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The Comorians of Madagascar

Population:    71,000 (1996)
Religion:   Islam
Status:   0.9% Christian


Location:  The Comorians live in many of the major cities of Madagascar including Antananarivo, Mahajunga and Antsiranana.

History:  Many of the Comorians now residing in Madagascar initially came to Madagascar seeking better socio-economic conditions. Others fled their country during periods of political strife. They fled their home islands for safer living conditions in Madagascar. There are also many university students from the Comoros studying in Madagascar since there is no university in their country. Comorians are moving to Madagascar in increasing numbers.

Identity:  Comorians are descendants of seafaring Bantu speakers from the East African coast, driven south by Oromo raiders and their own sea trade. Some have Arab ancestry and some are mixed. They are considered part of the coastal Swahili group of peoples. Some of them are descended from freed slaves. The Comorians speak four dialects of Comorian Swahili and French. Some also speak Arabic. Many have learned to speak Malagasy as well over the years of living in that country. They have their own form of Islamic worship with distinct customs derived from their ancestral roots.

Language:  The four Comorian languages are considered by many linguists to be dialects of Swahili. Comorians also speak French and some speak Arabic. Many second-generation Comorians in Madagascar now speak Malagasy more than their Comorian language.

Political Situation::  The Merina people have dominated the Comorians and other tribes since ancient times, when the society was a monarchy. A significant Merina monarch was Andrianampoinimerina, who established an efficient government. By 1850, his descendant tribe controlled most of Madagascar. The country was colonized by France who governed the country until independence in 1960.

The third republic came to power in 1993 following extended non-violent demonstrations against Didier Ratsiraka's second republic government. The current government headed by President Zafy Albert is promoting democratic reforms and a free-market economy. Large groups of Comorians fled Madagascar in the 1970's during racial problems. With racial tensions now easing, large numbers of Comorians are now migrating back to Madagascar.

Customs::  Comorian life in Madagascar centers around commerce with most families involved in some form of trading. Many Comorian merchants came to Madagascar to purchase food and other commodities for the islands. Religious practices govern many aspects of life typical of other Islamic societies. Strong ties are maintained with families living on the four islands comprising the Comoros.

Religion:  The religion of the Comorians is Islam with a strong emphasis upon folk and animistic elements. Charms, magic, trances, demon possession and curses are an integral part of the religious practice. Imams hold an important role in the Comorian religious experience.

Christianity:  The majority of Comorians have had no exposure to genuine Christianity. The nature of Islam has ensured that the Comorians have remained isolated from Christianity even when Comorians have lived in Malagasy communities possessing a Christian heritage. Less than one percent claim any affiliation with a Christian church. While the opportunities to witness are very restricted in the Islamic Republic of Comoros, Madagascar affords freedom to evangelize.

Claire Stolee and
Orville Boyd Jenkins
March 1996

Copyright © 1996, 2001 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.
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