenagers who sleep in their mother’s home are called “daughters.” Women gather and use their power to influence village affairs through association. Women are included in modern political life, and ministerial posts are often held by women. In the Islamic religious context, women are restricted from acting as Quranic teachers.
Despite men’s de facto monopoly on polygamy practices and religious services, women enjoy a comfortable social status as owners of couples’ homes. The eldest daughter, along with her male brothers, takes command of the family in Ngazidja.

Women had a certain degree of material autonomy, the role of mother was admired, and women were famous at traditional festivals.

Community, family, relatives

Culture of the Comorians
by pinterest

On average, men and women marry two to four times, but sometimes much more often. Very few men are polygamous, but no more than two wives at a time. Large weddings must be celebrated in the village and the family so that the exchange of wealth is maintained in the community. Even if it is held years after a religious wedding, it must be the woman’s first marriage. Only a husband can refuse his wife, but the wife can push him to come to this decision.

Domestic units in Comoros

The place where the wife lives. The family unit is governed by the parents of the mother, including already married children and other children for whom the mother is responsible. Some families eat inside but sleep elsewhere. The children of the family are collected and returned regularly. If he is from the same village, the father often visits the house of the mother and the sister.
inheritance. At the time of marriage, each woman was given a house and arable land. In Ngazidja, land belonging to matriarchs and inherited women could only be sold to escape misfortune. Cells are inherited from a proclamation or a will. Islamic law is rarely enforced.

The children are always carried by adults or siblings. Brutality is sometimes criticized, but children are rarely scolded. Chronic malnutrition affects one-third of children under the age of three. This situation is even worse in Nzuani.


The children, nicknamed “mom” and “dad”, were trained for their future roles from an early age. This is especially true for girls who do housework. Circumcision for about-year-old boys is celebrated with special prayers and meals. All children attend a religious school that memorizes the Quran. Instructors are often local parents and respected educators. The French secular education favored city dwellers and men. Public education is disorganized, and private schools open when public school teachers go on strike.

Boys enter the age-group system from 15 to 20 years old. Teenage girls are closely monitored because pregnancy eliminates the possibility of large-scale marriages.
There are higher education institutions in the capital. Due to the lack of scholarships, students have to go abroad for training. Arab countries pay for education and theology in Arabic, but a French degree is required to get the desired job in administration.

Religious beliefs

Sunni Shafi’i Islam is the predominant religious and cultural norm. Many Comorians also believe in the power of Jin and other Earth spirits. These beliefs come from Arab, African, and Malagasy traditions. People also believe in the concept of cosmic balance born from Arab astrology.
There are many ways to practice Islam, and religious roles can overlap. Some roles and practices have been clearly defined and institutionalized. Preachers and Friday prayers hold community prayers at the mosque and the teachers teach the Koran. The Sufi Brotherhood has a strictly Islamic mystical experience. Many of the masters in the countryside could be Qur’an teachers, healers, astrologers, and Muslim teachers. Communicating with the invisible is a common experience.

Rituals and sanctuaries

In addition to the Sunni Islamic religious holidays, Comoros celebrates the birthday of the Prophet and the birthday of the local saint. Most worship services take place on Fridays in nearby mosques, but the special dedication of the brotherhood of Shaduriya, Kadiriya, and Refya takes place in the courtyard of the mosque of the order (zawiya), where local saints are buried. The bush spirit belief is a lesser-known religious practice.

People bury the dead and offer special prayers for the 3rd, 9th, or 40th days of mourning according to Islamic rituals that do not exclude women. Seeing a dead parent in a dream shows the happiness of that parent to others and creates favorable conditions for prayer.

Art; graphic art, performance art, and literature in Comoros

Regular rituals (adas) are opportunities for men and women to dance, violin concerts, and read important literary texts. Religious and secular musical events are broadcast on radio and television stations independent of radio stations nationwide.
Literature. Oral literature includes stories about the founding of villages, epics of war, philosophical poems, stories, riddles, and proverbs. There are French novels and poems. Artisans have carved coconut wood mills and numbers in the style of the abacus, carved coral, knitted baskets, made pottery, embroidered (sarcophagus, Muslim hats, open curtains), produced daily necessities such as jewelry.

Traditional musical genres coexist with the music of modern village orchestras. Comics and tragedies deal with historical and often socially important themes.

In conclusion

The Comoros, whose roots in ancient Africa are reflected in maternal social organizations, has been influenced by Islamic, Arab, and Western cultures. The coat of arms is a green flag (Islamic color) with a crescent moon and four white stars, representing the four islands (including Mayotte). In 1996, the names of Allah and the Prophet Muhammad were added to the flag. The national anthem is the coalition of the large islands (“unification of the islands”) and the motto is “unification, justice, progress”.

Islam is considered a synonym for civilization, but Comoros also diverts many aspects of French culture. The official languages (French, Arabic, Comorian) reflect its cultural diversity.
Family ties have made the archipelago a unique social and cultural group. Ndzuani’s departure, which most people deny, was due to poor political, social, and economic control, not an ethnic conflict.

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