Comoros, whose name was adopted from the word al-Khamar, meaning “island of small moon,” is situated off the east coast of Africa between Mozambique and Madagascar. It is made up of four volcanic islands, some of which are still active. In 1975 three of the four islands, Njazidja (or Grand Comore), Nzwani (Anjouan) and Mwali (Mohéli) became independent from French colonial rule, establishing a federal republic. The fourth island, Mayotte (Mahoré), has remained a French dependency under the sovereignty of Comoros. While the islands are home to many species of animals, three are located here exclusively. The coelacanth, a fish once thought to be extinct for millions of years, has occasionally been found caught in fishermen’s nets around the islands of Comoros and a particular variety of flycatcher called Humblot’s flycatcher lives only on the island of Njazidja. The Livingstone’s flying fox, a type of fruit bat that boasts a wing span of more than four feet is also native to Comoros.
Comoros’ population is a diverse blend of ethnicities resulting from centuries of foreign rule, including French and Indonesian. Arabic, French and Comorian (an Arab-influenced dialect of Swahili) are the official languages
In Comoros, many women still wear the modest, traditional chiromani, which is made from colourful cotton, and the lesso, a long shawl. They also can be seen wearing a fine white paste on their face called m’sindanu. This ground sandalwood paste protects their skin from the sun. The men typically wear white skullcaps called the kofia that are intricately embellished in gold and silver thread. Often such artistic examples of embroidery are completed with painstaking patience.
Other types of craftwork found on the islands include leatherwork, pearl jewellery, pottery (including the well-known perfume burners) and palm weaving, was once done by women of the higher classes who did not participate in farm work. Woodcarving is used to produce beautiful doors, a traditional craft common to areas of Swahili ancestry.
Comoros’ Grand Mariage (Grand Wedding) is a distinctive ritual often used to differentiate social status within Comorians. Traditionally, those who could afford a grand wedding were allowed to participate in public affairs and were sometimes given preferential treatment. Today, the ritual is more flexible — less of a prerequisite for advancing one’s social status. The ritual can stretch over two weeks, earning it the title of the longest wedding celebrations in the world. The bride is given many gifts in jewellery and silk, and whole communities are invited for feasts. After the Grand Wedding, the man is allowed to wear the dragila, a long, embroidered tunic, testimony that he has gone through the ritual.
People have been coming to Canada from the Comoros since 1975, although their numbers here still remain very small.
Sponsor: Mrs. Lydia Kukuchka Matusky, in memoriam John and Anna Kukuchka | Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons