Islands in a Cosmopolitan Sea
A History of the Comoros
A comprehensive history of the Comoros, an archipelago of volcanic islands off the south-east coast of Africa.
Many people today have never heard of the Comoros, but these islands were once part of a prosperous economic system that stretched halfway around the world. A key node in the trading networks of the Indian Ocean, the Comoros thrived by exchanging slaves and commodities with African, Arab and Indian merchants. By the seventeenth century, the archipelago had become an important supply point on the route from Europe to Asia, and developed a special relationship with the English.
The twentieth century brought French colonial rule and a plantation economy based on perfumes and spices. In 1975, following decades of neglect, the Comoros declared independence from France, only to be blighted by a series of coups, a radical revolutionary government and a mercenary regime. Today, the island nation suffers chronic mismanagement and relies on foreign aid and remittances from a diasporic community in France. Nonetheless, the Comoros are largely peaceful and culturally vibrant—connected to the outside world in the internet age, but, at the same time, still slightly apart.
Iain Walker traces the history and unique culture of these enigmatic islands, from their first settlement by Africans, Arabs and Austronesians, through their heyday within the greater Swahili world and their decline as a forgotten outpost of the French colonial empire, to their contemporary status as an independent state in the Indian Ocean.
Iain Walker has a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Sydney and has held positions at the University of New South Wales, Macquarie University, and the University of Oxford. He is currently Research Officer at Martin Luther University and Research Associate at the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, both in Halle, Germany.