Culture / Religion
With fewer than a million people, the Comoros is one of the least populous countries in the world, but is also one of the most densely populated, with an average of 275 inhabitants per square kilometre (710/sq mi). In 2001, 34% of the population was considered urban, but that is expected to grow, since rural population growth is negative, while overall population growth is still relatively high.
Almost half the population of the Comoros is under the age of 15. Major urban centres include Moroni, Mutsamudu, Domoni, Fomboni, and Tsémbéhou. There are between 200,000 and 350,000 Comorians in France.
The islands of the Comoros share mostly African-Arab origins. One of the largest ethnic groups on the various islands of Comoros remain the Shirazi people. Minorities include Malagasy (Christian) and Indian (mostly Ismaili), as well as other minorities mostly descended from early French settlers. Chinese people are also present in parts of Grande Comore (especially Moroni). A small white minority of French with other European (i.e. Dutch, British and Portuguese) ancestry lives in the Comoros. Most French left after independence in 1975.
The most common language in the Comoros is Comorian, or Shikomori. It is a language related to Swahili, with four different variants (Shingazidja, Shimwali, Shinzwani and Shimaore) being spoken on each of the four islands. Arabic and Latin scripts are both used, Arabic being the more widely used, and an official orthography has recently been developed for the Latin script.
Arabic and French are also official languages, along with Comorian. Arabic is widely known as a second language, being the language of Quranic teaching. French is the administrative language and the language of all non-Quranic formal education. A Malagasy language, Kibushi, is spoken by approximately a third of the population of Mayotte.
Sunni Islam is the dominant religion, representing as much as 98% of the population. A minority of the population of the Comoros, mostly immigrants from metropolitan France, are Roman Catholic.
There are 15 physicians per 100,000 people. The fertility rate was 4.7 per adult woman in 2004. Life expectancy at birth is 67 for females and 62 for males.
Almost all of the educated populace of the Comoros have attended Quranic schools at some point in their lives, often before regular schooling. Here, boys and girls are taught about the Qur'an, and memorise it. Some parents specifically choose this early schooling to offset French schools children usually attend later. Since independence and the ejection of French teachers, the education system has been plagued by poor teacher training and poor results, though recent stability may allow for substantial improvements.
Pre-colonization education systems in Comoros focused on necessary skills such as agriculture, caring for livestock and completing household tasks. Religious education also taught children the virtues of Islam. The education system underwent a transformation during colonization in the early 1900s which brought secular education based on the French system. This was mainly for children of the elite. After Comoros gained independence in 1975, the education system changed again. Funding for teachers' salaries was lost, and many went on strike. Thus, the public education system was not functioning between 1997 and 2001. Since gaining independence, the education system has also undergone a democratization and options exist for those other than the elite. Enrollment has also grown.
In 2000, 44.2% of children ages 5 to 14 years were attending school. There is a general lack of facilities, equipment, qualified teachers, textbooks and other resources. Salaries for teachers are often so far in arrears that many refuse to work.
Prior to 2000, students seeking a university education had to attend school outside of the country, however in the early 2000s a university was created in the country. This served to help economic growth and to fight the "flight" of many educated people who were not returning to the islands to work.
About fifty-seven percent of the population is literate in the Latin script while more than 90% are literate in the Arabic script; total literacy is estimated at 77.8%. Comorian has no native script, but both Arabic and Latin scripts are used.
Traditional Comorian women wear colourful sari-like dresses called shiromani, and apply a paste of ground sandalwood and coral called msinzano to their faces. Traditional male clothing is a colourful long skirt and a long white shirt.
There are two types of marriages in Comoros, the Mna dabo (little marriage) and the ada (grand marriage). The little marriage is a simple legal marriage. It is small, intimate, and inexpensive. The bride price is nominal. The little marriage, however, is just a placeholder until the couple can afford the ada, or grand marriage. The hallmarks of the grand marriage are dazzling gold jewelry, two weeks of celebration and an enormous bride price. The groom must pay most of the expenses for this event, and the bride’s family typically pays only a third of that of the groom’s. The grand wedding can cost up to £55,000. Many men cannot afford this until their late 40's, if ever.
The grand marriage is a symbol of social status on the Comoros islands. The completion of an ada marriage also greatly increases a man’s standing in the Comoran hierarchy. A Comoran man can only wear certain elements of the national dress or stand in the first line at the mosque if he has had a grand marriage. Also, one is not fully considered a man until he has had an ada marriage.
The continuation of the grand marriage tradition is criticized because of its great expense and Comoros’s intense poverty.
Kinship and social structure
Comorian society has a bilateral descent system. Lineage membership and inheritance of immovable goods (land, housing) is matrilineal, passed in the maternal line, similar to many Bantu peoples who are also matrilineal, while other goods and patronymics are passed in the male line. However, there are differences between the islands, the matrilineal element being stronger on Ngazidja.
Zanzibar's taarab music remains the most influential genre on the islands.
There is a government-owned national newspaper in Comoros, Al-Watwan, published in Moroni. Radio Comoros is the national radio service and Comoros National TV is the television service.