The Comoro Islands have been known of as a group since about the fifth century, but while individual islands had their own stamps for a while, the first combined issue did not appear until 1950, and for 36 years before that they issued no stamps at all. What’s the story? And most importantly, where in the world are they?
The Comoros form a rather scattered archipelago covering an area of approximately 2000 square km (around 750 square miles) lying between Mozambique and the northern tip of Madagascar. They comprise four main islands: Grande Comore, Anjouan, Mayotte (currently under French administration) and Mohéli. All volcanic, they compare in area to Hong Kong, the Isle of Man, the Isle of Wight and Tobago respectively. The capital of the group, Moroni, is on Grande Comore. Before that, it was Dzaoudzi, located between Mayotte itself and a tiny islet to the east known as Petite Terre or Pamandzi. The official language is French, though Shikomoro (Comorian), a blend of Swahili and Arabic, is spoken by the locals.
Now for a short linguistics lesson. The name ‘Comoros’ derives from Arabic: according to your sources, either Djazaïr el Kamar (‘Islands of the Moon’) or, in recognition of Mount Karthali, the still-active volcano on Grande Comore, Kumr (‘The Burning One’). The English designation ‘Comoro Islands’ is correct and so is ‘Comoros’ – but the expression ‘Comoros Islands’ is as wrong as ‘Canaries Islands’ ‘Faeroes Islands’ or ‘Scillies Islands’ would be. Lesson over. Of the four islands, Mayotte has by far the best natural assets as it has more topsoil, plant life and fresh water. Its irregular coastline – unlike those of the other islands – also allows for natural harbours, an obvious commercial advantage.The only non-philatelists likely to have heard of the Comoros will be naturalists, who may recall that in the deep waters offshore may be found the prehistoric fish known as the coelacanth. This predated the dinosaurs and was long thought to be extinct, but was discovered, still living, in 1938. It has become the national emblem of the islands, and features not only on stamps but coins and banknotes too.
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