Far out in the Indian Ocean, stretched like a string of pearls between the Grand Ile of Madagascar and the coast of East Africa, lies one of the world's most beautiful groups of islands, one of its most intriguing civilisations, and one of its most puzzling territories: the Comoro Islands. The archipelago is altogether one-quarter the size of Corsica. The four main islands—Mayotte, Anjouan, Mohéli, and Grande Comore, surrounded by numerous smaller isles and coral reefs—between them cover an area of only 852 square miles (2,336 sq. km.). The total population at the time of the most recent census in 1958 amounted to 183,133, with 90,790 on Grande Comore, 61,815 on Anjouan, 23,364 on Mayotte, and 7,164 on Moheli. The latest estimate, for 1963, gives a total of about 200,000. Tiny as they are, apparently unaffected by the wind of change, and isolated from the main tide of the world events, the islands still present a microcosm of the problems encountered by the developing countries on the mainland. They too are undergoing the difficult transition from a colonial system to independence, and have to reckon with the strong traditional structures of a civilisation left largely untouched by French administration, which still influences the lives of the mass of the population.
* Professor of Modern History, Faculté des Letters, Université d'Aix-Marseille